The Influencer

The Influencer

The architecture of the new bighorn clubhouse ups the social ante, attracts young families, and draws attention from around the Coachella Valley and beyond.

Lisa Marie Hart Current PSL, Home & Design, Real Estate

The Influencer

By the crisp white light of an autumn moon, Bighorn Golf Club members up and leave the snug comfort of their homes — with pleasure. They put the golf cart in reverse with the glee of teenagers sneaking out of the house while their parents lie sleeping and back out of the long drive. With the invigorating night breeze at their back, they wind down silent streets built into the rolling landscape, eyes fixed on the lights and figures moving to an inaudible soundtrack inside the Bighorn clubhouse. Moments later, they have arrived.

While the rest of the world posts, likes, follows, friends, and DMs on social media, these members connect with each other in real space and time, clinking glasses of wine and smoking heady cigars on the sweeping back patio lounge that seems to float above the 18th fairway of the Mountains Course. They tuck their phones in a back pocket or leave them on the counter at home — but not because a Bighorn rulebook deems devices verboten. Among this self-made, bootstrapping group that has worked hard for every minute they run free, the overblown allure of a touch screen has nothing on good friends and great views.

There’s no place like home, unless you happen to live at Bighorn. In that case, there’s a place very much like home, but even better. It’s this desert contemporary clubhouse that bends, swoops, and unfolds itself across several expansive levels as one of the greatest examples of statement architecture in the Coachella Valley. Designed on sentimental dirt where the former one stood, it materialized from the ground up last fall to serve as the buzzy living room of the campus, the hub of all the action, the center of the Bighorn universe. Its nine restaurants, golf lifestyle boutique (with its own fine jewelry shop), and luxe full-service locker rooms are tailored to members’ preferences.

The 80,000 square feet of the clubhouse feel like an authentic extension of home for members — and not by coincidence. Every inch of the purposeful sculpture fashioned around 2 million pounds of structural steel, 1 million pounds of rebar, and 95,000 cubic feet of concrete was customized to their every need and want. If architecture can shape our decisions, the way we spend our time, our very thoughts on where we sit on the happiness scale from one to 10, the clubhouse is a testing, nay proving, ground for exactly that.

The architects, designers, and artisans drew on the members’ personalities to fashion an intentional destination, one that would stir a new level of involvement. The result was to be a consistently captivating place where members feel supremely comfortable. A voluminous openness that flows toward the views and patios, the unique compositions of various spaces, and the abundance of floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors would all contribute to members’ enhanced use of the clubhouse and their desire to be here.

Big Horn Interior

Bright and angular, the  clubhouse architecture responds to the Bighorn members’ lifestyle.

Unprecedented, and what some might see as counterintuitive, the bold decision to raze the old to erect the new was a calculated risk well played. No catastrophic event had damaged the structure; its style and functionality had simply run its course. Built in 1992, the former clubhouse sustained nine major remodels before its demolition. Member buy-in was solid. (Some had dropped candid hints that it had become dated.) At the building’s “send-off party,” members put on yellow hard hats before they graffitied the walls with farewell messages.

“It was an exhilarating moment watching the clubhouse come down,” says Bighorn Golf Club president Carl Cardinalli, who has been at Bighorn for more than 27 years. “The old clubhouse served us well, but it was time for us to walk through the threshold of the future and set a new standard of excellence — not only for our members, but for the entire clubhouse world.”

The hulking void where it once stood called attention to how spectacular the views from the site always had been, despite the fact that they were never fully optimized. Now they are, in a structure whose glass front is only upstaged by its glass back. Panoramas begin at the entry only to widen and become more dramatic with every step one takes.

With a $70 million price tag and a mere 16 months of round-the-clock sweat by Lusardi Construction (it went up over two summers and one season), the clubhouse project rallied hundreds of talented men and women to abide in a single vision and get it right: erect a spectacular extension of home.

A year ago this month, the modern version of utopia that is Bighorn’s clubhouse revealed itself to more than 1,000 members and guests at a “Welcome Home” party that lit the sky with fireworks before KC and The Sunshine Band performed. While members arrive for another season of more than 100 club-hosted events and 200-plus private ones, few will pause to consider how the venue’s siting, angles, curves, flow, spaces, finishes, lighting, and both intimate and extravagantly sized spaces have altered the course of their lives. Bighorn’s leaders, on the other hand, have considered it for years. Architecture has the power to impact how we socialize and experience great places. And they set out to harness its full potential.

 Bighorn Golf Club

A home away from home, the clubhouse opens to a spacious living room where
members  meet before dining or simply hang out and read.

“Not only was it executed into a dynamic and relevant space for today’s family, but when coupled with the extraordinary service provided by Bighorn’s team of passionate associates, the experience of being a Bighorn Golf Club member is unmatched,” Cardinalli says.

