28 Jun

Perspectives from the Other Side

Thinking Differently About Private Club Youth Programs

“Only where children gather is there any real chance of fun.” — Mignon McLaughlin

There is no question that a vast majority of clubs are providing some sort of amenity for kids. Instead, it’s a question of to what degree – and finding the right balance for your membership.

Even if your average membership age skews higher, it’s important to keep today’s demographic shifts in mind. Over the past few decades, we’ve seen a huge influx of older parents. Even when I visit “retirement” community clubs, I’ll occasionally see school buses picking kids up and shipping them off to school. If these cultural shifts haven’t touched your club (yet), you should still ask yourself what you’re doing for the grandparents that have their grandchildren for the summer. After all, robust youth programs offer universal value. By focusing on youth programming, you’re not just creating legacy members – you’re also providing value to parents and grandparents.

The possibilities for developing treasured youth programs are endless. You can offer well-rounded Junior Sports program, fun crafting activities, unique games, or even field trips to the zoo or other local attractions! But you don’t need a full-blown childcare center or Kid’s Camp program to make your club family-friendly. Instead, it’s all about choosing programs wisely, incorporating kids into activities that make sense, and funding the kind of facilities that your members will respond to.

Here are a few ways to avoid the common pitfalls clubs encounter when thinking about youth programming:


It’s Not Just About the Holidays

Don’t relegate youth activities to holidays. Any club can hold an Easter Egg Hunt or a Halloween Costume Contest, but consistently offering programs that include children at the club will pay off. We held our first mini drive-in event at Nakoma Golf Club in 2000, where we’d park the golf carts right on the driving range to imitate that classic drive-in feel. A concession stand and DJ made the event into a full evening, providing tasty snacks and a sock hop before the movie even started. Country Club of St. Albans adopted this tradition with a new spin, where we held both a Drive In and a “Dive In” – allowing the kids to watch an outdoor movie from the comfort of their pool floats. During the winter months, we continued the fun by holding a movie night in the clubhouse.

If you have a more sports-oriented club, you can strive to create strong Junior Sports programs by offering dynamic staff members and a first class Golf Learning Center. You can even take a more passive approach to introducing sports to children early. For example, introduce them to Snag Golf – where they can hit sticky balls to a person in a padded Velcro suit — or set tees out on the course at the 150 markers. You could also show them Quick Tennis, which will allow them to learn the basics and prepare them for future games — all while creating memorable experiences with their friends and family!


Look Beyond Recreational Activities

Keep in mind that not everything needs to be about sports and outdoor activities. During the off-season, give members the opportunity to enjoy a “date night” where parents drop the kids off and enjoy a romantic dinner at one of the club’s dining facilities. And we all know that while the parents are away, the kids will play! Provide the kids with some fun activities that will inspire excitement and wonder, like arts and crafts or group games. You can even host an “After Practice Special” at the club’s dining facilities where families can eat a quick dinner in their gear after practicing. After all, parents have to feed their kids anyway, so why not let the club take part?

At Fox Chapel Country Club, we’d bring on the summer pool staff for these events because they had already developed a strong rapport with both the kids and the parents. Having staff that already loves interacting with children and families on a personal level truly places the cherry on top of the sundae when it comes to creating strong kid’s programs. Not just in the summer, but all year ‘round!


Don’t Think in Absolute Terms

Most importantly, avoid playing into the “all or nothing” trap. If you can’t afford to go all-out on children-friendly facilities or a fully staffed childcare program right now – or even for the foreseeable future – consider less financially stressful options until you’re in a better position to develop this aspect of your club experience. Always consider which programs and facilities will best fit your club culture and membership needs. After all, sometimes simplicity is all you can achieve at that given moment – and that’s okay. When it comes to kid’s programming, something is always better than nothing!


Search for Inspiration Everywhere

Clubs shouldn’t be afraid to share ideas, particularly for youth programs. If you’re struggling to connect with children at your club, look to other private clubs that are doing it right. See what facilities and programs other clubs in your area are utilizing to resonate with their memberships. If you attend at networking event for CMAA or other organization, discuss what other General Managers are doing to engage with their youngest members.
Many of you are already doing a lot for families and incorporating youth programming into your club experience, so tell us: What’s your club doing to engage kids? Are there any youth programs you’d love to implement or facilities you want to build?

Remember that our associations are all about “networking” (or as I like to say “netgiving”), so share your answers in the comment section below or email me.

Next month we’ll publish a list of the best ideas – Stay tuned!

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