A year ago this week, the Club at Cordillera filed for bankruptcy protection. Pretty much the entire erstwhile membership had signed onto to a lawsuit against the owner. No name in the Vail Valley was more reviled than David Wilhelm, which he earned by closing three of the club’s four golf courses and taking a curious strategy of antagonizing his members.
This was just about exactly a year after he sued members for $96 million and 610 of them sued him back for more than $100 million. Oh my.
And that was only a year removed from his triumphant purchase of the club from Felix Posen and heady promises to reinvent the country club experience right into the teeth of the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Understatement: Cordillera has been through a lot.
This year I’m having lunch at the Timber Hearth with the new general manager, Michael Henritze, and feeling the cautious optimism that has come with two of the club’s three remaining courses opening and the third on track to open soon. Cordillera’s property owners association now owns and runs the remaining Short Course.
Membership is rebuilding. It’s up to 340-350 as we meet. Wilhelm still has partial ownership as part of the group that bought the club out of bankruptcy, but he’s not involved in the management of the club.
The stroke of genius, or maybe simply prudence is the better word, is that the well-regarded Troon golf management company is running the club now. This is the largest golf management company in the world, with courses everywhere and privileges for Cordillera members, which has to make membership even more attractive than residual hatred for Wilhelm.
I admit I’m taken with Henritze’s calm, straightforward approach. He’s frank about Wilhelm, who is removed from management decisions, but of course remains involved with his sons, who are involved with the club.
It’s also clear that Troon is not a group that’s easily pushed around. And face it, they bring a credibility to the operation that’s been missing for a long time among the Cordillera community the club serves.
Membership is growing as Henritze and company work to rebuild trust the old-fashioned way: “One member at a time.” “We do what we say we’re going to do.”
There is no room for bombast, big swaggering promises. Cordillera has been there, done that. If Henritze can do something, he’ll tell you and do it. If he can’t, well, he’ll tell you that, too.
I’m encouraged. Then again, he did buy lunch. Not that that has ever stopped me from biting the hand, mind you.
I believe that Cordillera mending and then thriving is not only important for that community, but also for the rest of our valley.
So I’m pulling for them. If they can rebuild even a fragile trust, the arc is such that this time next year will be cause for true celebration.