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What are the challenges and opportunities for reopening clubs?

There are significant regional differences in the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak and a wide range of emotions surrounding the shelter in place rules associated with it. For most people, the uncertainty of the entire pandemic experience has been the biggest challenge. We know that the pandemic will wind down, if not end entirely, but when? Many things that have changed during the economic shut down will quickly return to normal while some things may never go back to the way they were. Of course, we don’t know which ones or when.

Now comes reopening, and a new set of hugely complex rules and regulations, some of which make perfect sense and some that are confounding. Can anyone explain why you can put only two people in a boat in Illinois, even when it is a family of five living in the same house? While shuttering our clubs was both difficult and highly emotional, reopening will be a greater challenge. There will be no “all clear” bringing people out into the streets. They will be cautious and careful. National polls show that nearly three-quarters are hesitant to dine indoors at a restaurant when the economy reopens. An even higher percentage is very reluctant to go to a gym. So, just because we open the economy, it does not mean activity will be robust?

The good news is that when economic activity returns, clubs can be a first choice, if they play their cards right. Boards and managers must plan now to make their club safe, to the degree that members feel as comfortable and secure at the club as they do in their own home. To woo members to the club, leaders will need to establish and maintain their safe-place status and overcommunicate their policies and practices to their members. Prepare your buildings. Train and equip your staff and control access. This will be the year of the member, with the focus on providing value for them, not guests or outside events.  

After a generation when words like privacy, sanctuary and enclave were increasingly cast in a bad light, the safety and security that is at the core of the private club experience will be strongly desired. Protect and celebrate it.

Frank Vain is president of McMahon Group, a full-service private club consulting firm that has served over 2,000 private clubs around the world. He can be reached at [email protected].