Extreme Makeover: home course edition

Published 10:54 am Saturday, May 8, 2010

Steve Bartholomew has many fond memories of the River Oaks Golf Club in Austin.

As a child growing up in town, he would spend many a summer day biking to the links with friends and golfing until the sun went down. Or, when the clubs were put away, he’d fish in the nearby Cedar River.

“This is my home course,” Bartholomew said on Tuesday. “I grew up on this course.”

Now 51, Bartholomew is the club manager at River Oaks, and he is overseeing quite the renovation of his home. Perhaps most notable on the list of changes is the addition of a new clubhouse, which is set for its grand opening Monday.

“We needed this real bad,” Bartholomew said of the new clubhouse, which has several flat screen TVs, a reception area that could be used in the future for weddings, and a kitchen.

That the new space was needed badly is not an understatement — prior to opening the new clubhouse’s doors, River Oaks used a maintenance shed as the de facto clubhouse. And before that, players gathered in a trailer rented by course management.

The reason for the less-than-ideal arrangements was the flooding problems of the old clubhouse, which shut down five years ago. Bartholomew said players weren’t overly upset with the makeshift clubhouses — perhaps more bemused than anything, he noted — but the new building will certainly be a welcome addition.

Though the grand opening is scheduled for Monday, Bartholomew still expects about two more weeks of work to go into the new building. However, the finished product will be worth the wait, the manager said. That’s because the outside area will be freshly landscaped by Dolan’s Landscape Center and will feature a patio complete with a grill.

But the clubhouse isn’t the only part of River Oaks going through change. The course itself has been cleaned up in recent years, Bartholomew said, with much of the work directed toward removing trees and opening up a view of the river. One hole — the short, par-3 No. 10 — will soon be remodeled to incorporate the water, with players having to launch their tee shots over the Cedar River and onto a green that juts out into the waterway.

The ultimate goal of all the remodeling and renovating, Bartholomew said, is to make River Oaks a top-100 public course and possibly attract professional tournaments down the road.

That vision is shared by Bartholomew and Mike Olson, the course owner for the past six years who hired Bartholomew about a year ago. Olson’s ownership of River Oaks is his first venture into golf course management — the same is true about Bartholomew — but he has put many hours and much thought into the work.

“It’s definitely been a project,” Olson said, “but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Olson said he and Bartholomew have worked seamlessly together, with both understanding the unique “character” of the course — things like the Cedar River and an old rail bridge that cuts through — and trying to highlight it as much as possible.

“It’s been very good,” Olson said of the working relationship between he and Bartholomew. “There have been no real bumps in the road.”

Making that road smooth, the owner noted, has been Bartholomew’s passion for the game.

“He lives, eats and breathes golf,” Olson said.

Bartholomew wouldn’t disagree — he picked the game up from his father when he was 7 and has been at it ever since. Now, he’s continuing with that passion through his new job and by overseeing projects like the new clubhouse.

And, of course, Bartholomew is doing it all at home.