Sonnenalp’s Vertical Feats

A multigenerational family membership is just one of many reasons why this represents the“club of the future.”

From its down valley setting in Edwards, the clubhouse at Sonnenalp Club offers some of the best views in Colorado golf. Rugged pine- and aspen-cloaked mountainsides verdantly define an alpine corridor rippling southeast towards New York Range, the ski slopes of Beaver Creek and Vail’s glorious back bowls. You’ll get a similar eyeful from the first tee on the Bob Cupp-Jay Morrish layout that started life in 1981 as Singletree Golf Club—and from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the 14,000-square-foot wellness and fitness facility on which the club will break ground in October (rendering pictured below).

This latest development comes courtesy of Sonnenalp Owner and Operator Johannes Faessler, who originally bought the Singletree course in 1987 and renamed it after his family’s luxury hotel 15 miles away in Vail Village. The wellness and fitness facility reflects an expansion not only of the club’s physical footprint but also of what defines its philosophy now and in the future.

And it isn’t golf.

“Back in the 80s,” Faessler explains, “We thought we needed golf as a critical summer amenity. Vail had four or five courses, and they all were full. Now there are 17 of them. There isn’t much growth in the demand, both from a hotel-guest perspective and from the joining-the-club perspective. Golf is oversupplied.”

A passionate golfer who hosted the Colorado Open at Sonnenalp in 2001 and 2002, Faessler concedes that his course—which draws roughly half its tee times from members and the other half from his hotel—rarely operates at capacity. “It is an incredible amenity,” he says, “but our model was not sustainable.”

So, about a year ago, Faessler set out to create a sustainable “club of the future.” He enlisted, among others, longtime friend and Vail resident Brad Quayle, whose extensive résumé in the leisure and hospitality business includes leadership positions at Vail Resorts and KSL Recreation, where he oversaw operations at Wailea, La Costa and dozens of other facilities.

Quayle relished working with Faessler, a private owner. “The process we went through in a year would take a member-owned equity club three years,” says Quayle.

Their business plan required redrawing all the membership documents and simplifying the resignation process. The plan creates two membership types: full (formerly “golf ”) with a $45,000 initiation; and sports (formerly “social”), whose $5,000 initiation will increase to $6,250 by midsummer. Both memberships are nonrefundable, which results in higher retention rates than refundable ones, and both enjoy all the same programming and access to the pool, tennis, fitness and dining.

The differences between the memberships are golf course access and annual dues ($5,800 for full and $2,500 for sports). The plan also raises the full member cap from 275 to 395 and the sports cap to 300. In January, the club appropriately dropped “Golf ” from its name.

“But the big thing everyone is talking about is the vertical membership,” says Quayle. As well they should. When you become a member at Sonnenalp, your whole family becomes members too: your spouse, your parents, your adult children and their spouses and children.

Kathy and Ron Iverson couldn’t sign up fast enough. They live in Arrowhead, two miles south of Sonnenalp, and call The Country Club of the Rockies their home course. But they also have 15 family members—children and grandchildren—living in the Vail Valley. “Sonnenalp gave us the opportunity to join as a family,” Kathy says. “We’ll continue to play golf with our Arrowhead friends at CCR, but now we’ll play golf with our children and grandchildren at Sonnenalp because we never have to pay a guest fee. And the swimming pool at Sonnenalp is fantastic.”

Cathy Thompson, who with her husband Keith were two of the club’s first 100 members, is also thrilled that “those same little boys that we took to swim, golf and tennis lessons at Sonnenalp 20 years ago can now join us to golf on their visits home from college and work. Before, they would have been guests.”

The Iversons, Thompsons and other Sonnenalp members now also profit from a partnership with ClubCorp of America, whose CEO, Eric Affeldt, co-founded KSL in Vail with Quayle in 1998. As of this January, Sonnenalp members received Signature Gold Benefits at hundreds of private clubs (among them Firestone and English Turn), resorts (Pinehurst, Bay Hill) and entertainment venues. Aspen Glen, Black Bear and Blackstone comprise ClubCorp’s Colorado golf cache. “I think it’s a wonderful benefit for our members,” Faessler says, “as well as an opportunity to tell our story to the ClubCorp members.”

And it’s a good one. The ClubCorp connection allows Sonnenalp to compete with the nearby Club at Cordillera’s Troon Privé network without ceding any operational control. Sonnenalp’s vertical membership blows away the traditional “family membership” model. The wellness and fitness facility will generate plenty of attention. And Faessler says he’ll bring the talents of his hotel’s F&B team to bear on the restaurant, which will reopen with a great new concept for the summer season.

“The goal is to offer our members and the entire Vail community a gathering place at a wonderful venue to spend time with family and friends,” says Faessler. Put another way, Sonnenalp needs to generate what he and Quayle both describe as “body heat.”

“Usage is everything,” Faessler says. “We’re creating as many situations and programs as possible for members to interact and participate— new programming and events centered on fitness and wellbeing, as well as culinary, family, educational and alpine activities. “I’m excited about the vision we’ve created. We’ve found what we’re looking for. It gives us something to energize around.”

For more information, visit; 970-477-5375.


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