Golf is not just a game to enjoy. It's an entire experience to be a part of, especially at Stuart Place Country Club and Shary Municipal Golf Course.
At least that's what the voters decided in the annual Winter Texans Times Favorite Golf voting.
Stuart Place, a nine-hole course, located at 155 Highland Dr. in Harlingen, won five of the seven categories that people could vote on. Those categories include Favorite Hole (No. 9), Favorite Amenities (the clubhouse), Favorite Putting Green, Favorite 19th Hole (again, the clubhouse) and Favorite Menu Item (hot dog).
“That's just great to hear,” said Jim Barkau, one of three course owners. “It's a friendly place to go. Everyone gets together after a round of golf and goes by, especially at 4 p.m., for Happy Hour. Sometimes there will be 35-40 people there.”
Hole 9 is probably the biggest challenge on the course, with a resaca that has a tendency to have a sweet tooth for golf balls. “There's a lot of balls in there,” Barkau said.
For those who think a hot dog is just a hot dog, Stuart Place would beg to differ. Barkau said the hot dog is a quarter-pounder and his wife chops up the onions and it's cooked on a George Foreman Grill.
Barkau said one of the reasons he bought into the golf course ownership was due to the clubhouse. When driving into Stuart Place, the clubhouse is inviting and friendly. Inside, the people are the same. Some might be playing cards, others dominoes or just talking about the day's events. It's like Cheers but with a golf course attached.
“I go to the clubhouse three or four times a day,” said Barkau, who's an Illinois native and has lived in the Valley since 1997 with his wife. “Everybody gets along, and everybody knows each other.”
While the course has the “Country Club” title, it is open to the public. In fact, Barkau said he encourages golfers from all over the Valley to check out the little piece of Harlingen paradise.
“We have tournaments once or twice a month,” he said. “Everyone is welcome. Afterwards we'll have spaghetti or burgers or pizza. This Saturday there are 50 or 60 people signed up to play. It's just a good time.”
It's a good time that starts at the clubhouse, goes to the golf course, then back to the clubhouse. Or, for non-golfers, it starts and stays at the clubhouse.
“We want the public to come,” Barkau said. “It's a home away from home.”
Mario Flores, Shary Municipal's director of golf, was elated to hear that the course won the other two categories – Favorite Driving Range and Favorite Clubhouse.
He said the key is knowing the patrons and catering to them.
“We're in the process of redoing the driving range and the grass area,” he said. “But we've also gotten into a program of getting more golf balls recently and I'm sure it helps to be able to hit fresh golf balls and not old scuffed up ones.”
The course has also worked on drainage and bought some new equipment to be able to do more things to and for the course. It's just the beginning, though. They are still in the process of making other changes and improvements.
“We're spending more on fertilizer and things we can control,” said Flores, who has been the director for six years. “As far as the pro shop we just cater to what sells for us and we don't out price ourselves. We know our friends and patrons.”
Among them are the Winter Texans, who are back in full force.
“It has been a great season so far and the Canadians are back,” Flores said. “We missed all the ones who didn't return last year. But they're back and we're looking at another nice season.
“We're thankful to have won those awards. It's nice that our patrons recognize what we do.”