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It’s Not You, It’s Me

THE CALL CAME in mid-September 2013, as I waited at a gate in a large mid- western airport. No one had died or been in an accident. No one was in labor.

“Mr. Smith, your membership is approved and we look forward to seeing you this season.” As the verbal acceptance quickly turned to joyous thoughts of warm winter days on bright green Bermuda, post-round cocktails on the patio with clients and friends, and untold numbers

of blackened grouper sandwiches, I had to metaphorically, or at least privately, pinch myself. I was a member in good standing at an exclusive Top 100 private golf club. A “big-boys club,” if you will.

Intentional spoiler alert: After nine great seasons I left that club on December 31, 2021.

Why join a private club unless it’s spe- cial to you in some way? The country club down the street, the lunch club down- town, the sailing club on the lake or the destination “retreat” golf club located in far more civilized temperatures and dew points all offer wonderful facilities, activ- ities and people allowing you to get away from the noise.

But all good things must come to end.

Sometimes life, both good and bad, gets in the way of your membership and it’s time to leave the beloved club you hold so dear. Financial and medical hardships happen. Divorces happen. Excruciating traffic hap- pens. Pandemics happen. Life happens.

Sometimes it hurts. I’m told the happiest day of a boat owner’s life is the day they sell said boat. Not so with your club. The old axiom of, “If you love something, set it free” holds no water here, yet employing the five stages of grief is apropos.

Of course, club-related factors like financial instability, declining service, personality conflicts, disciplinary actions and(heaven forbid) bad food and drink have led to many an annulment. These are unfortunate but understandable reasons to leave.

On the bright side, life often changes for the good in a way that you and your club simply grow apart. Irreconcilable dif- ferences aren’t always negative. Weekend baseball, soccer, hockey and lacrosse tournaments can do irrecoverable harm to your relationship with your club. A beach or mountain house can quickly become the other woman or man. Maybe the kids go off to college and, since we live in an era where parents seem to go to college with their kids, you plan to be away from home more often. Retirements and, even better, early retirements, professional opportunities and new hobbies or inter- ests eventually lead to significant transi- tions and lifestyle adjustments.

Back to me and “the call” and the membership that came with it. When I joined in 2013, my spouse and I were blissfully childless and petless, living in a downtown condo in a city with a direct commercial flight to the club’s vicinity. Fast forward to now, when we are busy and (mostly) blissfully attending to the needs of a yard, two children, two fish and a 10-week-old puppy. Five years ago

we chose to leave the big city for a slower pace to raise the kids, but with that deci- sion, we also chose an airport with far fewer direct flight destinations. Getting to my now former paradise these days takes a half-day of flying that includes a stop at the kiss of death of flight travel— the major hub.

I created my own hurdles. I made choices that required trade-offs. Now I’ve left a club that once embodied everything that was important me. Like you, I would make those same choices over and over again, but as Boyz II Men reminded us with their Motown cover in 1991, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” (I just turned 50 so please excuse the musical homage to my freshman year of college.)

The pandemic has brought with it far too many hurdles, changes, divisions and delays to the global society and economy. National Club Association (NCA) members are far from immune to both the disease and its cures. Shutdowns make for precariously difficult times in our business. When paired with mask and social distancing mandates, labor challenges and supply chain shortages, it’s a wonder the club industry is not only surviving, but in many cases, thriving. This phenomenon is a testament to resilient boards, general managers, members and staffs.

It’s no secret that many clubs in warm weather, lower-tax states are currently limited only by their own capacity limits and the aforementioned labor and supply chain issues. Would-be members are glued to their mobile phones seeking homes and club memberships in desirable locales, sight unseen. While this situation should certainly be categorized as a great problem to have, there are consequences. The inverse effect of the bounty presently keeping some of our members buried in a good way is, of course, potential outmigration of members that lead to other clubs get buried in a bad way based solely on their geography and state and local policies.

Action-forcing events put all of us in position to make choices and tradeoffs. This yin and yang is happening every hour of every day at private clubs across the country. Members are coming and going at a breakneck pace as are federal, state and local pandemic policies. NCA is the go-to source to help guide our members through this maze of threats and opportunities

As for my former club, I know they are doing just fine without me and I might even be welcomed back for a round every now and again. It may be true that you can’t go home again, but sometimes a pleasant memory reminds us of both another time in our lives and the reasons why that time is a memory. A Valentine’s Day mail order of stone crabs can make you pretty happy where you are, too.