06 Apr

Striking the Balance

Cape Fear Country Club’s Ambitious Renovations Appeal to All

Never forget where you came from, but don’t let that stop you from where you are going. Sound familiar? This aphorism addresses an age-old question that has plagued many private clubs over the years: How can we move into the future and embrace a new generation without abandoning our loyal, seasoned members?

Without question, it’s important to consider what newer, younger members look for when joining a private club in order to remain competitive. “While we take everyone’s opinions into consideration during the planning process, we look keenly at members that have been at the club for less than five years, because they’re the best indicators of what the next five years of incoming members will likely want and need,” says John Snellinger, Chambers’ Director of Planning.

Listening to new members may be an essential part of positioning your club for future prosperity, but it’s also important to respect the opinions of seasoned members that have belonged to the club for many years.  “Ultimately, it’s about finding a delicate balance between the trends that the new generation of members want and the traditions that more seasoned members have come to love during their time at the club,” says Snellinger.

While no club can be all things to all people, it is important for clubs to satisfy a more diverse set of needs than they have in the past. Though the prospect may seem daunting (maybe even impossible), tackling this challenge head-on can pay off. “Offering a full suite of services allows clubs to appeal to a wide variety of people. The world has changed a lot in the last 10-15 years and, with the exception of a select few, most clubs in today’s market simply can’t afford to focus on golf alone,” says Snellinger. Providing amenities that appeal to everyone – from children to great grandparents – can capitalize on continuously expanding market potential without isolating long tenured members.

Of course, this approach sounds great in theory, but can it be executed successfully? We’re glad you asked…

Cape Fear’s Grand Plans

Cape Fear Country Club, one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in North Carolina, had to address this problem in a unique way. Known for its extensive history of legacy members, it was essential for the club to have up-to-date amenities that created a comprehensive experience with near-universal appeal.

“We started the Master Planning process in 2011 with the premise of incorporating more casual and outdoor dining, as well as a new fitness facility, which was an afterthought for our previous clubhouse. But through the process, we realized that we had inadequate pool, locker room, and tennis facilities, so we adapted our plans accordingly,” says Mary Geiss, Cape Fear’s General Manager. In response to these realizations, Cape Fear’s forward thinking leadership worked with Chambers to develop a two-phase master planning program that addressed these concerns.

The first phase rebalanced the clubhouse dining facilities to minimize larger, formal venues and emphasize more appropriately-sized casual spaces. The plans created designated family casual and adult casual dining spaces, as well as a bar/lounge area that encouraged spontaneous socialization. An expansive outdoor dining area with outdoor kitchen, bar, and fire pit was also added to create a new dining option with stunning views of the 18th Green. A lovely vine-twined trellis covers these outdoor spaces, allowing members to enjoy a close-up look at the course without worrying about the sun’s harsh rays. A new Wine Room was also developed to encourage the Club’s budding wine program, while also providing the opportunity for members to host private parties and enjoy a more formal dining experience.

The plan’s second phase focused on the creation of a Family Activity Center (FAC), which would replace the Club’s existing Swim and Tennis facility. In essence, the FAC was designed to bring every membership demographic together. For families with children, the existing Youth and Multi-Purpose Rooms were enlarged, and a brand new Child Care Facility was created. A Café – which would serve as an ultra-casual dining venue and snack bar – was built as an alternative to the more formal spaces in main Clubhouse. This Café offers a plethora of healthy food options and boasts greater capabilities than the Pool Facility’s original Snack Bar. The FAC also has an outdoor bar for adults, as well as a state-of-the-art Fitness Center with group exercise rooms and a treatment room.

“Everyone was excited about the new special touches, effort, and amenities that were put into the new clubhouse. It generated a great deal of excitement about the second phase.”

— Mary Geiss, General Manager

During the planning stages, some of CFCC’s more seasoned members were skeptical about how the FAC would benefit the Club. However, after the plan was approved by the membership, the initial work on the Clubhouse began to slowly build up anticipation for the creation of the FAC. “Everyone was excited about the new special touches, effort, and amenities that were put into the new clubhouse. It generated a great deal of excitement about the second phase,” says Geiss. According to Rick Snellinger, President and CEO of Chambers, “developing a modest phase one that gives you the ‘wind behind your sails’ to boost utilization is a great way to use planning to create excitement. This increases revenue and helps pay for future phases, even though those revenues are not used in the development program costs.”

After the planning and implementation stages, club leadership patiently awaited the results. How quickly would members – both new and old – embrace these new facilities?

Phase One

As tradition dictates, seasoned members typically enjoy the more “Old School” aspects of the club experience. For many members over 65, their fondest club memories include playing a few rounds on the course before sitting down for a formal dinner. While there is still a time and a place for this type of programmed dining, members of all ages are moving away from making reservations and looking for an impromptu, casual atmosphere to enjoy with their families. With this trend in mind, the planning team also understood the importance of retaining the storied history and sense of tradition that is such a large part of the culture at Cape Fear.

