11 Oct

Master Planning – A Phased Approach

Featuring the American Club, Hong Kong

There is no question that a facilities renovation is a grand undertaking. There are many elements to consider, many decisions to make, and many people to involve. Taking the necessary steps to renovate a private club is much like renovating your own home. Great care and attention to detail go into the process, and as a private club is often considered a second home for its members, it’s important to ensure the right plans are put into motion that will breed a successful outcome—creating an unmatched atmosphere and lasting memories for all involved.

In our last issue, we highlighted the importance of strategic planning—creating a true vision for the future direction of your club. One element of strategic planning often focuses on facilities and how they respond to current and future member needs. But what is the best way to plan for these facilities? Where should you begin, or what should you focus on to create the best possible member experience? Here, we discuss how master planning builds on the strategic planning process, and how it relates to member experience and the longevity of your club.

The Big Picture

To recap; strategic planning is the process of defining future goals and making decisions on how to allocate resources to pursue that direction. And just as any successful business needs to define a purpose and direction, so too do private clubs. Previously in Club Road, we asked managers: why attempt to run a business without first establishing a plan? Most would answer simply, you don’t. And while private clubs are typically much more personal—and often emotional—than everyday businesses, planning for their future should still be approached in a similar manner. So if strategic planning is the first step to preparing for the future, it makes sense that master planning is often the second.

Master planning, by definition, is a dynamic long-term process that provides a conceptual layout of your facilities to guide future growth and development. It encompasses facilities analysis, site and space planning, and the development of a conceptual design direction that provides a framework for future design, construction, and renovation decisions. “We urge Boards and Committees to stop doing projects,” advises Chambers’ President and CEO Rick Snellinger. “Oftentimes, Boards have a great idea and they implement a project. Then a few years later, the Board changes, new ideas arise, and they do another project. Then another few years go by, the Board changes again, and you see the pattern this creates…”

He continues to explain that over time, club leadership often finds that these “projects” solve immediate solutions, but don’t consider the bigger picture. “Each idea has merit in its own right,” he adds, “but clubs begin to see that if they had taken a step back and looked at the broader picture, they may have done things differently—more holistically—and saved time, energy, and resources.” The benefit of master planning is that it enables clubs to define the relationship between different facility components in detail to foresee any issues that could potentially arise before actually implementing the plan. Essentially, this creates a framework that allows everyone involved to understand how each piece fits together from the beginning. Then the club can develop a plan for how best to implement those pieces.

Achieving Success

So, what does the master planning process actually entail? To begin, it helps to consider three questions with regard to your club: What facilities do we have now? What do we need (or want) for the future? And what changes do we need to make in order to get there? A successful master plan follows a logical sequence of discovery, analysis, and development. Here, we recommend a process we’ve proven to be successful in club renovations across the country:

  • Discovery Period. Put away the drawings and take a critical look at what you currently have. Consider previous work that has taken place at the club and review the existing facilities with the “blinders” off—as if you are a prospective member seeing the club for the first time. At this point, it’s often beneficial to schedule informal member focus groups to obtain preliminary insight into what they are looking for out of their club experience.
  • Key Strategic Drivers. With an understanding of what currently exists, as well as insight into some hopes for the future, the planning team can then begin to identify areas in need of improvement. Whether members are looking for a more dynamic bar experience, a fitness center, or youth facilities, this is the time when facility shortcomings are identified for potential enhancement. It’s also the time when emerging industry trends can be considered for incorporation into the planning efforts. Not all trends are appropriate for all clubs—but it is prudent to at least consider them.
  • Conceptual Plans. At this stage, the planning and design team can begin to assess various ways the current spaces could be altered to meet specific needs. The team conducts programming exercises to determine how much space is needed for a certain membership size, and identifies options for renovating existing spaces, expanding facilities, or perhaps building new facilities entirely. Oftentimes, it is beneficial to develop multiple options to determine which is the best fit for the Club’s specific needs. At this time, rough order of magnitude (ROM) costs are also estimated based on square footage.
  • Member Survey. Now that conceptual plans have been developed based on member input and committee discussion, it’s time to verify the concepts. At this stage, Chambers often encourages clubs to distribute a facilities-oriented survey that asks specific questions pertaining to each concept. Through a series of questions, the planning team is able to better understand where members’ priorities lie—and even dive into the desires of specific member segments. For larger programs, this prioritization also aids in establishing a phasing plan so that improvements can be implemented sequentially over a number of years when funds are available.
  • Program Costs. Once priorities have been established and phasing has been considered, it’s important to circle back to costs. The planning team considers implementation costs, various aspects of club finances, and the financial threshold of the membership to determine a realistic—and financially responsible—financial model that can fund the program. For many clubs, it is best to establish a long-term capital fee that will fund not only the implementation of the master plan, but also aid in funding future capital improvements by building reserves over time. Just as members must continually invest in their homes, they must also invest in their club and contribute to the care and maintenance of its facilities.

The Phased Approach

Now that we’ve broken down the process, let’s zero in on a key component—the phased approach to master planning. This simply means that the plan is broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces, rather than moving forward with a project in its entirety, all at once. So, how is it beneficial and what elements make up a phased approach?

