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Online Exclusives

June 2020

Blue Ridge Redesign


Highland Falls transforming for home-base feel

By Scott Kauffman

When general manager Jason Macaulay was hired to run Highlands Falls Country Club in Highlands, North Carolina, 14 years ago, the club was the quintessential second-home mountain community in the Highlands-Cashiers area, noted for its golf clubs that typically attracted an affluent older membership. 

It was a place where Baby Boomer members usually came to enjoy the cooler summer months then returned home to their primary residences to finish out their careers.

Most of Macaulay’s original members are still enjoying this great Blue Ridge Mountains getaway, but there is something dramatically different about the membership these days. Not only has the private club community become more of a year-round home for some 50 families, the club is starting to draw a growing number of “young executive” members below the age of 55.

Consequently, the changing demographics have forced Macaulay’s staff to “stay a little more active in the winter months,” he says, keeping the fitness center open around the clock as well as the popular golf and croquet facilities, weather permitting. The changing membership dynamics are poised to affect club life even more in the future once the club opens its newly renovated and reimagined clubhouse this June.

Among the highlights of Highlands Falls’s phase-one improvements are several new food-and-beverage venues and a new-look clubhouse lobby entranceway/interior that maximize the picturesque indoor-outdoor vistas of Highlands Falls’s natural setting and remodeled par-3 10th hole that wraps around the redesigned “transitional-style” clubhouse that dates to the late 1960s.

According to Macaulay, his member-owned club was so excited about these changes led by the Atlanta-based Kuo Diedrich Chi architectural group and interior designer Traci Rhoads, that when it went up for vote the plan passed with an “unheard of” 99.7 percent approval.  About 10 years ago, the club actually added some outdoor seating for about 50-60 people depending on configuration. Now, the club will have covered outdoor dining for about 120 seats and Macaulay anticipates this newly created area being in “huge demand” as members enjoy club fare and cocktails perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the new Bill Bergin-designed back nine (the front nine is scheduled to be remodeled this winter).

“We already have a signature hole (the par-3 15th waterfall hole), but the new views we have looking out over the new (par-3 No. 10 hole) is going to be like a second signature hole,” says Macaulay, 68, and a peer of the average member in age. “The views from here are just spectacular.Everything we’re trying to do is reinvigorate the clubhouse. Bring in the outdoors which is so much a part of what’s going on here.”

Another way Highlands Falls greatly enhanced the indoor-outdoor experience is creating a new indoor-outdoor bar space as part of the covered pavilion – a dramatic difference compared to the original stand-up bar that sat in the middle of the room like so many traditional clubhouses of old. An interesting touch Macaulay credits lead architect Howard Kuo for coming up with was designing the new bar so it was lower with a lot of stools, creating a welcoming, relaxing environment.

Another unique area that Macaulay envisions being very popular is a rare “community table” that sits behind the indoor-outdoor bar. Inspired by community tables that Macaulay has seen at Panera Bread restaurants, this new dining option is designed for a lot of the club’s single members, many of whom are women, according to Macaulay.

“So if you want to come inside and don’t want to sit at the bar, anybody can just jump in there without any reservation and enjoy whatever company might be there,” Macaulay adds. “I suspect the bar is going to draw a lot of the younger people who will want to come in a little later and I think our existing members are going to enjoy it too – especially during sporting events or special occasions when we’ll serve a different menu so you can get a pizza or that kind of thing.

“Overall, I think we’re going to see a whole different wave of how the club is used. We’ll have to get adjusted to it and used to it, but we’re ready. There’s a tremendous air of excitement right now. I’ve done a lot of renovations at clubs before, but I’m as excited about this project as anything I’ve done in my career. Everything we’ve done is taking this club to the next level. I’m watching it happen. I’m watching this generational change take place here.”



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