By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen :: Photography by Jason Roberts and West Vita
An abundance of great thought and design went into the award-winning Cordillera Ranch Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, but Jack Nicklaus might not have realized its ability to close the deal.The course is exactly the reason why and the location where Jeff Smith, who was visiting from Clear Lake to play the course with a friend, was inspired to look at a lot on that very trip. “This beautiful place really sells itself when people visit. It was the golf course that hooked me. Golf’s been a longtime hobby — I grew up the son of a Baptist preacher who was the high school golf coach and we are a golfing family. The course and the setting — I was taken by the beauty of the Hill Country,” says Jeff.
While wife Mary thought they would relocate somewhere in the future when their adult children settled after college, Jeff was persuasive. “I thought, let’s create a destination that our children and future grandkids would want to come to instead of us going to where they are.”
The couple, married 28 years, never considered any other communities. Cordillera Ranch allowed Mary, a Texas A & M (TAMU) graduate with a small bookkeeping company, to be close to her native San Antonio and her mother, Cecylia. The lot, with its dramatic vista, sealed the deal for Mary and Jeff who says, “When I found this lot, I knew this is where I wanted to retire. Part of Cordillera Ranch’s appeal is its country setting removed from the city life.”
The highly perched lot was key in the planning of the home which the couple designed with architect Gustavo Arredondo. “The lot defined the space — it required a long, skinny, single-story home,” says Jeff who took a year-long sabbatical as a “trial retirement” from his Managing Director position overseeing the southwest region of the consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal to focus on the design of the home.
The dramatic home features opposing wings, one for Jeff and Mary and at the other end, suites for their adult children and their future families. Son Vance, is a senior at TAMU majoring in mechanical engineering. Daughter Aly, who has a business degree from TAMU where she played on the golf team, is employed in Houston with Alvarez & Marsal in the Management Consulting Division. Aly is engaged to Mark Damiani and will wed this summer in Houston.
The home is fronted by a stunning courtyard with rock and water features designed by Brian Riebel of Acacia Landscape and Design of Boerne, who also did the front and backyards as well as the basketball court on their 4.6-acre property. The location affords a panoramic view of the Hill Country and the perfect setting for a spectacular infinity pool by Premier.
Though their home is conveniently positioned near the golf course with cart accessibility, Jeff envisioned a golf putting and chipping green in the backyard. Knowing what he wanted, he worked closely with Kevin Detmer of Southwest Greens who led the design and construction of the complex which includes five hole locations and six tee box locations. Acacia was actively involved in the design of how all the landscaping was integrated with the green and tee box complex.
Jeff and Vance then designed an 18-hole chip and putt course which uses a different combination of tee boxes and hole locations. Lovingly called the “Smith Course,” it includes a tee box, chipping mats and a flop shot. “We even had score cards made up for the course and keep course records. We created the Smith 9 that everyone can play and the Challenge 9 that is for lower handicap,” says Jeff.
The home capitalizes on the great outlook with floor to ceiling cantilevered windows that open to the patio. “I never take the view for granted — I appreciate it every time I walk through the house,” says Mary citing it as her favorite part. Jeff agrees, “The outside, the view and enjoying outdoor living are the things I like the most.”
Mary had hoped to include some of the furnishings from their Clear Lake home but found the high ceilings required a different scale. To help her with the décor, she enlisted her decorator from Houston, Tina Anderson, and well as Boerne designer David Collum. The home is punctuated with family portraits and assorted paintings from Santa Fe. It’s not quite done yet, Mary says, “I’ll add some little touches, fill blank walls and add some furniture.”
There have been adjustments since they moved into their home in February of 2014, says Mary, “It was hard to leave all the friendships I had fostered. I miss my friends, but I don’t miss the traffic, hurricanes or humidity!” They have enjoyed an abundance of out-of-town guests. “The house is often full of friends and family,” she says.
Jeff, a University of Houston graduate, retired after the move but it didn’t last long. “I’m now involved with several different ventures that are focused on trying to help family, friends or the local community. This is refreshing after 30 years of large corporate consulting work.” Diverse in concept, the new businesses include a board appointment to assist with a strategic plan for a company in Deer Park, and partnering with his brother-in-law on a catering business called Hanson Hill Country Catering at the Lodge at Bridal Veil Falls. Work America Capital is his most passionate endeavor to raise and invest local capital that advances communities and entrepreneurs by creating good jobs and career opportunities.
In addition to all his work, Jeff has found time to support a unique charitable program, Transformation Tour of Homes. He and Mary are among the donors that are providing construction funding for five casitas being built by Stadler Custom Homes in the luxurious master-plan development in Cascada at Canyon Lake. Each casita will be built at cost, with all profits donated to the selected charities: The San Antonio Food Bank, The Arc of San Antonio, Boysville, Military Warriors Support Foundation and the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.
With Jeff’s retirement, community support and new business launches, moving to Cordillera Ranch, selling their home in Clear Lake, planning Aly’s wedding, completing the home’s décor and all the company they’ve enjoyed, Mary says it’s not yet settled into a new normal. Still, they’ve had time to begin looking for a new church home, and she has joined Chicks and Sticks to grow her golfing skills and enjoys doing pilates at the Club.
The couple likes to travel and have planned a fall trip to Italy, Sicily and Malta, and are looking forward to a family trip to Scotland and Ireland when Vance graduates.
While they miss the great dining they enjoyed in Houston, they have found many good restaurants nearby, with local favorites including The Creek, Cypress Grill, Bumdoodlers and Leon Springs Grill. They love exploring the Hill Country, especially touring wineries and the Garrison Brothers™ Distillery.
The shift to the Cordillera Ranch community has been warm and inviting. “The friendliness has made the transition so easy and very welcoming,” says Mary. Jeff concurs, “Everyone here is so nice.” Sharing the secret wasn’t hard for the couple. “Our closest friends are moving here!” says Mary. After visiting the Smiths, and golfing the course, naturally they wanted to live here, too.
The couple looks forward to creating memories and traditions in the future at their homestead. “I see it full of friends, family and fun,” says Mary, while Jeff sees the family growing, “Grandkids! I imagine spending time with them here, spending time with us.”