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What are the most important rooms in modern clubhouses?

In today’s world, where a club’s mission is to promote socialization and build a strong community of members, the most important rooms are the ones that promote gathering. This is primarily facilitated through the club bar or pub. These are not the bars of the past, where drinking, card playing and storytelling ruled the roost. No, the clubroom of the modern era is today’s living room. In the more formal world of the past, dinner at the club was preceded by a cocktail in the formal living room. Guests often ordered dinner there and were called to the table as the meal was about to be served. The analog for that ritual now occurs in the club bar, where members meet and greet others for a pre-meal cocktail. These refined spaces have a sense of warmth and easy elegance and promote interaction through a mix of seating, including ample seating at the bar and high-top tables nearby to keep everyone up and moving around at conversation height. Some soft seating arrangements will offer a spot for a quiet conversation.

Members will ultimately decide whether to dine in this lively atmosphere or move to a dinner table in the next most important room, the grill. Formerly specified by gender labels (mixed, men’s or member’s) the modern grill is a warm inviting space that rivals popular dining choices around town. While clubs previously modeled their dining spaces to parallel other clubs, contemporary clubhouse design recognizes that the dining choice for members that evening was not one club over another, but the option of dining at the club or a popular restaurant in the same general area. The clubs that get it right have rooms situated in a way that spills out onto a dining terrace with a great view, possibly of the 18th hole, a great lawn or the cityscape. Unlike the seasonal terraces of the past, today’s outdoor spaces are rooms with fixed canopies, fans and radiant heat to extend the season, televisions and music, and a fireplace or pit to promote pre-dinner conversations or lingering after a meal.

The most important rooms in the modern clubhouse perform similar functions as those of the past—they make the club among member’s favorite places to socialize, but they do it in a way that reflects the more relaxed style of the times. They make the club what we now call “The Third Place,” your members’ go-to place beyond the bounds of work and home.  

Frank Vain is president of McMahon Group, a planning and consulting firm serving private clubs. He can be reached at [email protected].