  • Addressing Priorities. As with the master planning process in general, a phased approach enables clubs to systematically address elements that speak to the overarching vision, focusing on top priorities first. This helps address the most important items that will increase member engagement and help the club thrive.
  • Minimizing Member Disruption.Ultimately, the goal is to prepare the club for the future…and in any renovation program, there is going to be construction and some inconvenient “dust” throughout the process. However, by implementing improvements in phases—and sequencing those phases in a logical way—clubs are able to minimize member disruption as much as possible. For example, if a master plan intends to address an entire clubhouse, it may make most sense to implement change one floor at a time so that members still have partial use throughout the process. While construction is occurring on the lower level, members can still utilize the upper level—and vice versa.
  • Staying Relevant. When planning and designing for private clubs, flexibility and durability is key. The goal is to develop solutions (and aesthetics) that are timeless and classic and stand the test of time. While ‘phase one’ addresses the immediate needs of the membership, in some instances, it may be 4-5 years before a ‘phase two’ is implemented, providing an opportunity to revisit those concepts and member needs to ensure they still align with one another.
  • Remaining Financially Prudent. Phased master planning allows clubs to focus on what is most important to their members and spend funds “We don’t agree with the ‘if we build it, they will come’ mentality,” Snellinger notes. “We’d much rather encourage clubs to invest in a financially conservative and responsible way to get the most value they possibly can.” In fact, clubs typically see immediate increases in utilization following a renovation program (often 30-40%), as well as increases in membership levels—so much so that the additional revenue can sometimes generate enough revenue to pay down debt more quickly, and begin “phase two” sooner than expected.

It helps to look at needs realistically and bite off what the club can chew at a time. Sometimes it takes phasing to get wind behind the sails and generate money from increased revenue to be able to implement future phases. Furthermore, it’s often beneficial to develop a long-term sustainable funding model that support the implementation of the entire plan, not just phase on. This sets a precedent for funding future capital improvements. Just as homeowners need to make systematic upgrades to their home, clubs must do the same, so it makes it easier if everyone contributes a little bit monthly to build a reserve for when this is needed in the future.

An Overseas Success

There may be no truer testament to this process than Chambers’ recent master planning efforts with The American Club, Hong Kong, which has seen tremendous success in following a phased approach to master planning. Located in Asia, The American Club, Hong Kong is a premier Club dedicated to providing its members and their families a place for social, recreational, and business activities in a distinctive American atmosphere. While the Club is committed to preserving its American character in the products, services and facilities that are provided, it also recognizes that as an international club, it houses a diverse group of people with varying interests.

Through analysis and working with a dedicated group of members who formed a planning committee, Chambers worked with the club to develop an overall master plan for the club (which has two locations—a country club and a city club) that spoke to its unique dynamic. Design solutions for four facilities at the Country Club were developed in two forward-looking phases focused on incorporating club trends and preparing the club for the future. The first phase incorporated an outdoor terrace overlooking Tai Tam Bay, complete with a bar and infinity-edge plunge pool, as well as a new golf simulator lounge. Plans for the second phase focus on interior spaces, including member dining and youth facilities.

PHASE ONE. The outdoor terrace improvements were strategically placed into the first phase for a reason—member experience. Detailed design and planning took place during the winter months with opening day scheduled for July so members could enjoy the new amenities during the summer season. In fact, the terrace opened on July 4th—a perfect time to celebrate the new improvements as well as Independence Day and the Club’s American culture.

The adult-only outdoor bar encourages casual dining and relaxation while still maintaining the Club’s upscale atmosphere. The addition of this recreational retreat provides adult members the opportunity to gather around a fire pit, toast with friends at the bar, unwind in the plunge pool, or grab a quick bite to eat—which is exactly what members were looking for. In addition, the plans re-purposed an existing squash court (which was previously underutilized) to create a dynamic Golf Simulator and Lounge experience. This space now features a social area with self serve tap system for wine and beer, as well as a millwork element that can be nested on the wall or brought out and utilized as a manned bar for events in that space. The summer opening was a huge success and allowed members to enjoy these initial elements of the master plan—all while getting them excited for future improvements to come.

In the meantime, the Club looked to ‘phase two’ and worked with Chambers to develop the design for other elements of the master plan. The planning team assessed the remaining master plan elements and reconfirmed membership’s desire to further enhance the club’s interior spaces. These enhancements include elevating the casual dining experience in the Fireside Lounge and Bar, as well as developing a Youth Activity Center that complements the Club’s strong commitment to its membership’s families.

The Youth Activity Center offers fun options for children of all ages—from video games, to table games, to a movie room and more. The blend of bright colors and modern décor provide the perfect space for kids to play, interact and create. Meanwhile, parents can head to the Fireside Lounge and Bar to unwind with food and drink. The fireplace and sophisticated décor create a beautiful space to relax after a long day. Or, if they’re looking for a more vibrant atmosphere, they can opt for the Golf Simulator Lounge for a fun night ‘in’. These rooms were strategically designed to provide dedicated areas for member interaction, regardless of age.

Utilizing a systematic, phased approach to planning, The American Club, Hong Kong has been able to address immediate member needs, enhance the member experience, and build on the excitement of the membership to continue developing future improvements. The master plan has created a blueprint for the renovations, guiding the club through a logical process that increases value in the club and delivers an experience its international members desire. A true home away from home—thousands of miles away.

Are you planning ahead for your club’s future? Contact us today to see how we can help.

Check out other articles from this issue by clicking here.

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