IN THE GARDEN OF THE GODS
For Brenda Smith, Life After BKD Is Busier Than Ever as Colorado Country Club Owner
By Levi Costello
For most people, retirement is a time to relax—plan vacations, buy a boat or spend more time with family.
Not Brenda Smith. When she retired from BKD, she joined a close friend and BKD client to buy a country club.
A BKDer Through & Through
Brenda started working for BKD after her firm joined in the fall of 1990. The transition wasn’t a difficult one, though.
“BKD really is like my family,” she says. “I mean that genuinely. All the things that they taught us are just first-class.”
In total, Brenda practiced accounting for 36 years before retiring. She was managing partner of BKD’s Denver and Colorado Springs offices and predominantly worked with not-for-profits and colleges.
“Brenda built a team in Colorado Springs of leaders who looked out for each other and thought about their team members as key parts of their own success,” says Travis Webb, who’s now managing partner of BKD’s Colorado offices. “Brenda had a reputation for knowing everyone in town. If you wanted to get something done in Colorado Springs or connect with the right person, she was—and still is—your best choice.”
An Unexpected Opportunity
Brenda learned Garden of the Gods Country Club and Resort in Colorado Springs was for sale through the strong network of connections she built at BKD and still maintains today.
While working extensively with former client Judy Mackey on a project for a not-for-profit group, Brenda offered to assist her with any future business ventures. That’s when Judy expressed interest in starting a wellness center.
“I asked her where she would have the center if she could pick any location, and she said the Garden of the Gods Club,” Brenda says. “I knew the people who bought the club, so we went up to see if they’d rent us space.”
The sprawling club sits on a mesa west of town, overlooking the gorgeous Colorado landscape framed by rippling mountains and towering rock formations. Garden of the Gods served an exclusive clientele when it was built in 1951. Only the extremely wealthy and movie stars had memberships. The original owners sold the club in 2007 to a large property management firm.
While at lunch with the new owners in 2013, Brenda and Judy were told the club would be for sale in a month.
“We thought that was the end of our plans, but Judy asked me later, ‘Brenda, why don’t you and I buy the club?’” Brenda says. “I thought she was crazy.”
With low expectations, Brenda and Judy made a bid. While not the highest, the owners felt confident their concept of an on-site wellness center would make the property worth more. Their bid won, and they became the club’s third official owners.
“Because of the way it had been managed before, the sellers were very motivated, and we got a really good deal,” Brenda says. “I’m a person of really strong faith, and it was kind of like it was meant to be.”
Club Amenities on the Rise
Along with 300 acres of land, Garden of the Gods Club and Resort employs 300 staff year-round, 400 in the summer. Its 1,500 members enjoy a 27-hole golf course, four-court indoor tennis facility and two swimming pools—with a third on its way. There are 74 brand-new or totally remodeled guest rooms and 14 cottages.
“We’re building 17 ridge-lot villas that are very, very high-end,” Brenda says. “They start at $1.8 million apiece. We already have 41 people on our waiting list.”
The wellness center—a combination between traditional and functional medicine—is currently in a beta phase and will go live in January 2017.
“We’re focused on fine-tuning the programs now,” Brenda explains. “We want to do everything we can for a patient before they have to take pills or have surgery. So far, it’s been very, very successful.”
That success is evident everywhere. Denver Partner Ann King White worked with Brenda at BKD and says the club reflects Brenda’s personality.
“Before Brenda came in, the club really needed new life,” Ann says. “We’ve done a couple of firm holiday events there, and it has that same great warmth she brought with her when she was our managing partner.”
Brenda partially credits working at BKD with her success in running the club.
“Working with a lot of people and doing the right thing at BKD prepared me for this,” she says. “BKD teaches ethics, principles and working hard. That applies no matter where you are.”
When asked about her favorite part of owning the club and wellness center, Brenda immediately says, “Impacting lives. Whether it’s the employees or the members, we’ve had enormous support from the community. It’s really humbling.”
That response doesn’t surprise those who know her best. St. Louis-Decatur Managing Partner Wendy Henry—who worked with Brenda in Colorado—says Brenda embodies BKD’s PRIDE values: passion, respect, integrity, discipline and excellence.
“Brenda is the ultimate sponsor, teacher and friend,” Wendy says. “She was always thinking about the experiences I should have and the people I should know to enhance my career. She was firm and direct in her expectations, but always fair. I can’t imagine a better role model.
“I wouldn’t be the professional—or the person—I am today if it hadn’t been for Brenda’s influence and support.”
For information on the Garden of the Gods Club, visit their website.