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In the past, a huge portion of the private club industry has lived by one cardinal rule: Golf is king. Whenever there is extra money to spend, many clubs naturally assume that the funds should be used on golf course enhancements. But as the old saying goes: “To assume is to be deceived.”
Every year clubs funnel thousands of dollars into resurfacing greens, improving bunkers, altering tee boxes… the list goes on and on. But the world is changing – and so is the club industry. Gone are the days when maintaining a pristine golf course was enough to attract and retain a loyal membership. Member needs and desires are shifting and the club industry is trying its best to keep up with these shifts. While golf is a large part of many club experiences, it no longer reigns supreme – meaning that the industry should begin looking at golf course renovations in a whole different light.
In today’s fast-paced, “plugged in” world, private club members are hungry for human connection –and this trend only accelerates as the years pass. After spending all day attached to computer screens and smart phones, many members are searching for a more socially-centered private club experience. In many ways, the demands on people’s time may be a large contributor to the decline of golf as a whole. Most people simply can’t dedicate a few days a week to playing a five-hour game of 18 holes. Instead, they’d rather spend time in relaxed social settings enjoying the company of their friends and family.
The golf industry as a whole is grappling with a notable downtrend. Whether you’re analyzing participation rates, number of rounds played, or even T.V. viewer ratings, the numbers continue to dwindle. Unfortunately, this trend shows little signs of slowing. In fact, golf participation rates among those between the ages of 18-34 fell around 13% from 2009 to 2013 according to SFIA data. New stats show that many people who try their hand at golf are quickly discouraged and never become regular players. Of course, not everything looks bleak – there are still 24.1 million golfers in the United States as of 2015. But it’s important to recognize that while golf certainly isn’t dead, it no longer rules the roost when it comes to private club amenities.
So where can this extra money be better spent? On improving the clubhouse.
Clubhouse improvements are typically more expensive than golf course renovations, but they generally result in a greater Return on Experience (or ROE as Chambers’ VP and Former CMAA President Skip Avery likes to call it). Investing money upfront will ultimately give you a better foundation – and more satisfied Membership – for the future.
Unlike the golf course, which is most utilized by family patriarchs, clubhouse amenities are universally appealing and family-focused – qualities in keeping with current private club trends. The club was once an escape from family pressures where men could get away from day-to-day life and go play golf with the boys. Now most clubs are a retreat for the family. In order to be successful in today’s market, private clubs need to be well-rounded.
These family-focused trends go beyond industry buzz and are well-represented in actual data. For example, the allocation of discretionary income used to be a man’s decision, but today’s women play a huge role in determining where the money goes. According to a study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, 73% of women report controlling or influencing all household spending – meaning that their opinions matter more than ever before. Nowadays, when the typical member joins a private club, it’s a collaborative family decision made between both spouses. This makes clubs accountable to the entire family. They have to offer something for everyone and show their value relative to the family finances.
Chambers’ own studies of private clubs across the nation show that members crave more robust clubhouse amenities and better social experiences at their clubs. When we conduct club surveys, we ask members what they think about their facilities and amenities – and how these features are useful for the membership and the club as a whole. Time and time again, we see the majority of members pointing to excellent club dining as the best utilization booster and recruitment tool. Many members want to feel connected to a community of like-minded individuals, and what better way to create that feeling than sitting down for a good meal in a welcoming space?
Numbers aside, there’s also the matter of seasonality. Unlike golf courses, clubhouse facilities provide year round amenities – making it significantly easier for clubs to maintain importance in the lives of members. When clubs foster a socially-centered environment, utilization levels aren’t limited by the uncontrollable factors that affect golf like weather conditions, temperature, and wind speeds. When leaders invest in the clubhouse, they take ownership of their members’ club experience.
As with most aspects of the private club industry, there’s no such thing as a universal recommendation. One of the most exciting things about private clubs is their uniqueness – and each and every club must adapt differently to suit their specific memberships. However, it’s important to pause during the decision-making process and fight against the knee-jerk instinct to simply funnel extra funds into the golf course. Rather than conducting “business as usual,” private club leaders must keep their finger on the pulse of industry trends and ask themselves this vital question: What renovations meet the desires of our membership — both today and in the future?
Want help deciding what renovations and enhancements are best for your club? Get in touch with me!