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The Role of the Clubhouse in Achieving Club Mission

In the beginning of human time, there was always a hearth providing the warmth and substance for living from a simple cave to a log cabin to a Victorian inn. The hearth was and still is the communal gathering place for family and friends. And while U.S. clubs are direct descendants from Victorian London city clubs and Scotland golf clubs, today’s North American clubs have progressed and expanded into clubs for all types of people and purposes. Clubs represent the regions they serve through architectural styles reflecting members’ heritages be they English, French, Spanish, Colonial or even contemporary American life. The very word “club” invokes an image of social interaction, enjoyment and fun. But it also speaks to tradition and roots—something yearned for in today’s ever-mobile society.

Clubs provide a place of stability and connection to the past even as we progress into the future. And the clubhouse best promotes the concept of club, serving as the central gathering place for members. As such, it must be a comfortable place in sync with a club’s culture that invites members’ enjoyment, offering a refuge for members and families when they are not at work or home.

Member Gathering Places

A good clubhouse must encourage member usage, and provide a comfortable place for members to gather in grill rooms, bars, spas, swimming pools, fitness centers and dining areas (both in and outside). Clubhouses of palatial design and scale may look great, but they are seldom places where people enjoy hanging out. The secret to clubhouse design is to make them comfortable, and while upgrades must happen, a good clubhouse always retains a little “patina” in its architecture and décor.

When searching for what is considered successful clubhouse architecture, we find such buildings at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va., St. George’s in Toronto and the Detroit Athletic Club. In each case, time has added patina to these historic clubhouses. But most clubs today did not inherit a yesteryear clubhouse, so they must create their own version of a comfortable clubhouse. Most do it with renovations and additions to older buildings, which should reinforce each club’s mission of service to members. A club’s mission should have a direct impact on clubhouse design, interior design quality and operational efficiency in order to bring members together. Of course, most clubs offer many recreation facilities and programs, but it is the dining places that most affect clubhouse design. Dining, with all its variations, brings members together and makes the clubhouse the members’ house and social hub for friendly interaction.

Club Mission Drives Clubhouse Use

Each club’s mission or purpose directs services and amenities for its members. The mission can focus on the participation and promotion of a particular activity like golf, swimming, tennis or dining. But also important are the other strategic objectives: whom the club serves, its quality level and what makes each club unique. When a club’s mission is clearly understood, then designing and operating the clubhouse is easy to do.

Each club is different and so should be its clubhouse. Some clubs focus on families while some focus on adults in retirement communities. Some clubhouses are built to sell houses—only to need a totally different mission once all the homes are sold to a membership group. Some clubs strive for world-class features while others have understated goals of simplicity. In each case, the clubhouse should reflect how the club should serve its members. With many great clubs now over 100 years old, it is expected that their missions will change over time. What started as a simple nine-hole golf offering in the early 1900s may well be a U.S. Open golf site today. What was a men’s golf club may very well be a full-service family country club today.

A good example of this transition is Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. In the late 1800s it started as a country club primarily for men. In the 1950s it relocated and became the premier country club for the many corporate leaders living in St. Louis. But with the recent loss of almost all of St. Louis’ corporate headquarters, the club’s mission has changed again—this time to be the premier family country club in St. Louis. With each change of mission comes a new clubhouse demand. No one knows how the mission will change in the future, but change it will. There is a good saying that applies to private clubs: “Clubs which live in the past will soon be part of it.” So, embrace change at the club and the clubhouse must change too.

Now let’s look at how a club’s mission directly affects its clubhouse design. Dining for almost all clubs is the most important activity or offering for its members. Yes, this is even true for many golf centric country clubs (note that the golf course may be rated the #1 facility). So, in clubhouse design, dining options, kitchens, service areas and employee spaces directly shape floor plan layouts. A club offering full service dining has many choices to make in regards to bar/lounge areas, casual offerings, upscale offerings, large function offerings, outdoor patios, snack bars, halfway houses, casual cyber lounges, private dining rooms, etc. Once the need for the types of dining offerings are determined, the support areas of kitchens, storage, staff areas, loading docks, trash disposal, etc., must be sized and located to properly serve all areas.

While the clubhouse has many members and staff to serve beyond dining areas in locker rooms, pro shops, activity rooms and staff offices, the access points for everyone will significantly impact clubhouse design. Plans should provide privacy, encourage social interaction, and separate back-of-the-house operations from member activities.

Club Type and Clubhouse Design

Basic club types serving different membership groups in different regions of the country usually have very different clubhouse requirements for their memberships. For instance:

The Yacht Club clubhouse is usually focused on supporting boating functions with very casual dining, bars and support areas for boaters—even though more than half their members belong primarily for dining. 

Racquet Club clubhouses are usually simple buildings providing a more simplified club offering with dining and locker rooms primarily focused on tennis—both indoor and outdoor.

Full-Service Country Club clubhouses have the most complex internal designs, which offer a broad range of services that are normally contained in a low-rise (no more than two stories tall), unless they are serving very large memberships on constrained sites. In the country club clubhouses, the food service design and relationships to site recreation areas have the most impact on floor and site plans. A critical design element for the clubhouse is its relationship to the extensive outdoor recreation areas of golf, tennis, swimming, croquet, paddle and indoor areas of fitness and spas.

Urban City Athletic Club clubhouses have a dual role of providing athletic recreation and extensive dining offerings for their memberships in one integrated building. These clubs are generally located in central city areas where land is at a premium. Thus, they have clubhouse designs that are often in vertical, multi-story structures with necessary member parking provided.

Encouraging Interaction

If a club knows its mission and purpose, the clubhouse is the best place to achieve it. Nowhere else in a club can bring members together as the clubhouse. This social interaction among members is what creates great clubs. Clubs must prioritize people and making their lives more enjoyable in a world where personal social interaction has become more about cell phones and Facebook than lunching and joking with friends. Let’s make clubs the great gathering places they should be, and it all begins in the clubhouse.

Club Trends Fall 2016