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My club is embarking on a long-range plan. What are the top capital improvements we should consider?

Clubs are heavily investing in capital improvements these days. Projects are larger and more comprehensive than ever, so in many cases, many of them seem to be taking a one-and-done approach. That isn’t feasible for most clubs, however, and there seems to be a hierarchy to investments. First, clubs continue to reinvent their dining and social spaces. This is being driven from two directions. All member categories and all age and user groups can use their club’s dining spaces, so it is the program that affects the most people. When allocating your capital dollars, it makes sense to start where you get the most bang for your buck. On the other side of the coin, the right dining facilities remain the best way to create community among your membership.

There are many ways to upgrade the dining facilities, but the threefold combination of a large bar space with a central, conversational bar adjacent to an informal grill room capable of serving a mix of adults and families, all spilling out onto a large patio, is the current preferred approach. Patios have taken on an indoor-outdoor feel, with a mix of covered and uncovered parts and different seating areas: some for cocktails and conversations and others for dining. We are also seeing more fast-casual style spaces come online–something that might best be described as a combination Starbucks/Panera space but at the private club level.

Next on the list is aquatics. Pool upgrades have played a central role in most club improvement programs, especially those looking to grow membership from their investments. The pool area is a big part of this because it is in the sweet spot for joiners—that young family that has reached the point in life where club membership makes sense. In addition to what the adults in the household might get from membership, the modern pool complex with expanded deck and seating areas, upgraded locker rooms and a resort-like food and beverage outlet makes it a central gathering spot for the young family. There are all sorts of other uses too, including water exercise and a great place to throw a casual club party.

Finally, the third most popular investment area is fitness and wellness. This remains a growth area, and one where many clubs remain behind the times. The trends in fitness have moved beyond the heavy-equipment style layout that was in vogue when clubs got into fitness a decade or so ago. The new standard is to have more open space for stretching and studios for classes and other forms of body-weight exercises. While the role of fitness is still debated in many club circles, it is a great way for clubs to make themselves relevant to societal values. While it may have been an option for the baby boomers who were the driving force in membership for so many years, it is an expected club amenity package for millennials.

In addition to these major areas, clubs are spending their capital dollars on a variety of innovative improvements. It is an excellent environment for raising capital, either from the members or the bank, and improved facilities remain one of the key areas for attracting new members. With rising rates and, hopefully, the end of the pandemic truly in sight, clubs that miss this window in time to put their houses for the next decade could soon regret it.

Frank Vain is president at McMahon Group. He can be reached at [email protected].