MONTGOMERY, Texas -- As golfers and media critique Bluejack National -- the newest private golf club and community in Texas, not to mention Tiger Woods' first U.S. design to open -- there will be a lot of discussion in terms of just how well the 18-hole, 7,552 course fares.
After a day spent at Bluejack National, I was as impressed with the course itself (you can read my review here) as I was with the overall development and community concept from Beacon Land Development's Michael Abbott and Casey Paulson.
Yes, Bluejack has some unique advantages, like a great piece of 755-acre property, a high-end price point and an icon attached to the project who owns the sport's news-cycle.
But there are a slew of really unique amenities as well. And the thing is, maybe so many private golf clubs coast-to-coast wouldn't be struggling with their membership rosters had they thought a little more outside the box themselves.
Here are a few of the elements that stood out to me most about the total Bluejack experience (that, incidentally, were sorely lacking at many clubs developed during the 1980s and '90s).
A playground for beginners and juniors
Not only does Bluejack have a driving range and a big, sloping putting green with 18 numbered holes, but the Playgrounds Course, an ultra-casual 10-hole pitch 'n putt, is the ace-in-the-hole here.
It's just a six-and-a-half acre footprint, steps from The Place (the clubhouse and restaurant) with holes about 50-100 yards. It's lighted, perfect for winter or after-dinner fun. You can even have some fun and make your own holes out there and play a golfer's version of H-O-R-S-E.
It's insane to me there are private clubs with more than one championship 18 but don't have a short course. How else can avid golfers walk side-by-side with beginners and juniors in a non-intimidating setting?
Meanwhile, the championship course, while certainly stout, has six sets of tees, including a "Frank" set, just about 3,000 yards. It's a very walkable course, too. Did developers who routed cart-only golf courses ever stop and wonder how two 10-year-old kids are going to play in the afternoon?
The residential component isn't suffocating
During the golf boom, many courses were routed entirely within housing developments with the simple goal of creating big, green backyards for as many residential lots as possible. But when homes line both sides of most holes, golfers never truly feel that "escape" golf is supposed to provide. When it comes to getting new golfers excited, these types of courses don't do the game many favors.
And, take it from a repeat offender: sailing a wayward drive into a backyard patio is the wrong way to meet the neighbors.
Bluejack National has a modest housing element (386 total units and 550 memberships). But the only homes that border the golf course are on the perimeter and there will be a pretty significant buffer of pine trees. Far more lots are off the course entirely.
You'll notice many of the modern courses in Europe and the U.K. keep their housing component separate from the course. But in the U.S., developers often feel they can only sell lots with the guaranteed green-space that golf courses provide in the backyard. Also, you've got home owners living on defunct courses fighting over what will happen with grown over fairways behind them, and it can get messy.
At Bluejack, it's tough to lose a golf ball or go O.B.
Bluejack National has no rough and just a handful of water hazards, the two most intimidating on par 3s (nos. 7 and 12). Perhaps the biggest differences compared to the old BlakeTree National course that once occupied this property is that all the natural areas at the base of trees were cleared out and replaced with wood chips, and there is no rough, either. It's easy to find your golf ball and have a chance to recover. Golf is especially demoralizing to newbies when they are losing balls, taking penalties and hacking out of thick cabbage.
Off-course amenities for everyone
A glimpse at the plans of The Fort, the future main gathering area of the club currently under construction, has swimming and tennis just like most clubs, but it also has a movie theater, football/soccer field, hike-and-bike trails, zip lines and a skate park.
Clubs struggling with membership can bemoan Millennials, their short attention spans, student loan debt and inability to commit to a job or city. But we grow up eventually, should have a little coin in the bank and want a fun environment that gets the kids (and us) off the computer for a bit. A round of golf together would be great, but hey, a trail ride or soccer works too.
None of Bluejack National's amenities are earth shattering, but collectively speaking, there just aren't enough clubs with similar offerings in America for families to choose from. Perhaps the silver lining in the fact that golf communities are no longer being built in such a rapid-fire pace is that they are becoming more well thought out.
Bluejack's main hurdle to success will be luring Houstonian families past other top area clubs closer to the urban core like The Woodlands or River Oaks. I suspect that like with most thriving clubs, their amenities will evolve over time based on suggestions and popularity. But the Bluejack experience is a unique one, and one that hopefully existing and future golf course communities examine closely.
I'm curious: To those looking for a golf course membership currently, what are the primary factors necessary for you and your family to make the commitment? Let me know @brandontucker on Twitter or in the comments below.