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Creating a Culture of Wellness at Your Club

In many ways it is back to the future for private clubs. When the first clubs were organized in the U.S. in the mid to late 1800s, one of the prime motivations was to offer a healthy respite away from increasingly congested cities. The industrial revolution was rapidly drawing people to our shores and into the cities. The country was evolving from its agrarian roots to a manufacturing giant. Cities were becoming increasingly congested and less livable and entrepreneurs and executives had the affluence and desire to get away.

Country clubs soon began sprouting up on the fringes of these urban centers. They offered a place where the wealthy could go to experience outdoor recreation and fresh country air. While sitting on an Adirondack on the clubhouse porch is an iconic image of the time, active pursuits were a big part of the mix. This included access to newly popular recreational pursuits like golf and tennis. Golf was of course a walking game at that time and a set of tennis one of the fasted paced sports of the day. A day in the country in a hundred years ago had some similarities to a 21st century trip to the fitness center or spa.

Fast forward 125 years or so and we have a whole new definition of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle and physical exercise. While they were slow to adapt to the fitness revolution of the 1980s, clubs have a natural inclination toward wellness. Extensive research on aging shows that people with plentiful social connections live longer than those without such a network. The evidence is also overwhelming that people who exercise live longer on average than those who don’t. According to dozens of studies, regular physical activity reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and depression. Exercise may even help you stay mentally sharp into old age. The more mentally active a person is, the longer it takes for accelerated memory decline to begin. Mental stimulation delays the start of memory decline, studies show. Along with mentally challenging games like bridge, board games and other mental exercises delay the onset of dementia-related memory decline in seniors.

Desert Highlands Stands as a Model Healthy Club

Desert Highlands Golf Club in Scottsdale was the first residential community in Arizona to be built around a country club and golf course. It wasn’t just any golf course either. Designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus, it sat at the pinnacle of the game when for a couple of years it was the host site for the Skins Game in the days when it featured the ultimate foursome of Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Players and Lee Trevino playing for big money. Some 40 years after its founding, Desert Highlands is again a leader among clubs. While its golf course has withstood the test of time well, the Fitness and Wellness Center provides the membership an array of programs to strengthen their body, mind and spirit. It is increasingly the central element of the membership experience.

Led by a staff of seven fitness professionals the Wellness Center at Desert Highlands is truly that, a center for wellness. The staff has extensive certifications in fitness, nutrition, training, rehab, senior fitness, massage, Pilates, Titleist Golf Performance Institute, muscle activation therapy and nutrition. The massage program includes a full range of deep tissue and sports massage. The combination of traditional exercise and wellness programs makes the Fitness and Wellness Center a place where members can work on their body, mind and spirit.

In addition to individual workouts, personal training and traditional exercise classes, Desert Highlands members can find on a regular basis nutrition lectures, yoga workshops for active aging bodies, muscle activation techniques to ease chronic pain or overcome injuries that prevent them from enjoying their favorite recreational activities. Programs like T’ai Chi are part of the menu for their ability to reduce stress and promote balance. Finally, the lecture series includes a wide range of topics that help with active aging including balance and mental acuity even linking up the notion of how diet and exercise that can promote healthy living. Desert Highlands continues to provide members an outstanding golf experience in a truly magical setting while it’s Fitness and Wellness Center focuses on keeping them healthy and enriched.

Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club

In the fall of 2006, the leadership at Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club in Palo Alto, California set out to correct a number of existing facility deficiencies while also adding amenities that would position the club to grow and thrive in the high tech world of Silicon Valley. So while the plan addressed mundane things like the aged conditions found in the pool house wing and the lack of storage throughout the clubhouse, it also included the addition of a full service fitness center, complete with exercise studios and spa facilities. These new facilities substantially increased the club’s offerings well beyond its traditional golf and dining functions, and by themselves would have been a significant expansion of the club’s mission.

During the design process, the strategy behind the facility expansion continued to evolve in response to member feedback about the desire to make the club more family friendly. The Committee and General Manager Dirk Zander fully embraced this feedback and ran with the idea of creating a truly family-programmed environment. Completed in 2010, the new south wing of the club is now called the Family Fitness Center and combines state of the art fitness facilities and programs for adults with one of the most progressive and innovative family programs in the country.

