Skip links

Clubs Green Up

Locally sourced and grown foods are making their way to club dining tables across the country. While members love the taste, managers find it sustains the organization in other important ways. 

When you hear the term “Green Keeper” in the club context, it is understandable if you think someone is using the once common term for the golf course superintendent, but more and more, it is a moniker we could assign to the general manager or chef as they apply “green principles” to their club’s practices. As you can see in this issue of Club Trends, clubs are making significant improvements in their environmental practices related to their buildings and grounds, but there is a lot of action on the culinary side of the house too. This new and growing approach can be geared toward energy consumption, as in purchasing energy-saving equipment to prepare food and reduce utility costs, but it also includes adopting practices that favor local product sourcing or growing foods right on the club campus, even in center cities.

Purchasing from local sources or selecting organic products benefits the environment in a couple of obvious ways. Less energy is consumed in transportation because products travel a shorter distance to the consumer and the producers eschew altogether or make use of far fewer pesticides and chemicals in the growing process. These benefits alone make them initiatives worth pursuing, but there’s another aspect to all of this, which is how these practices impact members and their perceptions of the club. While they too are celebrating these changes for their eco-friendly benefits, they are also finding them as tools to strengthen community and spirit within the membership.

Meacham’s Garden

Our conversations with club managers indicate green practices can play a featured role in a bigger idea, one that is at the heart of the club’s mission to build a community. Just this year, Robert Sereci, CCM, developed what at first blush is a chicken coop on property at Medinah Country Club outside of Chicago. Yes, that Medinah, the one with three golf courses including the legendary #3 course, home to many major championships over the years and, more recently, the 2012 Ryder Cup. But the story of the coop is about much more than fresh eggs. It is part of a comprehensive strategy to have Medinah play a bigger role in members’ lives, to make it part of their neighborhood, so to speak.

“Like many club managers, I am passionate about building communities,” says Sereci. “Our vision is to offer a stream of experiences so that along with the opportunity to pursue their passion for golf and other recreation, members join Medinah because they want to be part of a welcoming and thriving social community. The farm-to-table idea is a vital piece of our effort to create experiences that build a neighborhood, one that is unique, wholesome and family oriented.”

The chicken coop is just one part of a program that includes an organic garden featuring herbs, fruits and vegetables and edible flowers. There is even a food truck the club can use at events, and maybe one day, as the turn house for golfers. The coop, garden and other products have been branded under the name “Meacham’s Garden,” a reference to one of the families that once worked the land where the club now stands. This plays into another key trend we see out there, which is “craft” or “authentic branding.” Consumers increasingly favor products with a real story to them, which is what is behind the proliferation of craft beverages, be it beer, scotch or bourbon, as well as other products like soaps and natural foods. Connecting members to what was once on their land and bringing it forward to today’s lifestyles and values is a way to make your club’s story tangible and meaningful.

Along with the 20 hens that were selected to represent unique and different varieties of eggs hatched on premises, Meacham’s also includes 25 raised beds with 17 different varieties of herbs for garnishes, 34 different fruits and vegetables and six varieties of fragrant and edible flowers. All of these items eventually show up as special selections on the club’s Garden Menu. Plans to expand the garden are already in the works, as is crafting maple syrup from sugar maple trees on the courses and development of a bee colony to produce local honey and pollinate the garden. How cool do you think members will find it to have syrups and honeys generated and branded right on their club’s grounds? Pretty special, indeed.

Rooftop Farms

While “farm-to-table” has been co-opted in ways that almost make it cliché, “rooftop-to-fork” is just getting started. While we might think that sourcing local foods is only available to suburban country clubs, city clubs can also get in on the act by using their rooftops to grow fresh herbs and vegetables or tap into the vertical farms that are cropping up (pun intended) in the area.

The Philadelphia City Council recently adopted a resolution to encourage vertical and urban farms, putting it on track as a leader in the field. Vertical and urban farming is increasingly popular and with urbanization of the population expected to continue at a rapid pace—according to Kiplinger, nearly 89 percent of the US population will live in an urban setting by 2030, up from 83 percent currently—there are many positives to come from the practice. These city farms take advantage of vacant rooftops and former warehouse space that is no longer needed in our service economy based on “just in time” inventory.

Vertical farms take up less space and produce food with less water than conventional farms. These technologically innovative environments feature multiple trays of plants stacked atop each other, with a recirculating hydroponic system providing them the water and nutrients they need to grow. Crops can be grown on the roofs of skyscrapers and abandoned lots, something that our city clubs could do to make better use of empty space or help to spruce up the local area.

This is exactly what’s happening at The Jonathan Club in Los Angeles where, in partnership with Farmscape, California’s largest operator of urban farms, the club has installed an organic rooftop garden. Under this arrangement, Farmscape handles most of the weekly maintenance while the club’s chefs help plan what they want to grow and serve seasonally. The harvested produce plays a prominent role in menu planning and development. Matthew Allnatt, the club’s general manager, says of the project, “I wanted to do something unique for our members while also encouraging a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.” Growing fresh produce and fruits on top of a high rise building in downtown L.A. is certainly an innovative way to do that. 

Grass Roots

These are just a couple of examples of how clubs are adopting environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. There are many other good examples out there, each with a similar theme. While starting out to be better stewards of the environment, club leaders ultimately found they were engaged in building connections among their members. Now that’s a story of sustainability we can all support. 

Club Trends Summer 2016