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Beyond Golf: Huge Opportunity for Club Growth in 2022 and Beyond

Just three years ago, many golf and country clubs were in dire need of members, golf play was down, millennials were never going to join clubs and oldsters were leaving. Then from a health care crisis, people found clubs—not clubs as maybe they once were (stuffy, exclusive places for the wealthy)—but destinations for families and members of all ages to have fun and socialize together. The club became the safe haven. Members yearned for a place where socialization was valued. Clubs became social hubs for diverse members working, playing and enjoying safe recreation and fun sports.

As we hope to move beyond the various strains of COVID-19 outbreaks, reinvigorated golf and country clubs have a challenge: to continue capitalizing on this newfound interest in clubs. Now that members have joined in record numbers and found value in those memberships, there’s opportunity to retain older members and continue to attract younger generations by providing attractive and value-added club offerings.

In golf’s resurgence, clubs now have so many golfers that newer members can’t get on courses. However, while golf is very popular, it is not the growth area for clubs’ success; some clubs are thinking about reducing the number of golf memberships because of the crowding.

There is huge growth potential in the many non-golf aspects of clubs. Clubs will find growth and demand coming from a broader spectrum of activities than the summer golf, swim and tennis offerings of yesteryear.

The real success of a good club comes from its ability to create social and friendly atmospheres that provide opportu- nities for members to mix socially by either playing some sport, dining together, working together or raising their families together.

Many non-golf activities, such as dining, wellness, spas, pickleball, paddle tennis, year-round games, etc., have great growth potential for facilities and membership numbers.

Fortunately, many country and golf clubs are also located near the homes of members. If home office usage continues in popularity even without COVID-19, the suburban country club is perfectly located to expand its services.

During the last 20 years, commercial fitness clubs proliferated—much before private clubs seized the opportu- nity. Today, clubs are developing high-quality fitness/ wellness/spa programs that are a far better value for

members. By bringing in many activities under the country and golf club tent, clubs can continue to grow in popularity and value. From McMahon’s almost 40 years of serving more than 2,000 clubs, one surprising finding is that the larger a club’s membership, the higher the members’ satisfaction.

This may be due to larger clubs having more resources to provide more and better facilities and programs.

Clubs of 1,000 or more members can afford to have the best management teams throughout all departments.

Combining the best facilities, more diversified programs and top managers generally results in better clubs.

The following trends and opportunities are unfolding for country and golf clubs for 2022 and beyond:

  1. Progressive clubs are planning, building and operating full-service family clubs. Their facilities are much more casual in membership usage, have year-round activities for all family members, separate casual activities from more formal clubhouses, have casual but good dining programs (that outsell other club dining offerings), and have both good golf offerings and equally fine indoor and outdoor, winter and summer, non-golf facilities. They make sure the non-golfers have an equally good reason to use their club as golfing members do. And when golf season is over, the club draws those golfers back with offerings like simulators all year long.
  2. Dining is the major offering pushing membership retention, yet 70% of clubs surveyed underachieve in dining per what their own members would like to have and are willing to pay for.
  3. According to McMahon data, the most important club offerings to members of all ages, in order of importance, are:
    • Dining
    • Golf
    • Wellness/fitness
    • Swimming
    • Racquet sports

Our clubs can expand non-golf memberships and non-golf facilities for dining, wellness/fitness, racquet sports, swimming and a myriad of other social and recreational offerings. We only have to look out there to see what the innovative clubs are doing—consider The Country Club of Virginia in Richmond, Va., with its new $19 million family recreational center, The Briar Club in Houston, Wellesley Country Club outside Boston, Boca West in Florida or

Bel-Air in Los Angeles.Golf and country clubs have a golden opportunity to rethink and rebrand. The pandemic opened the door for club success. Now clubs have to take advantage of these opportunities.

Family-centric Golf

While much of this article’s focus is for club growth in the multi-faceted country club, there is a new breed of family golf club taking hold. From the predominantly male-focused golf club of yesteryear is coming a more family version of the fine golf club.

This newer approach is finding a better way to embrace the entire family in a golf-centric club by offering year-round services and programs for all family members through vastly expanding golf practice facilities and training centers, having diversi- fied dining programs, adding simulators, and expand- ing fitness. Don’t forget many very good golf clubs, like Winged Foot Country Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., have family-oriented swimming pools. With golf’s popularity growing in families, prioritize the strong appeal of the family-focused golf club.