06 Jul

Smaller is the New Big

How Inverness Country Club Embraces Versatility

Versatile spaces in private clubs

The entrance is grand and elegant, with a 30-foot atrium and marble floors.  It, at once, awes and welcomes as it escorts you quickly to dining, fitness and meeting spaces.

Rewind tape, enter the same front door — this time as a wedding guest.  That same lobby is now host to a beautiful pre-dinner cocktail reception.  The registration desk is now a fully stocked bar. If you were to peek behind the door around the corner, you’d find the one-time conference room is now a food service staging area for this 300-person formal event.

The versatility of the space is not an accident.  It was carefully considered when Inverness Country Club in Birmingham rebuilt in 2008.  “The silver lining,” says club Owner Bill Ochsenhirt of the devastating fire that leveled the original 1970s-built clubhouse, “was that we were able to build our dream club.”

Indeed, Inverness is considered the new prototype according to Chambers Architect Ken Hart, who led the club’s redesign. “It combines all the amenities and even architectural integrity of an older club,” he says, “but in a much smarter, more efficient way.”

The club of the future, say the experts, provides coveted member services while optimizing everything from energy use to staffing.  At only 25,000 square feet, Inverness is 13,000 square feet smaller than the average American clubhouse.  Yet with state-of-the-art fitness facilities, childcare and a technology-obsessed kitchen, it provides the same or better services than clubs many times its size — and at operating costs far less.


Rethink, Reuse, Rebalance —
Older clubs think
new, too.

Efficient planning isn’t relegated to ground-up construction. Many older clubs are rebalancing spaces to get the most use out of their floor space, creating flexible spaces, introducing modern equipment and systems to improve energy usage and efficiency, and reprioritizing layouts to address evolving member needs.
IN: fitness facilities and childcare.
OUT: single-use spaces and vast and empty hallways.

No Idle Spaces
“No one has ever said, ‘I wish this clubhouse were bigger’,” says Ochsenhirt.

The new club (and older clubs can rebalance and retrofit — see the sidebar at right) focuses on three areas of efficiency…

Prioritized Member Amenities
Along with the traditional amenities, fitness facilities, childcare and casual dining are critical to current member satisfaction. At Inverness, nothing was sacrificed to provide them — spaces were simply prioritized and made more flexible:

  • banquet and meeting facilities can be reconfigured to accommodate virtually any sized event
  • locker rooms are significantly smaller (half lockers are plenty adequate for most members)
  • massive hallways were eliminated in favor of pass-throughs, freeing up square footage and engaging members with more of the space


Operational Efficiency
The Inverness clubhouse is 40% larger than its predecessor but costs 18% less in utility costs to operate, which it accomplished through “better insulation, more efficient energy management systems and eco-friendly construction,” says Ochsenhirt. Among its energy-saving moves:

  • online management of energy systems that enable the club to monitor and adjust
  • installation of highly efficient HVAC, lighting and water systems, plus kitchen equipment that uses less energy and costs significantly less to maintain
  • landscaping and golf course irrigation that tie into a lake water system rather than relying on city water

Focus on Staffing
Perhaps the greatest genius of the Inverness plan is its careful consideration of every room, every employee, every step:

  • the kitchen is closer to the dining room than in many clubs, requiring fewer servers and enabling faster service times
  • unseen to members, the fitness reception desk is connected to the laundry room — just one example of where fewer employees are required to staff spaces, as one can move easily between these two.  “The same staff member can monitor who’s coming in and out of the fitness area and fold towels during a lull,” says Hart
  • the kitchen layout and equipment mean most of the work can be done with only one or two chefs or cooks on duty. “You do have to have a chef who’ll embrace technology,” Ochsenhirt says, of his state-of-the-art combi oven than means you can have 120 hot dinners ready to go at the same time with “one guy in the kitchen.”

All this efficiency did not come at a price, says Ochsenhirt. In fact, it is saving the club money, members are happy and retention is greater. “The truth is, they’re getting more value than they were paying for before,” he says. That IS big.


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