Friday, June 13, 2014

TOP STORY >> Banker bringing his skills to club

Leader editor

Southern Oaks Country Club in Jacksonville has hired John Hardwick as its general manager.

Hardwick, who recently retired as vice president of First Arkansas Bank and Trust after 33 years with the bank, says he intends to boost membership by attracting people not only from the Foxwood neighborhood, where the club is located, but also from Cabot, Sherwood and North Little Rock. His first day was Monday.

The move coincides with majority owner Brian Hagewood being bought out by his partners, Harold Gwatney and Joan Zumwalt, according to a news release issued Thursday.

A reception will be held to welcome Hardwick at 6 p.m. Friday in the club’s banquet room.

It may seem like a big change for the former banking executive, but his new office is just a few blocks away from his home on Grey Fox Lane. “We all have a belief in Jacksonville and the fact that we need a country club in Jacksonville for quality of life. And Joan and Harold made a huge commitment when they bought (the club). They are very civic minded,” Hardwick said.

His financial expertise will be a vital asset for the club. Formerly Foxwood Country Club, its name was changed in 2011 after Ted Belden — citing the club’s financial disposition — sold it to Hagewood. “I think it’s great for the club,” Hagewood said after the sale. “John retired from the bank three months ago but realized real soon he wasn’t cut out for it yet. The club has been absent of a true general manager for over a year now. He is probably overqualified, but he is looking forward to the challenge of growing the club. He will be great for the members and hopefully increase the membership and revenue.”

Hardwick is confident about Southern Oaks’ future. The club has about 150 members and Hardwick aims to attract 100 new members in the coming months. “That’s what I was hired to do, grow membership,” he said.

Full-membership fees are $145 a month and include unlimited golf with free use of golf carts, access to the pool and use of the club’s meeting rooms for events.

A junior golf membership is available to people under 28 for $125 a month.

There’s also a social membership program for $45 a month, which offers families full access with the exception of golf. It can be good for less-frequent golfers.

And a seasonal pool membership is available for $300. The pool was refurbished last year.

Southern Oaks also offers corporate memberships.

To help bring in new members, the club is waiving its initiation fees.

“It’ll take some time. I went to a meeting this week and there were six people from the Air Force base at that meeting. Only one of the six knew where we were. So we just haven’t done a good enough job of letting people know we are here, where we are, how to get here. But we picked up three new members this week, so that was cool,” Hardwick said.

The quality of the golf course and plans to keep improving the club will be key to meeting that goal, he said.

“We have an excellent course. My friends and members are telling me it’s in the best shape it’s ever been in. We’ve got nothing but compliments on the condition, from people that come to tournaments that don’t normally play here, about what great shape it’s in. We’ve worked on the drainage a lot. It’s just a beautiful course right now. It’s fun to play, not too hard but it’s still challenging for a good golfer,” he said.

Southern Oaks isn’t just looking for Foxwood residents to join. “In fact, there’s not a real country club in the Sherwood and North Little Rock area, so those are good places for us to draw from,” Hardwick said.

“Rolling Hills is the only country club left in Cabot and their membership is full. So we can draw from Cabot, Sherwood, North Little Rock and Jacksonville if someone wants a private course where they don’t have to get tee times, (can get) good food, a nice pool,” Hardwick said.

His team includes club manager Lindsey Beaver, who’s worked with the club since 2012. “She does everything except the course. She’s my right hand,” Hardwick said.

Bo Brocchus, who is head of golf operations, said, “I’ve spent my entire life out there. My parents were members when it was built.”

He first started working there in 1991 and returned in 2012, after working for a couple of years at North Hills Country Club in Sherwood.

Hardwick said, “They’re my two key people. They’re the heart and soul of it.”

He will be taking stock while he settles into his new job. “I have a vision of what I want it to be, which is a quality private club, but I want to make sure that I get input from our members and also from nonmembers about what they want.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the members. I’m going to be getting feedback, reaching out to members,” he said.