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Safe Club Facilities: Necessary Changes to Protect Members and Staff

With winter upon us and COVID-19 still here, (hopefully not for long), clubs must remain vigilant about the virus. Club facilities are still at risk for spreading sickness, especially indoors, so continue to take every precaution possible, such as wearing masks, washing hands and physical separation between people, which are still the recommended best practices to follow.

Let’s take a look at the clubhouse to see where other health and safety improvements can be made, both immediate and for the long-term benefit of members and staff.

The physical layout of most clubhouses remains pretty much unchanged except for dining seating being properly spaced. Some clubhouses, especially in Florida’s gated communities, are closed to members, keeping staff behind locked doors. It is assumed these buildings are too unsafe for use. Even when outdoor dining could be offered, any assembly of members, especially the older ones, are perceived as threatening.

How can clubhouses become safer for member and staff occupancy throughout the duration of this pandemic? And thereafter what is the new normal for clubhouse use?

Knowing that if a COVID-19 vaccine is effective and utilized across the entire country by late 2021, there will still be infectious and spreading threats as not everyone will get the vaccine and, most likely, 10% of our population will still be likely to contract the virus even with being vaccinated. This means a staggering 35 million people could contract the virus if they don’t have a natural immunity. While the threat significantly declines, one in 10 Americans will still be potential COVID-19 carriers. Clubs still need to do something to make their clubhouses and interior spaces safer, no matter how many people get vaccinated.


In trying to address this challenge in clubhouse safety, I am approaching it as an architect with years of experience in hospital design before I specialized in club facilities. In hospitals, contagious diseases and viruses are an everyday reality that are dealt with in all patient areas. While surface contamination is always a concern, airborne transfer of infection is the most difficult to control in operating rooms, radiology suites, emergency rooms and laboratories. The concern with disease/virus spreading is also very much a concern with food service, cooking, transporting, serving and retrieval of soiled dishes as well as properly handling all kinds of waste disposal. From the perspective of an architect experienced in both hospital and clubhouse design, the most opportune ways to improve clubhouse safety are as follows: Ventilation in clubhouses, especially the grand, old ones is often poor with stagnant air, very few outdoor air changes and few areas with proper negative pressure exists to suck out bad air. Many, if not all kitchens, have negative air ventilation hoods sucking in all dining room air basically through the kitchens, right over food being prepared for someone’s meal. The HVAC systems in clubhouses need to be studied for increasing outside air changes to make indoor spaces safer. Kitchens need to be in positive air pressure and bringing in their own outside, make-up air to supply their cooking exhaust hoods.

Kitchen design needs to change to keep clean food going out to diners separated from soiled dishes coming back from completed meals.
Kitchen exhaust zones for scraping plates and dishwashing need to be isolated from prep, cooking and serving areas and be in negative air pressure.
Kitchens need to be kept super clean, wood counter tops and old wood walk-in refrigeration must be eliminated (yes, they still exist today) and the whole operational aspects of kitchens studied to identify facility changes to improve safety.
Separate clubhouse entrances and exits for members and staff should exist, though almost no clubs do this despite all safety program recommendations.
Restrooms and locker rooms are likely areas with close contact of people. Again, having more frequent air changes for heating and cooling is necessary. In older clubs many only have open windows for air changes. Not good, but better than nothing.
The lack of good ventilation can be addressed through a temporary solution as seen at clubs like the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which provides tent dining with the proper ventilation.
Expanding club outdoor dining to year-round usage can be achieved by adding sidewalls, heating/cooling, ventilation, etc., on covered outdoor patios. Clubs are also considering how to offer this expanded dining all year long, even after the COVID-19 period.
Fitness facilities need to be larger for more physical distance between machines, and again, more outdoor air changes are needed in these work-out areas.
Employee spaces for locker rooms, lunchrooms, restrooms and entrances need to get special attention for safety protection. Many employee locker rooms are primitive and ripe for transmission of the virus. There is no longer any excuse for unsafe employee facilities. Take a look at hospital employee spaces for ways to design them better for infection control.

There are many other ways to improve clubhouse design to improve member and staff safety. The above list is just a start. In addition to making physical changes to clubhouses, the communication and constant reminders to members and staff about safety precautions are just as important. Clubs can make all the physical building changes possible, but people still have to practice safety and good hygiene. It is the responsibility of boards and managers to improve building safety and to communicate the message, so members use their clubhouses properly.

Club Trends Winter 2021