RIPON -- There are balconies, and then there is the balcony at Spring Creek Golf & Country Club's impressive new clubhouse.
It stretches east to west on a long and gradual curve facing the course from behind the 18th green, above the relocated first tee and around to the ancient oak tree that bordered the former clubhouse.
Spring Creek wished to feature the beauty of its 18-hole course on the banks of the Stanislaus River. Better still, it hoped to connect the building with its best asset.
By all accounts, it has succeeded.
"You're not separated from the course when you're in the clubhouse," said Leo Zuber, club president. "We wanted to make the clubhouse a part of Spring Creek and the golf experience."
When a visitor walks into the high-ceiling lobby, he or she can glance straight down Spring Creek's first fairway. That's the view which greeted all guests who drove down Pebble Beach Drive and into the club since its opening in December of 1966.
That view has been preserved in the thoughtful design by Modesto's Bob DeGrasse of L Street Architects. The club rejected more conventional clubhouse concepts and opted for openness and comfort. Huff Construction of Modesto did the heavy lifting on the two-story building which opened in late April.
"You can see the golf course from nearly every room in the building," said Jim Toal, Spring Creek's manager the past 11 years. "Everyone walks in and says it's magnificent but it's also comfortable. That was a big deal for the club to build a clubhouse that will have the same comfortable feeling that Spring Creek has enjoyed over the years."
That the membership even signed off on such a project, given the difficult economy and the stagnated golf business since 2005, amounted to a minor miracle.
As with most major endeavors, it did not happen overnight.
Spring Creek started down this road about a decade ago when it installed a new irrigation system. It was paid off about five years ago, but the club continued to assess its members for capital improvements.
That led to the following proposal: To build a new clubhouse and keep the cost under $6 million. Members would pay a one-time fee of $950, plus a $30-per-month hike in capital improvement costs.
A 77-percent majority OK'd the project, and members watched the old pro shop and clubhouse the kitchen and dining room had gone unchanged since Spring Creek opened disappear early this year.
"The infrastructure was falling down around us," Toal said. "We had no choice."
Check out the numbers: Spring Creek had 358 members plus 42 social (non-playing members) when construction began. Today, it boasts 368 golf members along with 90 social.
"We were hoping the building would do two things," Toal said. "We wanted to attract new people and we wanted to bring new value to the people who were already here."
Most private clubs have waded through the tough years, but that hasn't been the case elsewhere. Elkhorn CC in Stockton closed early in 2011 and reopened last November as a daily-fee course.
Meanwhile, Spring Creek retooled its headquarters. A chipping green has been added and the practice ranged has been expanded. The practice green has been relocated to near the new first tee.
The clubhouse forced an adjustment to only the first hole, a former par-5 shortened to a strong par-4. The par-71, which measures about 6,400 yards, still requires careful placement off the tee.
Spring Creek's bold move with the clubhouse, however, signals a pro-active membership eager to step forward.
"We researched this and learned that clubs that invest in themselves, to make themselves more appealing and to give younger members something to look forward to, sustain themselves through difficulties," Toal said.
THE SHAG BAG Scott Piercy, the 2011 Reno-Tahoe Open champion, will not defend his title this week. His victory last weekend at the Canadian Open earned him a berth in the WGC-Bridgestone, the invitational event this week at Firestone in Akron, Ohio. Beyer High graduate Matt Bettencourt, the 2010 RTO champion, will return to Montreux CC south of Reno along with Padraig Harrington, Stuart Appleby, Stockton's Ricky Barnes, Lee Janzen, David Duval and others. The tournament will feature the Modified Stableford scoring format, a points system which rewards aggressive play. ... Coming up: The Turlock CC Junior on Monday and Tuesday.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2302.