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A Champion Among Clubs

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Omaha’s boundaries have expanded by leaps and bounds in the last thirty years, and it is an established fact that most of this growth has been westward. In the 80s, “West Omaha” was synonymous with the Westroads Mall, the drive-in at 114th and Dodge Streets, and the Burger King at 120th and Center. Boys Town was a remote location in the country. Oak View was a mere gleam in some developer’s eye. West of 132nd Street was nothing but farm fields.



Flash forward to present day. West Omaha is 190th, not 90th Street. The crop land surrounding Omaha’s then western borders has been turned over to make way for home development, shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants, and health and fitness facilities. As the city’s population migrated west, businesses followed.

Bob Horgan and his partner Jack Maenner were on the cusp of this westward expansion. They developed Eagle Run Golf Course, which opened in August 1990. But even as they were launching one of Omaha’s newest courses, they noted that something was still missing.

“We saw a need for a new country club serving northwest Omaha. The Maple Street corridor was being built, and there was a tremendous amount of growth at 132nd and Maple,” recalls Horgan. As soon as they were able to acquire a large tract of land, the two partners began turning 300 acres of field into what Horgan describes as “a championship quality, stadium design golf course - which would eventually become Champions Run.”

Golf course architect Jeffrey Brauer designed Champions Run’s 18-hole golf course to national acclaim. Today, the country club has 400 golf members, and more than 200 young golfers participate in its junior golf program. Last year, Champions Run’s member/guest tournament had 46 players on the wait list; this year the number was 42.

“Champions Run has hosted the Nationwide Tour event, the Cox Classic Tournament, for fifteen years, which is a great sporting event for Omaha,” says Horgan. Other area country clubs also recognize the importance of this event as well. In the spirit of sportsmanship and for the love of the game, they accommodate Champions Run members during tournament week, allowing them access to their courses. It is a gesture for which Horgan is grateful.

Horgan says the largest, primary problem facing American country clubs is the aging of its members. Given Champions Run’s younger demographic, it is more resistant to membership problems that can plague-and often close the doors of- other country clubs in America. Eighty percent of Champion Run’s members live within a three-mile radius of the club, the majority of who are young professionals whose average age is 48 years old.

Stacy Craft has served on the Board of Directors for two years; for this final year in her three-year term, she will serve as president. She attributes part of the club’s enduring success to its younger demographic. “It is essential to have an active membership to keep a club viable,” she states. “Luckily, we have not had to work extra hard in cultivating memberships, except by setting a good example and word of mouth.”

Certainly, much of its success is a direct result of its willingness to keep pace with the times. This is exemplified in its female president. Says Craft: “Having a female [as president] is a testament of our staying current in the ever changing world, both socially and economically, and at the forefront of clubs today.”  Of the nine board members, two, including Craft, are women.

Another trend country clubs are seeing is a shift from formal, adults-only environments to more easy-going, family-centered ones. Champions Run offers casual elegance that is family-oriented and child friendly. Horgan describes the atmosphere as “very relaxed and casual; we have stayed away from the traditional country club environment.”

The club has 300 social members who enjoy the junior Olympic-size swimming pool, five har-tru lighted tennis courts with two more in the planning stages, a fitness center, and dining and banquet rooms for 800 people.

Keeping the membership active through special programming on top of club services and amenities is vital, both Craft and Horgan believe. Festivities at the pool and clubhouse mark the summer holidays: Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. This includes games, pony rides, and other family-oriented activities. The club also hosts one of the largest fireworks displays in the city on Independence Day.

Family time is important, but so is adult time for busy moms and dads. To this end, Champions Run hosts two annual parties for its adult members. Summer Shin-Dig had around 400 members attend his year, and more than 800 revelers welcomed in the new year at the club’s New Years Eve Bash, one of “the largest among clubs in Omaha,” says Craft.

“Recent economic times have hurt clubs and golf courses around the country,” Craft says. But Champions Run is poised to not simply weather the economic storm but thrive in spite of it. Its approach is multi-pronged: it offers an impeccably maintained golf course, pool, and tennis complex; it hosts diverse, year-round social programming; it caters to families. At only eighteen years old, it is the new kid on the country club block. But as this kid continues to mature, it will surely take its place among Omaha’s country club veterans.

-end- metroMAGAZINE




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