Tag Archives: Omaha Country Club

Off The Level

May 27, 2018 by
Photography by Tom Kessler

A seemingly endless series of prospective buyers had shopped the tract of land nestled near the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in the Country Club Oaks neighborhood abutting the Omaha Country Club. Most dismissed it without so much as a second glance. Others had visions of bulldozers dancing in their heads. A couple of brave souls even went so far as to purchase the property, only to later resell it when they couldn’t figure out how or where to situate a home.

How does one approach a plot of land dominated by a sinkhole-like ravine that is only slightly less intimidating than the Great Pit of Carkoon, the lair of the wormlike, man-eating Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi?

Just ask architect Gary Bowen.

“As with every project,” the semi-retired partner at BVH Architecture explains, “I let the topography shape my thoughts. I look to these natural clues and work with the land instead of against it. I seek to disturb the scene as little as possible.”

The home’s roofline features seven different planes, a pattern that is mirrored beneath in an astonishing seven different levels wedged every which way inside the 2,600-square-foot home.
There isn’t much subtlety to the violent angles of the 1.1-acre property, but moving throughout the land-hugging home’s varied levels is usually only a matter of a few gentle steps up or down to navigate from space to space.

And often small spaces at that. Rooms measuring as little as 12-by-14 feet could take on a downright claustrophobic vibe in other homes.

“A small footprint doesn’t need to mean small to the eye,” Bowen says while standing in the high-ceilinged den. “Volume—how your mind translates a space—is what really matters.”

“If you had put a regular, flat ceiling in this room like in most homes,” his wife, Beth, adds, “the space wouldn’t work. It would feel so…uptight…so uninviting.”

The couple’s previous home was equally as innovative. Bowen was one of five architects who designed the Treehouse development, the American Institute of Architects award-winning effort located at 60th and Western streets. Something of an early social experiment in urban infill when conceived in the late ’70s, five individually designed but conjoined townhomes rose on a heavily wooded piece of land around a central auto court.

Bowen is also known for such noted projects as the Gene Leahy Mall, the legendary M’s Pub (both original and rebuilt), and the Milton R. Abrahams branch of the Omaha Public Library system, which was designed around its famous starburst sculpture by Harry Bertoia, the midcentury master of both sculpture and furniture design.

The home’s furnishings reflect eclectic tastes where sleek, Bauhaus-era Marcel Breuer Wassily chairs are juxtaposed against earthy Acoma pottery of the American Southwest. The dull matte-glaze finish of Arts and Crafts-era Van Briggle pottery is contrasted against a shiny, streamlined Art Nouveau chair by Charles Mackintosh.

Handmade tiles and railings from local artisans, especially when surrounded by wide expanses of Douglas fir, further serve to ground the space in the finest traditions of time-honored, hands-on craftsmanship.

In keeping with a naturalistic sense of place, vining ground cover replaces sod across most of the property. A brilliant array of flowers bloom on the property that otherwise melts seamlessly into the golf course that was home to the 2013 U.S. Senior Open. (The U.S. Open, incidentally, is slated to return in 2021.)

“Who needs a lawn when you have this beautiful, 190-acre backyard?” Beth asks, gesturing to a panoramic vista while a group of slow-motion deer play through on the fifth hole just beyond the home’s deck.

Taking inspiration from their many countryside travels across the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France, the couple has created a charming, cottage-like home. But the word “cottage” can often evoke visions of the cloyingly cute, like the worlds imagined in the paintings of Thomas Kinkade. While the Bowen home is perhaps equally self-aware, it is a self-awareness saturated in a hyper-realness not found in the Disneyfied doings of other designers or decorators. No visitor here will ever conflate this home with the faux or the phony.

The couple’s art collection includes many of Bowen’s own watercolors hung alongside works by such local favorites as Keith Jacobshagen and Judith Welk. A grandfather clock in the living room and a madcap crazy quilt in the master bedroom are family heirlooms harkening to Bowen’s Welsh roots, as is the name of the home itself.

“Penwyn,” proclaims the rustic sign above the home’s front door as it greets visitors.

“It’s a British tradition to name your place,” Bowen explains, “and Penwyn was the name given to one of my ancestor’s farms in Wales.”

“And Penwyn,” Beth adds, “translates—just like our place—to ‘white house at the end of the grove.’”

Visit bvh.com to learn more about the firm where Gary Bowen is a principal architect.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Jazz Age to Tech Age

January 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The grande dame of Omaha book clubs began as a sewing club 90 years ago. Women in white gloves and cloche hats met in homes for elegant Monday lunches.

