WHEN I STARTED working in the private golf and country club industry more than 40 years ago, golf, cards in the men’s locker and dressy family dinners in a dining room of white tablecloths, hunter green carpet and burgundy chairs were the status quo. Clubs were bastions of tradition. And, while tradition is important, so is recognizing the reality of the need to change to keep members and to attract new members.
The question is how do we predict the changes and stay ahead of the curve? Research and staying in tune with how your members live their lives both inside and outside of your club is critical. Several years ago, ClubCorp conducted extensive research and focus groups to help determine what the future of clubs should look like. Through that research we learned that private club members didn’t want stuffy, they wanted stylish, vibrant atmospheres. It was during that time that ClubCorp began reinventing its clubs-adding new dining and social amenities and elevating the focus on family.
Since then, we’ve created contemporary dining areas with booth and cabana banquette seating, multiple large-screen TVs, communal tables and temperature-controlled wine walls featuring member favorites. We extended outdoor patios and added lounge seating and re pits. We changed the aquatics experience at many of our clubs, going from L-shaped pools and traditional pool furniture to, essentially, water parks-pools with waterslides, lazy rivers and splash pads and poolside cabanas with resort-style seating.
These new amenities are wildly popular with members. Many clubs truly have become the heartbeat of their communities, where, along with stylish new amenities, they o er robust calendars of events that include trivia and family game nights, wine and craft beer tastings, live music and sporting event watch parties.
Our study gave us the vision of how to reinvent clubs, but that vision continually changes as the lifestyles of private club members evolve. Today, before ClubCorp invests in any club-whether an existing facility or new acquisition-we hold focus groups and talk with members about what they want from their club. Though every club has unique needs that better t their members’ usage patterns, there are still common threads.
Health, wellness and fitness have become power players at clubs. Gone are the days when the club fitness center was comprised of a couple of treadmills and a stationary bike. Cutting-edge fitness equipment, the latest in fitness classes, spin studios, personal trainers and even virtual classes are now expected amenities.
Many of today’s golfers are looking for a different experience. They want challenging golf, but they also want to enjoy themselves and that is why we have added more short-game fun events, such as “Nine and Dine.” This spring we are introducing our first “Drive Zone,” a green grass golf entertainment range that features ball-flight tracking technology, gaming, music and more. At several clubs around the country, we are also bringing golf indoors and as entertainment, opening golf lounges that feature golf simulators and serve as social hubs.
Though we live in a world where social media rules, we need to remember that people still have a desire to connect with one another face-to-face on a level that harkens back to the club of the past. In those days, it may have been connecting over a cigar and a card game in the men’s locker room, while today it is side-by-side in a spinning class or wine tasting.
Throughout history, private country clubs have served as the community’s social center. That remains their purpose, but today’s members expect a different experience. For clubs to stay relevant, general managers and boards must listen to and observe their members, conduct research and then act. As the saying goes, if you don’t change with the times, the times are going to change you.