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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Alvamar Golf and Country Club ... Mostly Friendly Faces, Fair Prices, Decent Facilities

Alvamar Golf and Country Club
    1809 Crossgate Drive
    Lawrence, KS 66047
    (785) 842-1907
    http://www.alvamar.com

    Having been unable to play much golf in recent years due to bad knees, now that arthroscopic surgery has given me the ability to walk long distances with less pain (note that I did not say "painlessly") it was time to join a club.


    View of 18th Hole (Member's Course) from Clubhouse
    We moved to Lawrence, Kansas last August and I gathered information on local golf and country clubs in order to make an informed decision. After visiting the top-3 last Autumn, I narrowed down the field to two after I received an unwelcoming introduction to Lawrence's city course, Eagle Bend:
    It was a blustery day in October when I dropped by Eagle Bend to inquire about annual memberships. I was hoping to play the course as a "single", never having had ANY DIFFICULTY getting on even the most popular courses in the world last minute, including St. Andrews and Carnoustie (Scotland), Cog Hill (Chicago), Torrey Pines (San Diego), and Princeville (Kauai) to name just a few.
    The two men behind the counter acted as if I were an alien, grudgingly taking the time to answer my questions about spending close to $1500 per year to play golf on their course. When I asked about getting out as a single that day, the course was busy but not overwhelmed, I was told it would be "impossible". "Really" I said, thinking they were joking, but they were as serious as heart attacks. I asked if it was always so difficult getting on as a single and they confirmed that it was, something I had not heard in 50 years of playing golf as a single, so I left, never to return.
    I stopped by Alvamar Golf and Country Club on my way home and was impressed by their friendly, easygoing nature and welcoming attitude. The Head Pro, Paul Hooser, answered all of my questions and told me that getting on as a single at Alvamar is NEVER A PROBLEM. Their pricing was better than Eagle Bend and practice facilities as good as I have seen anywhere, so I waited for Spring to finalize my decision.

    I contacted Alvamar and Lawrence Country Club ($220 per month - golf/social/pool/tennis membership) via email in mid-March, inquiring about a possible tour and opportunity to play the courses. Alvamar's Ryan Spencer (Director of Golf Membership) was quick to get back to me, Lawrence Country Club never did.

    Enjoying Sunday Brunch
    Brian Minnis, Director of Operations and one of the owners, met me when I arrived and personally gave me a tour of the facilities and introduced me to the staff. I was very impressed with the facilities and staff, but even more so with the University of Kansas (KU) Affiliate Membership. Normally $240 per month ($2,880 per year) plus a $300 initiation fee, Brian told me that KU Staff and their families get a golf/dining/social membership for just $150 per month ($1,800 per year, a savings of over $1000) with no initiation fee and access to all of the facilities for my wife included ... SOLD!

    I joined Alvamar on March 13, 2014 and played my first round that day, 10/18ths of a round anyway. As I putted-out on the 10th green of the Member's Course, a tight, tree-lined  layout that meanders through large custom homes and gently rolling hills, I turned to return to my golf cart ... BUT IT WAS GONE! While just 30 yards away putting, it turned out that three teenagers drove off with my electric cart along with my new iPhone and golf clubs valued at over $1700. I recovered my iPhone, which they tossed from the cart as they drove down the 13th fairway, using Find My iPhone in the Pro Shop. I also found two of my golf clubs in the bushes across the street from the 13th green where witnesses had seen the boys fleeing the scene but everything else was lost.

    Alvamar staff reacted immediately and superbly, doing everything they could to help me, including wading through knee deep sludge in a drainage ditch and combing the woods for any sign of my possessions. They was absolutely nothing they could have done to prevent this bazaar theft and went above and beyond after, a testament to the commitment to outstanding customer service I have witnessed so far.
    Eggs Benedict, Quiche Lorraine, Hash Browns, Biscuit and Gravy

    I have since had a chance to play both courses and have been impressed with the layouts and conditions even though the grass is still dormant. With the exception of a few holes, the courses are both very walkable. The Member's Course is much tighter than the Championship (public) Course, a 7,000+ yard test which reminds me of the Robert Trent Jones designed "Blue" Course at the U.S. Air Force Academy where I was a member while on the faculty from 1988 to 1993.

    Brunch: We attended the Sunday Brunch last week early on and enjoyed our meal. At $16.50 per person (coffee $1.50 extra), the brunch was a decent value. Along with the expected breakfast fare (eggs, a great omelet station, bacon, potatoes, biscuits, gravy, waffles, and pancakes), you can choose from Prime Rib (which looked more like roast beef to me), a fish casserole, assorted vegetables, Au Gratin potatoes, and an assortment of fruit and store-bought muffins and pastries.
    Pete's Omelet and Bacon

    Pete, the chef at the omelet bar, does an excellent job and the omelet was superb. Beside fresh eggs, you can choose from bacon, ham, cheddar cheese, onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Everything else was fresh and flavorful with a few exceptions. The English muffins in the eggs Benedict had obviously been there all morning and were so difficult to cut with my butter knife that I finally gave up. The "Prime Rib" was actually pre-sliced roast beef (no carving station) in a Bordelaise sauce, tender and flavorful, but not Prime Rib. My only other suggestion would be a dew more dessert options other than slides fruit and store-bought muffins and breakfast pastries, possibly homemade cheesecake, chocolate cake, or pie/cobbler ala mode.

    Alvabar
    19th Hole: The Alvabar and Grill is a large, well-appointed, cozy environment with wood paneling and numerous TVs for viewing sports while enjoying a post-round beverage. A nice selection of draught beers, including Guinness and local craft beers, daily specials, full menu, and reasonable prices make the Alvabar a great place to wind down after a round of golf.

