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The Gateway Amenity

Among the most impactful improvements a club can make to attract new members is to reinvent their pool complex. Because these projects have spurred significant growth in membership and engagement among young members and families, we’ve labeled it the “gateway amenity.” If a club is looking to attract the next generation, there is no other project more influential than a revamped swimming pool complex. Clubs are spending major capital dollars on updating these facilities, to great benefit, no matter the club type. From bigger and better pools, to socializing spaces around the pool, clubs are realizing that even though swimming pools are seasonal (for most clubs), it is one of the main attractors for potential members in their prime joining years.

Younger members and others looking to join clubs want a special experience with all aspects of their club, but especially the pool. As with all capital investments, an improved pool complex is not only about building a bigger and better facility, it creates an environment ripe for programming and serves as key driver of community. It becomes a place where members spend a lot of time with their children, grandchildren and friends and families. The parents on the swim team are often one of the most connected groups in a club. Kids meet other children and form friendships that carry forth outside the club. They allow you to create an ultra-casual dining environment, offer health and fitness programs and they make great settings for fun, casual events and parties. The potential of what you can do in this large outdoor space is almost endless. 

The days of the 6-lane pool and small wading pool are coming to an end. The resort-style pool complexes that clubs are building today are far different from the generation of pools they are replacing. They feature expanded water areas for all levels of swimmers, including a six-lane competition pool, kiddie pool for the tiny tots and a play area with bench seating or zero-depth entry for the intermediate set. Deck areas are much larger, and features like spraygrounds and fountains are popular ways to add fun and variety to the facility. A poolside bar and upgraded food and beverage capabilities are important ways to broaden the benefits to users who may no longer have children at home. Some clubs that have the space are also including separate, quieter adult-only pools to serve this age group. The result is an environment with the look and feel of something you might have only previously seen on vacation, with the ability to serve programs as varied as swim meets to a casual club-wide member party.  

From coast-to-coast and in northern and southern climes, improvements to the pool complex has resulted in significantly enhancing the membership experience for all age groups. A great example is Interlachen Country Club in Orlando, Fla., that built a brand new, state-of-the-art pool complex. Their overall plan included not only a great pool, but also a “Panera-style” grill both indoors and outdoors and a playground area for the children. This project was a game-changer and has made Interlachen the club of choice in the city. New members flocked to the club with more than 70 joining because of this project. An increase of at least 50 members from a pool project is common, with the added benefit that most of them are between the ages of 35 and 45, the key demographic that private clubs need to attract.


One of the greatest pool project success stories over the years is at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, N.C. To say their project was a success is an understatement and, looking back today, was a pivotal moment in their history. It has proven to be not only the gateway for attracting new young members, but also the gateway to a capital investment plan that has now touched every area of the club. The Carmel pool complex with its resort-style amenities, consists of two pools, a 25-foot high water slide and lazy rivers, a child spray pool with zero depth entry and separate gathering areas. In addition to a snack bar, there was an emphasis to enhance the social experience at the pool which included a new tiki bar that provides a great place to relax for all members, not just swimmers. One of the main goals at the outset of the project was to provide something not just for the children, but for adults as well.

After they opened the new pool complex in 2008 they saw extraordinary growth in all aspects of the facility. Attendance alone has reached an astounding 50,000-plus visits. Guest fees and F&B sales increased sixfold. While the facility is entering its eleventh year, the club is still reaping rewards from this project. The overall project cost was $5 million. In anticipation of the pool remodel, the club welcomed more than 200 new members. In its first year open, the club added 77 new members—a three-year total more than $10 million in initiation fees. The Resident and Social Membership categories continue to experience steady growth. In fact, in 2017, both reached a cap and the club has since introduced a waiting list.  

Some club leaderships may question the investment in swimming pool complexes as community centers and neighborhoods have upscale pools, but the one differentiating factor is that a pool at a country club is a social hub of activity. It has become a great spot to bring members of all ages together in a relaxing and fun environment and build friendships that last generations.

With a great pool complex to complement great golf and favorite dining place status, your club will be in a strong position to attract the next generation.

Pool Ranking with Younger Members

For further proof of how important swimming is to the younger generation, let’s look at McMahon’s member survey database on some of the important issues related to swimming. As you can see below, swimming is the second most important recreation activity to members under age 46 (just over golf!). Compare that to all member responses where swimming is only important to 55 percent.

Members Under Age 46

Dining (94%)

Swimming (82%)

Golf (81%)

Fitness (67%)

Tennis (57%)

All Members

Dining (93%)

Golf (93%)

Fitness (62%)

Swimming (55%)

Tennis (41%)

When testing individual components of swimming, members under age 46 have higher dissatisfaction ratings compared to all members. The highest dissatisfaction revolves around the bathhouse/pool house facilities (37% dissatisfied) and pool area appearance and children’s pool (15% dissatisfied for both). Keep in mind that clubs should not allow any activity of high importance to have more than 10 percent dissatisfaction, especially one that is so influential on those in their prime joining years. If the existing young group is not thrilled with the club, how can a club expect them to recruit their friends?

Club Trends Winter 2018