They read such books as E.M. Forster’s Passage to India and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tales of the Jazz Age. Founding members were indeed living in the Jazz Age—also called the Roaring Twenties. Women who began the club in 1924 most likely bought their books from Matthews Book Store at 1620 Harney St. In those days, a new book cost about 50 cents.

High school-age “book boys” were paid to pick up books from members’ homes and take them to other members’ homes so they could be shared. Interesting side note: There are only two “book girls” on record.

Member Lois Reynolds inherited a piece of the club’s history when she received 24 luncheon trays and other items from when her mother-in-law, Laura Reynolds, hosted the Monday Book Club.

Reynolds remembers in the 1960s when her future husband’s mother would talk about the elegant luncheons.

“It was a big deal to get ready for the ladies coming for lunch,” says Reynolds. “They got out their silver and good serving pieces.” Hostesses brought out their best china and linens.

But times changed and so did the club. Members started meeting at city clubs, restaurants, and even a bowling alley.

They met at the Hilltop House. It closed. They met at the legendary Blackstone Hotel. It closed. They met at the Omaha Club, Younkers, the Ranch Bowl, the Fireside Restaurant, and the Sky Room at the Center. All were Omaha landmarks that have 
since closed.

“When I joined we were at the Plaza Club Cloud Room, which has since closed,” says Karen Kennedy, president of the Monday Book Club, which she says is Omaha’s oldest active book club.

“We now meet at the Omaha Country Club, but on Fridays, since we learned that country clubs are closed on Mondays.”

Yes, that’s right. The Monday Book Club meets on Fridays.

“We used to have hostesses for centerpieces and menus. But when we went to the Omaha Country Club, it became easier if we paid an annual membership fee,” says Kennedy, a member for 14 years.

“Dues are now $135, which includes lunch, operating expenses, an annual donation to a charity, and occasional speakers.”

Members now bring their books for sharing with others to the monthly luncheon meetings (the “book boys” lost their jobs), which are held October through May.

Speakers are sometimes invited to talk about such topics as making a will, writing a book, poetry, and safe driving. A slide show about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth was a 1955 luncheon program. In 1957, the speaker was an anthropologist.

Most of the club’s 40 members buy books at the locally owned The Bookworm, where they receive a discount.

“We then take the book to the first meeting, check it out for a month, and bring it back to the next luncheon meeting,” says Kennedy. “This way we get a variety of books. We hope they read something they otherwise may not. We share the love of good books and good company.”

When Beth Black moved The Bookworm to Countryside Plaza in 1999, she inherited many book clubs from the Village Bookstore that had been located there, including the Monday Book Club.

“We have more than 60 active registered book clubs,” says Black, co-owner of the bookstore. “Only about a dozen are like the Monday Book Club, old-fashioned book clubs that pass books on to members but don’t discuss them.”

“It is old-fashioned,” agrees Kennedy. “That’s a fine word. It’s about fun 
and friendship.”

Members ask Black and her staff at The Bookworm for recommendations. The store keeps a list of the books that members buy, so they do not duplicate each other’s purchases.

The book club’s members decided to stop exchanging holiday gifts at the Christmas luncheons and instead give money each year “to an organization that we believe in,” 
says Kennedy.

Donations have been made to such nonprofits as Child Saving Institute, CASA, The Salvation Army, and the Stephen Center. Most significant for a book club are donations to literacy and the library foundations and the Omaha Public Library.

Few of the book club’s records go back before the 1950s, says Kennedy, but the group’s history is perhaps best told 
in bloodlines.

The Reynolds are a prime example of how families have passed participation in the Monday Book Club down through generations. Lois has been a member for six years; her mother-in-law was a member for 40 years; her husband’s aunt, Louise Reynolds, also was a long-time member.

Members’ names over the years have included those of well-known individuals in the community. Presently all members of the venerable club are women.

What if a man wanted to join the all-female group? “I don’t think we would turn them away,” says Kennedy.

Omaha’s Hole in One

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by 2013 U.S. Senior Open

When officials with the United States Golf Association (USGA) began the selection process for the 2013 U.S. Senior Open more than five years ago, one city and one course stood above the rest.

Prior to an expansive renovation of the Omaha Country Club in 2007, every time Omaha tried to lure a major golf event to town, the USGA declined, saying there was no course in the state of Nebraska that was capable of hosting this level of national championship.

Not anymore.Fred-Couples_Web

“The USGA was impressed with what the club and [designer] Keith Foster had done when they renovated the golf course,” says Tim Flaherty, senior director, U.S. Women’s and U.S. Senior Opens for the USGA. “By bringing back the Maxwell features [put in place during a 1952 renovation of OCC by renowned golf course architect Perry Maxwell] and by lengthening the course, we felt it was a worthy test for the Senior Open. Our number-one issue is the golf course, and we really feel like Omaha Country Club is a hidden gem that a national audience will not be familiar with.

