12 Oct

The Art of Creating Harmonious Outdoor Spaces

With Insights from Industry Expert Scott Rykiel

There are hundreds of touchpoints in a private club that contribute to the overall member experience. It is easy to consider the receptionist’s greeting once inside the front door, the interactions between members and wait staff in the dining room, or the encouragement received from golf and tennis pros. But the reality is that there is so much more to it than that. If one looks past the obvious, they begin to see the nuances that may not jump out at first but are very much a part of what makes a club such a special place—right down to the landscaping throughout a club’s property.

Scott Rykiel

We sat down with industry expert Scott Rykiel, Vice President at at Mahan Rykiel Associates, to discuss the intricacies of landscape design for private clubs.

From creating impactful first impressions, to incorporating multi-purpose venues, to blurring the lines between building and landscape—this intriguing insight shows how the complexity of landscape design can positively impact the member experience.


What Is Landscape Design? 

Landscape Architecture is a multidisciplinary field with a core focus on planning, crafting, and designing outdoor spaces. Its aim? To elevate the functionality, aesthetics, and sustainability of these spaces. At the heart of this practice is the seamless integration of natural components (lush flora, specimen shade trees, flowing water features, etc.) with the terrain, incorporating elements like structures, seating areas and pathways that work together to create inviting outdoor amenities. In essence, landscape architectural design seeks to achieve the ultimate objective of creating outdoor areas that blend functionality and aesthetics, all while upholding sustainable principles.

First Impressions

From the moment you drive onto a private club’s property, the experience begins. The entry drive and arrival experience set the tone for a member’s entire visit. Just like a beautiful and welcoming clubhouse entryway creates a positive first impression about the clubhouse, an alluring and beautifully landscaped entry drive can set the stage for the entire visit as soon as you drive onto a club’s property.

“They say a person makes a judgment about their entire hotel experience in the first 30 seconds, before they have even checked in,” says Rykiel. “The same can be said for the arrival at a club. The approach is key to a person’s first impression about the club.” Rykiel’s team works carefully to curate their designs for each club’s arrival sequence, even down to making the parking experience just that—an experience. “The parking area is one of the first opportunities to begin this type of experiential relationship with a member or guest,” he says. “The right parking configurations, pathways and travel patterns can set a positive tone for their whole visit.”

Dual-Purpose Design

In any efficiently designed clubhouse, flexibility is key. Consider a large event space that can be divided into smaller areas to host multiple events, or group fitness classrooms that can be partitioned to accommodate various class sizes. Multi-purpose areas provide immense value for club programming and operations. The same can be said for landscaped areas at private clubs.

Instead of focusing solely on one potential use for a space, dual-purpose design seeks to harmoniously integrate and balance several objectives within the same landscape. This approach allows outdoor spaces to be more versatile, efficient, and responsive to the varying needs of members and the environment. “Think of a lounge deck that could double as a stage for live music during special events, or a green space that can easily be converted into an event lawn,” Rykiel notes. “The goal is to make these types of spaces adaptable enough so that each individual use of the space feels natural and intentional, even if it was used for something entirely different 24 hours prior.”

As an example, Rykiel discussed how event lawns and outdoor terraces are often designed with a specific tent size or certain power/electrical requirements in mind. “This way, when the lawn needs to be tented or the terrace needs to be converted into a stage, they are already equipped to do so. And at other times, they will simply appear to be a beautifully manicured lawn or expansive terrace,” he says. This type of dual-purpose design seamlessly combines aesthetics with functionality, allowing for a smooth transition from everyday use to a special event and providing the perfect foundation for unforgettable experiences.

Blurring Building and Landscape

In the realm of private clubs, the concept of indoor/outdoor connections takes on a new dimension. The fact is that clubs often boast stunning surrounds—a lush golf course, a serene lake, an impressive city skyline or rolling hills in the distance. Members place great importance on their proximity to breathtaking views, which has given rise to designs that prioritize expansive, uninterrupted vistas that can be enjoyed from both indoor and outdoor spaces.

“Al fresco dining experiences have become increasingly important,” Rykiel notes. “Members want to dine, lounge and socialize outside as much as possible, which means creating spaces that can be utilized for at least three seasons.” This could include subtly screening dining terraces or utilizing louvered trellis systems that are powered, cooled with fans, heated and can be closed to shade members from the sun or protect them from light rain.

Another key design principle is the concept of blurring the lines between building and landscape, according to Rykiel. “Screening areas with shrubs and trees is a great example,” he explains. “We can conceal unsightly back of house functions like dumpsters or delivery areas, and screen fencing that might be necessary for racquet sports.” This not only protects long views from the clubhouse, but also preserves views from the golf course when looking back at the clubhouse or recreational areas. “But it is important to note that this is only a visual solution and is not effective in reducing sound, like in the case of pickleball,” he cautions. “In that instance, acoustical solutions like Acoustifence can be incorporated to mitigate sound, while the greenery preserves the visual aesthetic of the area.”

Rykiel also notes the importance of architectural elements around the pool that contribute to a premier swimming experience. “Today, members can never have too much shade,” he notes. “There was a time when everyone wanted to soak up the sun all day, but we have shifted culturally to wanting much more sun protection.” This is true for providing shade for lounge chairs around the pool deck, as well as splash pads and zero-entry toddler areas so that all members of the family can be protected.

Getting Involved Early

It is not uncommon for many to consider landscaping as part of the “finishing touches” of a design process. A seemingly simple selection of greenery can be interpreted as the “cherry on top” to add color and life to enhance a built environment. But as we know, landscape architectural design is so much more than that—and really should be a starting point.

“It is so important to involve teams like ours very early on in the process,” Rykiel notes. “Being a part of the conceptual discussions in the beginning is critical to understanding the vision for the desired outcome. This allows us to identify creative opportunities that generate these unique experiences.” In fact, a landscape designer’s evaluation of the site’s physical and environmental characteristics will often inform the layout and organization of outdoor spaces. It is this early stage of the planning process that helps understand the intended use of a space and plan for how best to blend this with the topography and natural surroundings.

“It is so important to involve [landscape architects] very early on in the process. Being a part of the conceptual discussions in the beginning is critical to… identify creative opportunities to generate these unique experiences.”

—Scott Rykiel

The Takeaway?

Landscape Architecture (or Site Design) is a crucial element of the member experience and should be carefully integrated with any future plans for your private club! Landscape architects and designers incorporate principles of design like balance, proportion, texture, and rhythm to weave visual magic into outdoor environments. Their careful selection of structures, plants, materials, and colors complement the surrounding architecture and broader natural surroundings, resulting in breathtaking landscapes and truly unique experiences. And really, why wouldn’t you want that at your club?

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