Past the glass entry doors, the aptly dubbed “Living Room” greets and seats, with the warmth of a great room on a grander scale. Whether members are meeting friends before sitting down to lunch or kicking back with a newspaper before starting the day, the ease of the space obliges. It is thoughtfully designed for relaxation and enjoyment, as is the entire clubhouse, mirroring yet elevating the comfort of one’s own home.

From the event stage of professional proportions on the bottom level to the four residential penthouses designed by architect Guy Dreier on top, every intuitive design move incorporates member feedback from the past 20 seasons — or anticipates their future requests.

Big Horn Design

Women laugh like schoolgirls in the ladies’ locker room, playing mahjong and canasta. Men mingle with no socks, no watch, no collared shirt, and no reason they can’t bring their grade-schoolers or grandkids to the dinner table at The Pour House for flatbread pizzas, “funnel fries,” and doughnut holes with dipping sauces and sprinkles. Bighorn keeps the menu offerings fun and the atmosphere laid-back.

“We think of the clubhouse as the gathering place that blurs the lines of art and architecture, becoming one with great friends, food, wine, and celebrating life together,” says John Sather, A.I.A. senior partner of Swaback Partners of Scottsdale, Arizona, who designed the clubhouse with Swaback colleague Brent Harris. Adding to the easygoing ambiance are the residentially inspired surroundings by Blackbird Interiors, a firm known not for commercial spaces but for family estates, including many at Bighorn. They understand the membership; they have seen and designed their homes. Principals Bob Call and Kathy Blackbird have been members themselves since 2005.

“Ultimately we wanted a space that provided members and guests with a distinctively warm and earthy experience, both soothing and energizing,” Blackbird says. With the architecture as the framework, the team created a unique environments for memorable social interactions. “Our greatest reward is to see people smiling, relaxing, and truly enjoying the beauty of their surroundings.”

Organic yet refined materials abound. Straight from Portugal, 70,000 square feet of smooth, creamy travertine blends with the soft-white limestone flooring from Peru. Below a billowing ceiling of wooden slats, the free-flowing floor plan with a dearth of right angles is familiar to those found in many Bighorn residences.

On opening day, some members couldn’t help themselves. They gathered outside the doors as early as 6:30 a.m., peeking in the windows prior to the soft opening, anxious for a first glimpse of their new home. (Though many had a notion of
what to expect: Webcams had engaged members in the construction process.)

The youthful, almost giddy spirit the clubhouse still inspires on its anniversary — from moonlit golf cart rides in pursuit of a nightcap to a renewed eagerness to attend events — is increasingly accompanied by a spry birth year. In 2017, the average joining age was 50, though it bumped up to 56 in 2018. During the 2017–2018 season, 10 member couples in their 30s joined. Twelve percent of the membership has children (17 or younger), for a total of 101 children, including four newborns who arrived last year. Ten families even call Bighorn their primary home, and their kids attend local schools. In tandem, the club has honed its focus on family-friendly events, high-tech amenities, and curating the resort lifestyle. Why check into a hotel when you can staycation at the club?

As Bighorn veers younger, it is also transitioning into more of a year-round escape — two trends reflected throughout the desert. Families are building in time on holidays, long weekends, and school breaks, while they’ve adapted the club’s annual traditions as their own. Several extended families own more than one home; their swelling guest lists outgrew the first purchase.

Last May proved busy, with members lingering longer than they have in past seasons. When June gloom hunkered down past the San Jacinto Mountains, some returned for a dose of sunshine. October is the new November, with members driving through the gates to meet up with Bighorn friends.

Leadership rightly predicted the new tailor-made clubhouse would heighten levels of involvement — and involvement is investment. They attest the clubhouse has also spurred a flurry of new home purchases, as well as many remodels. “The space is so inviting no one can resist it. And when Bighorn’s world-renowned service is added to the environment, members and their families and guests don’t want to leave and keep coming back for more,” Cardinalli affirms. “The old and the new clubhouses can’t be compared. It’s like going from a used Ford Taurus to a new Bentley. Word gets around. Who wouldn’t want to be here?”

Across the Coachella Valley, other clubs also have been reimagining their facilities to stay current and show a younger set their more laid-back side. Meanwhile at Bighorn, the influential scope of the self-described “Innovation Club” is pushing outward, well beyond its massive mountain views. An 18-minute play-by-play golf video on YouTube posted by Golfholics titled “The Extravagant Bighorn Golf Club” has racked up nearly 50,000 views since February. Bighorn’s feed on Instagram has more than 10 times the followers than the club has members. Pushing 7,000 IG admirers, Bighorn can be sure the world is watching. We’ve an influencer in our midst, with the architecture, experiences, and euphoric members to prove it.

Big Horn

Like so many homes at Bighorn, the clubhouse has a sweeping roofline and panoramic views.