My first job was at a country club on the East Coast. It was in an affluent area and as far as I could tell, it was in every way the stereotypical country club that exists in our imaginations: fancy cars in the parking lot, green carpeting everywhere, and that unmistakable musty, grassy, bourbony smell that all country clubs seem to have. I worked long hours, honed my game on Mondays (when the course was closed and staff could play), memorized who the good tippers were, and became introduced to an assortment of characters that made an undeniable impression on me: The idle rich guy who “might or might not” play today, depending on utterly inscrutable variables; the different types of functional drunks; the hard-working miser who never upgraded to a golf cart, and this one guy who always called me “sport” like he was Jay Gatsby and forgot how Fitzgerald’s novel ended. Some people were genuinely good souls, but most members were friendly in a breezy but distant sort of way, certainly not in a way that ever made me want to join a country club.
But that has changed. I am ready to join a country club. Well, one country club. Copper River Country Club in Fresno.
My first impression of Copper River was that it in no way felt like a country club. Sure it has that Xanadu-like, sun-drenched clubhouse, much like what you see at L.A.’s Riviera or Ojai Valley. The Spanish Colonial architecture looks simply smashing in the late afternoon, what with the fountains going and the palms swaying. And yes, you can charge all of your food and drinks to your account (where is Underhill when you need him?). But thankfully, the similarities to all things snooty end there.
First off, there are children present. Lots of them. “This is the best family-friendly club in town” says Ryan Lancaster, the four-year golf pro and Atwater native. Megan Wilbourn, a 3-year Copper River employee, also loves the familial atmosphere and she appreciates the fact that she has gotten to know many of the kids during her time there. By the way, if the prospect of lots of kids running around is a potential deal-breaker, consider that the kids at this club aren’t wiling away the hours. They are active. The swimming pool, tennis courts, and small playground are constantly buzzing with the sound of kids moving and playing. As a father of four children, I am familiar with the two kinds of noisy kids: noisy kids who are bored and whining and noisy kids that are being outdoorsy, active kids. The latter predominates at Copper. You can handle those kinds of kids—their noisiness seems far away. An ambitious activities schedule ensures that everyone stays occupied and involved. “It’s crazy,” says Wilbourn, referring to the inventive and committed investment the club makes in families.
Secondly, there is huge emphasis on fitness. This is atypical of most country clubs, where exercising is usually relegated to second class or third class status. At Copper, they have spinning classes, yoga classes, pilates classes, and the gym equipment is up to date (another country club rarity). The heated half-Olympic sized pool has lap lanes and the tennis courts are heavily used. Tennis Pro Cuyler Legler, a 12-year Copper River veteran, feels fortunate to work in such a world-class facility. “Copper River is like Palm Springs in Fresno,” he says. Legler is especially proud of the fact that 50+ kids per day use the tennis facilities, which include two clay tennis courts and a score of immaculately maintained hard courts. Several of these kids have gone on to play professional tennis, a considerable accomplishment for a club that was opened only 21 years ago by the Tatham Family.
Third is the food. Country club food is notorious for being bland (think wedding reception chicken), but Copper River is a true dining destination in this region. Danielle Goulart in the lounge makes an absolutely killer Bloody Mary and she loves the ever-evolving menu put out by head chef Adam Meier.
“Everything he makes is great,” says Goulart. She recommends the tri-tip tacos and appreciates the fact that the chef always puts out a daily special. Food can be ordered from the lounge by the pool (Megan enthusiastically recommends the chicken tenders. Yes, the chicken tenders.) and it is delicious. But the real show-stopper is the Sunday Brunch, an enormous affair that members and guests (dining is open to the public) brag about with a kind of protective verve. Fresno is not exactly known as a brunch city, but Copper River’s version does it in grand style. This weekly special occasion offering is surely one of Fresno’s best kept secrets.
Copper River’s golf course is no slouch either (Caddyshack reference intentional) and its layout offers a diverse test of golf. “It’s a links style course,” says Lancaster, referring to the classic “9 out, 9 in” arrangement, “but with hills and trees. He is also proud of the fact that there are no “back and forth” holes like you see on so many municipal courses. “When you are golfing, it is only your foursome,” he notes. “It’s your own piece of real estate.” The course marries itself perfectly to the undulating landscape, which used to feature grape vineyards. The course has managed to stay ahead of the challenges of droughts, weeds, and the otherwise harsh conditions of the San Joaquin Valley, a credit to course superintendent Bill Griffith. The course is fair but it ain’t easy. Winds are a significant factor in the afternoon, especially on the rugged front nine. The course is free from the kinds of gimmicks you see on other courses (no 600-yard par fives or double doglegs), yet provides a true test of golf for all levels. Lancaster’s favorite hole is #5, a slightly downhill par 3 with a protected green that has come to symbolize what Copper River means to him.
Perhaps the biggest surprise at Copper River? It’s affordability. The club does not publish their fees, but let’s just say that your intrepid blogger was surprised by just how reasonable some of its plans were. “We are very competitively priced,” says Geoff Hirata, Assistant General Manager. He wasn’t joking. A family membership will not run much more than what you will see at other so-called full-service fitness clubs in town. This is important, because this club has a lot more going for it than other corporate-style places in town. The staff seem pleased as well, a sign that good things are happening there. “This is by far the best country club I’ve ever worked at,” says Richard Estrada, a chef. “Oh, and do you know about the brunch?”
Consistent with their commitment to getting everyone involved, all membership plans are designed around families, which seems to be the distinguishing feature and the house specialty at Copper River Country Club. Check it out if you can by giving Geoff a call, and I’ll see you at brunch.
Did you know you could live on the course?! Well you can and we just happen to have one of the most sought after floor plans available now.
2015 built Granville Home in the Via Fiore at Copper River Ranch Community! This three bedroom, two bath home is in pristine condition with numerous upgrades throughout and right on the golf course. The spacious floor plan includes a chef’s kitchen, great room, tech center with built in desk and dining room with gorgeous wood plank floor tile throughout and 8ft interior doors. The open kitchen features granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, a breakfast bar and a center island. Each of the spacious bedrooms offers ample storage. The master suite includes views of the golf course, sconce lighting in the master bathroom, framed wooden mirrors, soaking tub and double sinks. The backyard features a concrete patio, a gray/blue river rock perimeter and amazing views of the golf course. A synthetic front lawn and 3kw solar system finish off this spectacular Clovis North High home.