In many ways, Phase One of the master plan addressed these needs beautifully by creating multiple dining spaces that could be utilized for different occasions. Younger members with families could enjoy a delicious meal in jeans in the Family Casual Dining Room, while more seasoned members seeking a retreat from all of the excitement could indulge in a more formal affair in the Adult Casual Dining Room or Wine Room.

The covered outdoor terrace – with its outdoor kitchen, breathtaking golf course views, and welcoming fire pit – provided a different experience that was previously missing and tremendously desired by members. “Ultimately, when members come to the club, the first thing they want to do is get outside. This was a missed opportunity for Cape Fear and we knew that had to be a priority for the first phase of improvements,” says Rick Snellinger. Phase One improvements have not only helped the clubhouse offer something for everyone, but has also had a fantastic impact on F&B revenues. “The new club dining venues have increased our sales 25-30% per month, particularly in the bar. The bar has already paid for itself,” says Geiss.

The Club has also seen significant growth in their wine program since the creation of the Wine Room. Though the program was being cultivated before the clubhouse renovations were implemented, the Wine Room helped truly launch the program to success. “Participation in the wine program has nearly doubled. The wine room has 60 individual wine lockers, all of which are spoken for with 15 members currently on the waiting list. Our locker rentals pull in an additional $9,000 per year, not counting wine sales,” says Geiss.

All in all, the Clubhouse improvements respond to the changing usage of private club dining, providing “something for everyone” at the Club to cater to all members of the family.

Phase Two

With the Club abuzz from the success of the rebalanced clubhouse dining, Phase Two was much-anticipated by members. “I am always telling people that the golf course is our brand, but our facilities and programs are our future,” says Geiss, succinctly defining the current situation numerous clubs across the nation find themselves in today. In many ways, Cape Fear’s FAC encapsulates this idea perfectly. The facility not only boasts features that would appeal to newer members with children, but also provides additional value for recreational and wellness-oriented activities. Crafted with current club trends in mind, the FAC embodies current industry trends towards relaxed dress codes and ultra-casual dining. “Most members love that they now have a casual area where they can walk around in workout clothes. It is definitely a departure from the stateliness and formality of the clubhouse,” says Geiss.

The FAC’S laid back atmosphere is conducive to activities during warmer months, which spurned the facility’s popularity during North Carolina’s warm summers. Though Geiss says that the “Pool and Café were filled with excitement this past summer,” she cites the Youth Activity Rooms and Childcare Center as the FAC’s most resounding success. These spaces provide a much-needed retreat for both children and parents, allowing kids to have an area of the club that is entirely their own. “For example, when we have adult swim, the kids are happy to have somewhere to go and entertain themselves,” Geiss mentions. These spaces have also encouraged the membership and staff to focus more on developing more active junior programs. “We’ve seen major growth in our junior programs, with activity groups that range from lego club to movie nights to flag football,” says Geiss. Combining fun programs with thoughtfully constructed facilities allows generations of children forge happy memories at the club — a truly essential feature for continuing to cultivate Cape Fear’s illustrious history of legacy members.

One of the great beauties of the FAC is its versatility. Despite its name, the FAC’s impact on the member experience extends beyond young families to include members of all ages and varying interests. The new Fitness Center – which is significantly larger than the original clubhouse Fitness Facilities – has not only slowly begun to accumulate more regular users, but has also increased senior use of the facility. “They have adopted the new Fitness Center as their own. That’s in no small part due to our group exercise classes, which we never offered before. These classes reach across generations. We’ll hold a ‘Senior Fit’ class – averaging 10-15 people per class – and then 2 hours later we’ll hold a ‘Tiny Tots’ class for kids from 2-4 years. It’s interesting to see,” mentions Geiss. Cape Fear has even made an effort to generate additional value for the avid golfers and tennis players by offering activity-specific conditioning classes, ensuring that every member – no matter what their motivation for joining Cape Fear – can have positive experiences at the new Fitness Center.

Of course, the value of the FAC isn’t just limited to ROE (return on experience). The FAC’s Café has been a source of additional revenue for the club. “Café sales were over 60% from when we were selling from a Snack Bar,” she added. “We have moved more casual events – like our fried chicken night, bingo night, and ‘kids eat free’ day – to this venue,” says Geiss, a move that has only bolstered the Café’s financial success. To ensure that the café would not cannibalize Clubhouse dining revenues, Geiss has also implemented smart hours of operation. “The café is open Sunday and Monday, when it isn’t in competition with Clubhouse dining. It’s also open Tuesdays and Wednesdays — which are our busy tennis nights — so members can grab a casual bite to each after a tennis match or tournament. It’s been really popular with players as our tennis programs continue to grow,” says Geiss.

Though the FAC was constructed with the future in mind, its diverse amenities and intelligent programming have encouraged even the most skeptical members to adopt the facility as their own!

Have you tried to take this approach at your own club? Share your story with us in the comments below or send us an email!

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  1. Club Road

    We appreciate the feedback. We hope you found this to be useful!

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