This decade hasn’t been kind to the metro area’s family-friendly neighborhood country clubs.
Kansas City’s Rockhill Tennis Club closed in 2010. Brookridge Golf & Fitness in Overland Park sold in 2014 and is envisioned as a huge mixed-use project. Meadowbrook Golf & Country Club in Prairie Village is being redeveloped as a residential and hotel complex alongside a park.
Homestead Country Club, a big part of the social fabric of Prairie Village and northern Johnson County, filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and struggled to stay afloat, even selling off part of its property to a residential developer.
But now Homestead, set back from 65th Street and Mission Road, appears poised for a new lease on life.
Never miss a local story.
Dennis Hulsing, who owns two thriving racquet clubs in North Carolina, has just bought Homestead and aims for that same success here. His goal is to build back the remaining membership into a vibrant family-oriented tennis, fitness and swim club, with a completely renovated clubhouse for dining and socializing.
“Our motto is where family and friends meet,” Hulsing said. “I’m asking for people to give us a chance and rejoin, because we’re going to resurrect this and it’s going to be something that the community will be proud of.”
Hulsing has concept drawings, by BRR Architecture Inc., that he hopes to take to the Prairie Village City Council for approval in December. If all goes as planned, he said the entire revitalization should be done by the end of 2018.
It would save Prairie Village’s first country club, which was donated by J.C. Nichols in 1952 where the Henry Coppock family barn had been, nestled in the heart of the community. The clubhouse opened in 1954 and membership was available to any resident of a J.C. Nichols Company development.
For decades it was a recreational institution in town, a safe place for young people to hang out, known for its Sunday brunch, Mother’s Day meals and Taco Tuesdays.
But these types of family members-owned clubs have faced tremendous competition from other restaurants and fitness centers. They need continued capital infusion, and got hit hard in the Great Recession. As memberships dwindled, it got harder for the remaining families to sustain them, and pressure to sell the properties for different land uses was intense.
“It’s hard for these middle-bracket clubs that don’t have a golf course to survive, and many have not,” said Carol Harringon, avid tennis player and Homestead member since 1966. She says a dedicated group of members kept the club alive, but needed someone like Hulsing to sustain it for the long haul.
Hulsing brings a solid background for this type of project. After years as a hospitality executive with the Marriott and Omni hotel chains, he started purchasing his own hotels, including the Four Points by Sheraton hotels at Kansas City’s airport and sports complex.
He now heads Hulsing Enterprises, which has hotels, medical supply companies, apartments, organic grocers and a sleep lab. He still has corporate offices in Asheville, N.C., but has recently married and bought a home in Prairie Village and moved the main corporate headquarters to Mission.
Hulsing, an avid tennis player and fitness enthusiast, lived in Mission Hills for a year in 2003 and joined Homestead, which he recalls as a “very vibrant active club” with more than 500 memberships at the time.
But when he returned to the area in 2015, he saw membership had dwindled below 300. Like many people, he thought Homestead was doomed and the whole property would be sold off for house lots. So he joined another tennis club in south Johnson County.
“The perception in the community was, why would I join here because the rumor and perception was that this was going to be knocked over and turned into lots in the very near future,” he recalled.
But earlier this year, a friend connected Hulsing with a group of 13 Homestead investors who had pooled financial resources and worked valiantly for about five years to preserve the club. They had sold off about six acres of the property but wanted the club to survive on the remaining 8.5 acres.
“They invested the money to keep it alive, but it’s going to take a substantial amount of money to take it to the next level,” said Hulsing, who reached an agreement with the investors and board members a few months ago. He would not disclose how much he will spend, but he’s not asking for incentives.
He purchased the property in November and says he’ll invest what it takes to renovate the clubhouse, expand and modernize the fitness facilities and classes, build a new permanent enclosure for the indoor tennis courts (replacing an “eyesore” bubble), and beautify the outdoor Olympic pool area.
The facility also has outdoor tennis courts, plus courts for platform tennis and pickleball, which are increasingly popular.
“He’s got the experience, track record and knows how to run a hospitality-type operation,” said Kent Snodgrass, one of the investors and former Homestead board members who worked to save the club.
Hulsing did the same thing in North Carolina, says Mindy Mettee, senior general manager with Hulsing’s two racquet clubs in Asheville. She was tennis director at a rundown racquet club in a residential area of south Asheville that Hulsing purchased in 2009. A year earlier he had created a racquet club downtown.
“We were losing ground,” Mettee said about the south Asheville club, which had only about 300 memberships. “Dennis came in at the right time.”
She doesn’t know dollar amounts but said Hulsing invested heavily in improvements to the tennis courts, pool, fitness facilities and clubhouse, while keeping family memberships at less than $200 per month. Membership at that one club has grown to 1,500.
“He genuinely has an interest in providing the things that people want, and keeping up with the trends,” Mettee said.
Homestead Communications Manager Becky Ludovissie would not disclose Homestead’s membership rates but said they won’t increase despite the planned improvements.
Hulsing said the membership rates will cover childcare, fitness classes etc. so members don’t feel they are being nickled and dimed. He said he hopes to grow the membership substantially but cap it at under 1,000, so people won’t be tripping over each other. He will keep the existing staff.
“If I have the location and a good base of employees, I can fix the rest,” he said.
Homestead Tennis Director Rod Zerni, who came to Homestead early this year from Woodside Health & Tennis Club in Westwood, said he’s excited.
“I think it’s going to be a game changer in the tennis factor in this part of the city,” he said. “I think it’s all positive and a good thing for this entire location.”
Chuck Wittig, 94, a longtime Homestead member who until recently played tennis almost every day, said it’s all positive and members from young people to seniors are excited.
“This is my second home,” he said. “My car comes here automatically every day.”
Hulsing plans to have his own offices at the club. He says he loves the atmosphere at a revitalized family recreation club.
“I love the energy,” he said. “80 to 90 year olds happy to be here, all the way down to the little kids. You can’t beat the environment.”