    Food: The menu is eclectic and so far I have tried the Reuben sandwich (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing on marbled rye with choice of side - seasoned French fries, cottage fries, mashed potatoes, etc - $9), the original mel't (4 cheese grilled cheese sandwich with melted cheese on top, accompanied by choice of side - $8), the chicken fried steak (flaky, breaded, grilled beef with mashed potatoes and veggie 0 $12.50), the blackened burger ($9), and the taco special (Thursdays - 2 tacos for $3).


    Taco Special - 2 for $3
    The Reuben was good, but not any better than any I have had at a coffee shop for $6-$8 and nowhere near a true Kosher deli sandwich piled high with corned beef. The french and cottage fries are good, but likely frozen. The original mel't is super cheesy, but in a good way and if you love cheese, this is the sandwich for you. The chicken fried steak has been the highlight so far, a crunchy, flaky, perfectly grilled piece of breaded meat about the size and shape of a Kansas City strip, but half the thickness.
    The blackened burger was "OK", nothing special. And the tacos were a huge disappointment, even at a buck-fifty a piece. On prefab, store bought corn taco shells, a smattering of overly greasy, seasoned beef, very little (melted) cheese, and a wisp of lettuce barely filled the shells (not the large variety) halfway. The salsa appeared to be Pace or some other commercial variety, not homemade and the big cup of sour cream was wasted on a taco aficionado who would never think of putting sour cream on anything, well maybe a baked potato, much less a taco. I can walk to Fuzzy's Tacos on Massachusetts Street and get a top-notch taco with shredded beef (ground beed, pork, and chicken available), abundant cheese, lettuce, and fresh tomato on a crispy handmade corn shell for only $2, so these were very disappointing.


    I was talked in to trying the baked Ziti ($14) by Pauly, who as a Bostonian should know good Italian food. I have to say that the dish was not bad, probably a bit overpriced (it should come with garlic bread or a salad for that price). The mozzarella cheese on top was baked to perfection (see photo). The store bought pasta was al dente as it should be and the accompanying peppers, onions, and sausage were tasty although there was a bit too much sauce. Overall, the dish was decent, not great.


    A new veal dish, Veal Scaloppini Francesca ($22.00),  parmesan battered veal with gnocchi dressed in boursin cream and served with a vegetable medley recently caught my attention. Being a lover of all things veal, I had to try it. The photo is deceiving, but there were more vegetables than either veal or gnocchi on the plate. Maybe 3-4 ounces of veal max, it was lightly battered. tender, but appeared and tasted frozen. The gnocchi, all seven of them, were hidden under the sauce and mushy, overcooked. The sauce was tasty enough, but drenched the plate and obscured what little veal and gnocchi were on the plate. At $22, the dish was disappointing. A price in the $14 range or a few more ounces of veal and gnocchi would make the dish more palatable.

    Golf: The golf courses are challenging although not as well maintained as I would expect from a "country club". The fairways are mowed too tightly, offering poor lies in many places where a fairway shot should be rewarded. The local "muni" also has zoysia fairways, but they are much more plush and forgiving than Alvamar's at this point in the season. Alvamar's greens are challenging and in good shape except for the dozens of ball marks on each green from the (too) many tournaments held weekly and self-centered people whom obviously care less about anybody but themselves.  

    The member's driving range is an utter disappointment. Very large with plenty of room to move the tees around, the grass is so poorly maintained that it is difficult to find a decent lie to practice from. On the other hand, the "public" range is well kept and plush, having recently been verticut and reseeded, telling me that members are not as appreciated or respected as well as non-members. 


    Original Mel't - $8
    Staff: Management, who are mostly indifferent to me as a whole and cater to the more affluent and influential members, aside, staff at Alvamar are wonderful. Valerie in the front office is very nice and helpful anytime it comes to sorting out the discrepancies on my bill. Travis, the Alvabar Manager, and his staff, including Hillary, Libby, Lizzie, Carena, Troy, Tatania, and Pauly are all friendly and customer oriented, making spending my money there almost a pleasure. Sammy, Cody, Eric (Clemson), Larry, and many of the other golf course staff are also very customer service oriented and helpful. THANK YOU ALVAMAR STAFF!

    Conclusion: Early on in our membership, I can say that Alvamar Golf and Country Club is a pretty good value, providing good customer service and individualized attention from most employees. The food is adequate, fairly reasonable in price, but for what you would expect from a "country club" ... a bit "below par". 

    Having joined Alvamar to meet people in a new town, I have to say that management does not practice what they preached during my initial tour, catering mostly to the more affluent, socially connected, better golfers at the club. They rarely have a word to say to me, talking at length to those sitting beside me while ignoring me for the most part. The Alvamar Ambassadors, those key members tasked with making new members feel welcome, dropped the ball after our first Bounty Night (Friday night cash and prize drawings), virtually ignoring my wife and I ever since. Members, while mostly pleasant on the surface, are cliquish and isolationists, avoiding talking, much less asking new members to join them for golf, or otherwise interacting with those they deem cool enough for their attention. A few key members, one who staff and members refer to as "Lord" SoAndSo, are apparently so impressed with their golf acumen and/or social status that they have refuse to even acknowledge my existence after several attempts to interact with them by simply saying "hello". It would have been nice to feel included for the hundreds of dollars a month we have been sacrificing to try to meet people in a new town, but after six months we have no more friends than when we joined in March. We will be taking that into consideration when our membership is up for renewal next March.
    CombatCritic Gives Alvamar Country Club 6 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    Key Words: Alvamar Golf and Country Club, Alvamar, Golf, Country, Club, Lawrence, Kansas, 66047, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

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