Palo Alto Hills continues to evolve and grow as members express new desires. The spa aspect of the Family Fitness Centers has been one of the surprise elements here. While a four-room spa with adjacent quiet room was thought to be a nice feature of the development, it has increasingly become a more important part of the club’s expansion into fitness and wellness. An unexpected program in the past year has been the emergence of acupuncture. Initially offered in response to limited requests, it has become one of the fastest growing amenities in the club. With a total environment of fitness, training, classes, massage, acupuncture and family programs, Palo Alto continue to grow membership and services. The initiation fee is rising and all membership categories are at their cap.

Turnberry Isle Miami

Tammy Pahel is the founder of Spa Management Solutions and the spa director for Turnberry Isle in Miami, Florida. She specializes in resort spa development and wellness integration. Tammy has found that many clubs express interest in participating in medical-wellness programs, but they struggle to get the process started. To aid clubs in this process, she has designed strategies and plans for creating and offering a complete health experience for members as well as how to connect with local health practitioners to move the club beyond traditional fitness and into full wellness solutions.

As Pahel sees it, the opportunity for clubs arises in that many club members are seeking a better more practical approach to wellness. As is the case throughout society, club members have come to realize a great deal of their health and quality of life is within their own control. While most of them have the financial means to enjoy life to the fullest, this isn’t achievable without physical well-being. Pahel points to medical research studies that show that 80-90 percent of an individual’s health is determined by lifestyle choices and only 10-20 percent is controlled by genetics. With the U.S. population continuing to age and degenerative diseases more prevalent, the demand for wellness options will continue to rise.

Educating members about the factors behind healthy lifestyles is key, which is why Spa Management Solutions offers an extensive lecture series featuring team members from each aspect of the wellness spectrum, including physicians, local health professionals, trainers and others from the spa staff. The team’s message is that lifestyle challenges including poor nutrition, stress, sedentary lifestyles and improper sleep are all modifiable risk factors for chronic disease.  They can show how up to 80 percent of heart disease and 90 percent of type 2 diabetes, and half of all cancers are preventable with better lifestyle choices. Managing stress is also a key component of a healthy life. Some studies suggest that reducing stress can even reverse unhealthy conditions. Yoga and other mind-body programs are proven stress reducers.

Pahel and her team have identified the spa as the element of the club that provides the best atmosphere for making proper life choices. Members enter the spa with a mindset of relaxation instead of the tension they feel when they make the trip to a doctor’s office. Since the spa is already offering wellness, healing and renewal, the next obvious step is to combine this with education and programs focusing on prevention. The result is a new visionary environment that combines traditional spa offerings like exercise, massage and aesthetics with the services of preventive care professionals. The aggregate package puts the club in positon not only to serve as the members’ exercise center but also the point of departure for their wellness journey.

Turnberry Isle Miami has partnered with Optimal Wellness Physicians to create wellness day packages for 980 members and resort guests.  In order to meet the new needs of members, Spa Management Solutions and Turnberry Isle staff worked with Dr. Ellen Lebow to organize medical and spa services into wellness day packages as well as a la carte services. Dr. Lebow has spent the last several years positioning herself in the field of Age Management and Regenerative Medicine. Her partnership with the club has her allowed her to offer members a combination that she knows will truly achieve health, balanced nutrition, hormones, body, mind and detoxification. The packages include weight management, vital living and stress management, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, heart health, enzyme therapy (gastrointestinal malfunctions) and detoxification and cleansing programming.

Turnberry members find that the spa environment combined with medical assessments and treatments offers the perfect setting with personal trainers, exercise programs including Yoga, massage therapy and other spa services. The addition of medical services allows the spa to provide the members myriad wellness opportunities.

Under the direction of Spa Management Solutions and Dr. Lebow, Turnberry Isle has created a synergistic combination of health, fitness, spa and beauty. Members now have access to physicians and medical personnel with the mindset of prevention and wellness with the merging of a great variety of services to best accomplish this for each member. This new environment is a true holistic center for wellness where members can look healthy, feel healthy and be healthy!

The Healthy Club Will be the New Standard

While golf formed the identity of the modern country club, health, fitness and wellness will be the overarching characteristic of the future club. This is in response to the greater awareness that exists throughout society for just how much control and influence people have over their physical and mental well-being. And while the golf culture for a time replaced wellness as a key element of the membership experience, we are simply returning to our roots with this renewed emphasis on health. It’s why most clubs started and it will be a strategic pillar supporting their relevance and success in the future. 

Club Trends Spring 2015