ustin Texas: Mike Fountoulakis, 54 and already retired, hoped into his car and drove from his home in Plano, north of Dallas, to join me at The Owners Club at Barton Creek in Austin. I flew in from Los Angeles the night before, and we met the following morning in a comfortably furnished dining room in one of 36 Owners Club homes in Barton Creek.

Perhaps I should first explain the intriguing concept of The Owners Club. It provides you with a hassle-free alternative to second-home ownership. Members receive a deed and a title to one-thirteenth interest of a luxury home with at least 27 days of residency annually. The home is elegantly furnished and ranges from 2,000 to 2,600 square feet, depending on the Owners Club location. It features three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, laundry room, media center, television, VCRs in each bedroom, whirlpool baths in two master suits, and an outdoor deck.

Owners Club locations currently include Barton Creek (Austin, Texas); Hilton Head Island (South Carolina); The Homestead (Hot Springs, Virginia); Telluride(Colorado); and Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Members enjoy privileges at all locations, each with up to 40 homes, plus additional privileges at over 230 private clubs and resorts across the United States.

My initial introduction to the Owners Club was stimulating and a bit bewildering. Deeded ownership? 27 days per year? Thirteen partners in one house? A house in all five locations? Will I have ownership in one specific location, or what?

I was looking for answers and wanted to talk to an Owners Club member who had no vested interest in the project's ownership. I wanted to interview an intelligent and bluntly outspoken businessman because I had some hard questions that needed answers.

Mike Fountoulakis filled the bill beautifully. He turned out to be lively, well-informed, intellectual, and articulate. Mike is a retired flooring sales manager who makes his primary home in Plano and purchased an Owners Club membership in Barton creek. Golf has always been a big part of his life and he plays 100 rounds of golf annually with a 7 handicap.

Mike was easy to talk with as we relaxed in one of 36 luxury homes at Barton Creek. I thought we were in Mike's home until I learned about the uniqueness of Owners Club membership. This title and deed entitles him to one-thirteenth interest (27 days of residency) in a Barton Creek luxury home plus affiliate privileges at all other Owners Clubs. The beautiful home, in which we met, was chosen at random from 36, all 2,600 square feet and elegantly furnished.

He enlivened our meeting with the wit and wisdom culled from years of experience in supervising people. I asked, quite frankly, why on earth would he want a membership with a one-thirteenth interest in one of 36 homes instead of full ownership of a second home including the homesite.

Mike laughed and wondered if I was serious. "Because," he said, "why should I invest a lot of money for a second luxury home when I can have five truly magnificent second homes for much less!"
"Yes, but…" (Mike stops me).
"It's perfection all wrapped up in a neat little package."
"Like what?"
"Well, for instance, the flexibility I have in selecting vacation locations. I've got the equivalent of a $750,000 home in Virginia at The Homestead; a $1,000,000 home at Telluride, Colorado, surrounded by spectacular 14,000-foot peaks; a casita overlooking the blue Pacific and breathtaking views of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Hilton Head Island with miles of beaches in South Carolina; and a luxury home here at Barton Creek.

"My goodness, it seems I ought to have a corporate jet parked in my driveway. Did I fail to mention the incredible golf courses to take advantage of at all these fabulous vacation Homes?"

Mike was still not sure he sold me and pressed on. "Better yet," he reveled, "there's a concierge service to spoil you!"
"Spoil you in which way?"
"It starts the moment you arrive at the airport," said Mike."They pick you up, get your luggage, and drive you to the Club. When you get into your residence, you'll find your kitchen prestocked with groceries; climate controls set to your personal liking; tee times; spa and dining room reservations made and confirmed. Every effort is made to ensure you are pampered."
"What does it cost you a month?"
"Works out to about $300 a month, after an initiation fee which is now around $116,000."
I got skeptical.
"That's less than an average country club dues structure," said Mike. "If you could consider the return on an alternative conservative investment equal to the membership cost plus the annual maintenance fee, it works out to about $450 a day for 27 days. That would be the daily cost at a luxury resort wherein you get a single room. Compare that to 2,600 square feet of entertainment, lodging for guests, a large kitchen to prepare great meals, a whirlpool bath, and an outdoor deck - there's really no comparison, and the golf is either cart fee only or reduced greens fees for members!

"A membership is a real bargain, and let's not forget I have five homes to choose from, all fabulous destinations," he rationalized. He smiled after one look at my face, happy with the thought I was being convinced. However, just to make sure, he took me on a personal tour of the golf courses.


The Owners Club is owned and operated by a subsidiary of ClubCorp Inc. It was time to get the management's point of view and I talked to Craig Robbins, vice president of memberships at Barton Creek; and John Maloney, senior vice president of sales and marketing for The Owners Club overall. I asked Robbins how they settled on 27 days of residency annually. Why not ten days or 50?

For him, it was an easy question and he came up with a logical answer. "Through research," he said. "Our members are generally professional people.They are unable to justify the cost of owning a homesite, building a house, furnishing it, and maintaining it for only a few weeks of use.

"People vacation for two or three weeks a year," said Robbins. "The beauty of an Owners Club membership is you can vacation in warm climates during winter, and cooler climates during summer."

I saved the most important question for Maloney. "How is Owners Club membership any better than time-share?"

"It's better in many ways," replied Maloney. "I'd start with the fact a typical time-share is a seven day interval in a given location that gives you the ability to do some exchanges. Ours is a deeded club membership. That's really the difference. A typical time-share product is a mid-rise product where you have someone staying above you, below you and on either side of you, each owning a one week interval.

"Well, look at The Owners Club. It's a single family detached home, a true second home. You saw Barton Creek. It's a 2,600-square-foot home elegantly furnished with a very convenient concierge service. There's no one above you, below you or alongside of you!

"Another important difference," continued Maloney, "It's a 27 day interest-not seven days. Instead of about 18,000 owners of a time-share plan, you're one of about 520 Owners Club members; and, you don't have to use seven-day bites, you can use three days, seven days, 14 days etc. You can also get three homes for three nights and have an outstanding family reunion. I would say that's a very substantial difference. Wouldn't you agree?"

I certainly agree.

The Owners Club, with locations at: Barton Creek, Austin, Texas; Hilton Head Island, South Carolina;
The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Affiliate Clubs with locations at Bear Creek Lodge, Telluride, Colorado
, and Private Quarters at Porta Cima, Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.

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