“We were also impressed with the club leadership and [general chairman] Patrick Duffy in particular. These championships are a collaborative effort, and we felt like the club would be a wonderful partner in this endeavor. Lastly, we were intrigued with the city of Omaha and all of the success it’s had with major, national events. There is a strong corporate base which supports events of this kind and that was readily apparent when we made the decision to accept the club’s invitation.”

“This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history.” – Liz Leckemby, Championship Director

Convincing the USGA to host such a widely followed and prestigious event as the U.S. Senior Open was quite a coup for Omaha. It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase Omaha to an international audience, as the championship will be broadcast live on ESPN and NBC to more than 100 countries for four days between July 8 and 14.

With internationally known names like Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Couples, and Mark O’Meara—among many other former tour championships—competing for the title, Championship Director Liz Leckemby says spectators will experience an event like none other in Nebraska.

According to Leckemby, Omaha and the Omaha Country Club were selected from an elite list of clubs interested in hosting the championships—some past sites and some new contenders. This is the first time the U.S. Senior Open has been in the state of Nebraska, although there have been two smaller USGA championships held in the state.Crowd-2_Web

“Because the Senior Open is the biggest event for the players over 50, it provides the largest purse, and the trophy is the one the players all want to win, so we never need to go out and actively recruit players to come to this event,” Leckemby says. “This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history, so while having the top-name players is important, if someone does not make the field list due to injury or another reason, the championship will go on.”

“The rookie class for 2013 is pretty exciting, as we have Colin Montgomery, Steve Elkington, Vijay Singh, and Rocco Mediate who will all be eligible for their first U.S. Senior Open.”

“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events.” – Tim Flaherty, USGA Senior Director

From an economic impact, Leckemby says the USGA is conservatively expecting a crowd of 150,000 for the week to watch the 156 players and their caddies. Add in a few hundred media and broadcasters, volunteers, spectators, manufacturers, rules officials, USGA staff, USGA executive committee, and some vendors traveling to, staying and eating, and spending money in the city, and Leckemby is anticipating an economic impact of $30 million-plus to the local community.

She adds that the local public and private communities, as well as large and small companies, have been tremendous in supporting the championship. Ticket sales have been strong in both Omaha and Lincoln, and companies understand why it’s important to support major national championships like the U.S. Senior Open.Fred-Funk_Web

Flaherty agrees with Leckemby in predicting this championship is poised to be the most successful Senior Open in history. The event has already eclipsed the previous benchmark for corporate support, and ticket sales will end up in the top two or three championships in history.

“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events,” Flaherty says. “The club has been a pleasure to work with, and our championship staff is excited to be there in July. Successful Senior Opens are the ones that transcend the club and the USGA and truly become a community event. The unprecedented corporate support, strong ticket sales, and a full volunteer force are all indicators of a successful championship on the horizon.”

Leckemby says she expects the coverage and notoriety Omaha will get as host city of the Senior Open will intrigue organizers and decision-makers of sporting and entertainment events to investigate and ultimately choose the city for a variety of reasons.

“Anytime you can feature a successful event to a national and international audience, it opens the door for future events,” Leckemby says. “There are many people who may be learning about Omaha for the first time when the NBC broadcast coverage opens at the Senior Open on Saturday afternoon.

“I personally grew up in New Jersey, an hour outside of NYC, so Omaha was never a place I knew much about. I think this championship will do wonders to educate people about Omaha, and the golf fans in particular.”

A Major Moment

A total of 200 phone lines, 125 shuttle buses, 700 cases of beer, 250 kegs, 200 golf carts, and 196 portable restrooms…sounds like a big party and it is! Add in a celebrity guest list that includes big-name golfers, such as Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin, Corey Pavin, plus 152 other professional and amateur players and the party just got bigger and better.

The U.S. Senior Open, July 8 through the 14 at the Omaha Country Club, is expected to attract 150,000 spectators throughout the week-long event and put Omaha center stage in front of an international audience. The premier golf event for the senior tour will be broadcast to more than 100 countries and will include four days of live television coverage on ESPN and NBC Sports. That means millions will see what Omaha has to offer, generating valuable awareness for our city, as well as building upon Omaha’s growing reputation as a destination that knows how to successfully host big events.

And if there was any doubt as to the value tourism brings to our city, not only will the U.S. Senior Open provide premium media exposure, it will add $30 million to the local economy—$30 million in one week…Now that’s a party worth celebrating.

Questions or comments? Email us at info@visitomaha.com.