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March 2017

Throwing Caution to the‭ ‬Wind

throwingcautiontothewind.jpg‭By Steve Donahue

City investment by Hobbs, New Mexico, has paved the way for Rockwind Community Links to thrive as a destination for both golfers and outdoors enthusiasts alike, with something to offer to residents from all walks of life

It’s all about community at Hobbs, New Mexico’s, aptly named public golf course. Rockwind Community Links—designed by course architect Andy Staples—opened in 2015 not only to golfers, but also to hikers, bird watchers and picnickers.

Essentially, the course was built to be the community’s centerpiece on property formerly occupied by Ocotillo Park Golf Course. In fact, the first event held at the city-owned and operated Rockwind Community Links was a Southeast Symphony performance.

“The whole concept of the city investing in community and taking that chance is a huge one,” says Rockwind general manager and head professional Linda Howell. “Most places would look at the bottom line, but they took that step. They also let me and my assistant have free reign in taking care of the golf shop and carts and making the income, then saying to us, ‘Hey, do what you can do to make it something wonderful for the community,’ so we have this phenomenal golf shop.

“The city allowed us to buy a $13,000 launch monitor,” she continues. “Because of that, about 50 percent of our sales are golf club sales, and our sales are up 30 percent.  The city put its trust in us and the city will prosper, in the end.”

The 27-hole community facility includes an 18-hole course; a nine-hole par-3 “Li’l Rock” course for beginners and kids; a dual-ended practice range; multiple short-game areas for practice and learning; numerous junior and adult programs; and is the home of The First Tee of Southeastern New Mexico at Rockwind, with 200-plus participants.

The facility also includes an open green space for events, a surrounding trail system with multiple trail heads, a 3.3-mile walking trail, various outdoor seating areas, picnic spaces and multiple scenic viewing points, including access to the site’s five-acre lake overlooking the course. People who normally wouldn’t visit a golf course frequent Rockwind because of the non-golf activities.

Despite 27 holes and non-golf activities designed to attract the community, the staff isn’t pressured to produce specific revenue goals.

“That’s the beauty of the whole project,” Howell explains. “The city of Hobbs actually paid cash for the entire facility, which was about $13 million, so we don’t have that debt service hanging over our heads that sways what our focus is. I have been given a really clear vision—just make sure you take care of the community and the golfers. Do we have an eye on where we want to be to getting in the black? Yes. Am I feeling pressure from the city? No.”

Rockwind’s opening day for the 18-hole course was May 18, 2015, and Fred Couples attended the grand opening celebration. The course did 28,000 rounds in its first full year, with about 10 percent of those rounds played on the nine-hole Li’l Rock Course, where more adults than kids play, Howell says.

The open green spaces for events are actually located within the course. A couple of local colleges’ cross country teams use the driving range, the par-3 course and part of the 18-hole course. Weddings are held on the No. 10 green, which borders a lake. The huge, two-tiered driving range’s hitting areas can be pushed forward to create a large rear area.

“The Community Links concept was not taken lightly,” Howell recalls. “The support from the community and the people, especially for kids, is amazing. We’re still in our infancy.”

Rockwind—which has a new patio area—hosts various types of parties and weddings, movies under the stars, group events, corporate events, birthday parties and concerts.

Surprisingly, with non-golfers utilizing facilities so close to the course, such as the trail system and picnic spaces, no non-golfers have been hit with wayward shots.
“That was a big concern for me and our superintendent,” Howell says. “So far, knock on wood, nothing has happened.”

With many non-golfers visiting Rockwind for non-golf events, a growing number of them have become interested in golf and now play at the course.

“There’s no question golf has become more of an intriguing sport for those who hadn’t played it before,” Howell acknowledges. “One example is ladies night. We have a very small female golf community and I had 16 ladies one night. They played, then had a drink and food, and I’d say one-third are still playing. Then there’s The First Tee kids. They see the other kids enjoying it and say, ‘Hey, I want to play, too.’

“I feel like we’re just starting and haven’t seen what this facility is going to do down the road with programs and other events,” she adds. “There’s a lot to come.”

Steve Donahue is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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