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WILDERNESS RIDGE

Watch Now: Aquatics center to offer new amenities for Wilderness Ridge members

From the Directions 2022: Changing times in Lincoln series
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Progress Wilderness Ridge

Once work is complete, the new aquatics center at Wilderness Ridge will include a 250-foot-long lazy river.

Wilderness Ridge general manager Chip Cary talks about renovations to the now private golf club.

Many golfers and diners know Wilderness Ridge, Lincoln’s far south club, as that large lodge of logs and stone that transports you from the plains to a mountain retreat.

It’s still that, but the newly private club is in the middle of a large expansion and renovation. It closed for the month of February to make progress on a facelift inside the lodge that includes new booths in the main dining room, a new private four seasons dining room, all new furnishings and carpet, a gastro pub, fitness center and rebuilding of the outdoor deck.

But plenty is happening outside, too. And all of it is coinciding with privatization of the club.

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General Manager Chip Cary was hired four years ago and one of his first tasks was to explore the best operating model for the golf course and clubhouse. National studies were commissioned.

“They all came back with the same comment, that Wilderness Ridge is, (with) its location and its amenities, with some additions, better suited to be a private facility rather than be a public facility,” Cary said.

They looked at the five- and 10-year population projections and at where Lincoln is most likely to grow, where those residents are going to live and the demographics of families. In the expansion, they are taking into consideration a full range of ages for amenities. And they have the space to do it.

“We just feel that … the location is just really going to be convenient for people, anything from south Lincoln all the way to Hickman,” he said. “It’s fairly easy to get to, come off (U.S) 77, 14th Street, it’s really slick. The new bypass going south of us makes looping around from the east side quicker, depending where your home is.”

The golf course first opened in 2001, with the clubhouse, dubbed The Lodge, finished in 2003. If it gives the feel of being transported to the Rockies, it’s because the timber is from Hamilton, Montana, harvested from standing dead timbers. It was built there, disassembled and reassembled in Lincoln. The heavy front doors were designed and carved in Wyoming. And the chandeliers are elk antlers from Montana.

Progress Wilderness Ridge

Although Wilderness Ridge has transitioned to a private club, its Lodge remains open to the public for weddings, parties, celebrations of life, business meetings and other events, and dining in the main restaurant.

“We think it’s pretty special, pretty much like no place other around here,” Cary said. “We’re just looking to improve it a little bit.”

In January 2021 the golf operations — courses, the pro shop and Nebraska Golf Academy — went private. With all the amenities being added, it will move from golf club status to country club, which offers more amenities and a social scene beyond golf.

“For the family looking for entertainment options, or that stay-at-home vacation opportunity, if you will, then you need the other amenities,” he said.

The privatization response has been good, he said, with around 300 members so far and another surge expected when the aquatics center is completed around Memorial Day. The club offers six membership options.

“Lincoln’s a very golf-popular city, actually one of the highest percentages around the country of people who actually play golf,” he said. “But families have kids; kids like water.”

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The club will always be open to the public for weddings, parties, celebrations of life, business meetings and other events, and for now the main restaurant will be public, he said. But Wilderness Ridge is developing those other amenities, including tennis and pickleball courts, for members only.

The aquatics center will include five areas covering 10,000 square feet, some for family use and some for adults only. There will be a 250-foot-long lazy river, a splash pad and activities pool for smaller children, an adults-only pool with a swim-up bar, a whirlpool spa for adults, and a six-lane competition lap pool with two 1-meter diving boards. There will also be a two-story double twist water slide between the lap pool and new bathhouse.

“It’ll be, without doubt, the most significant aquatics complex a private facility has in the city,” Cary said. “Probably the only thing more significant in the market would be (city-owned) Star City Shores.”

In addition to the 18-hole championship golf course and a 9-hole executive course, the new pro shop and golf training building, which opened in August, has an indoor putting green and practice areas and private teaching bays.

Progress Wilderness Ridge

The new pro shop and Nebraska Golf Academy opened in August at Wilderness Ridge.

“It’s one of a kind in the market,” Cary said.

In the practice area, doors slide up like garage doors to make it an open-air pavilion. Players can hit from a climate-controlled environment, with overhead radiant heat, into an outdoor area.

“We stay open pretty much all winter, as long as we can keep the snow moved,” he said.

In the private teaching bays, a golfer can be videotaped, have their swing analyzed and clubs custom fit.

Wilderness Ridge is also the home course of Nebraska's men's and women's golf programs.

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