Is our club at risk?
It is crucial for the Board to recognize that the internal club operations and long term stability at every club could always be potentially at risk. Members of private clubs continue to experience the empty feeling of receiving notice that their cherished membership will no longer be in existence as their club is closing its doors.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a good friend trying to decide where he and several of his fellow members should join a new club. Sherbrooke Golf Club in Lake Worth had notified all of its members that the club would be closing in less than 60 days and that they would refund members of any monies owed. The members were scrambling to find a new club, but what had happened? As it turns out, two other private clubs, all within a 3-mile triangle, have also publicly announced that they are selling their clubs and will be closing their doors in the near future.
How can this happen?
The Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) found that in 2012, only 53% of Golf and Country Clubs had a strategic plan in place. A club with a strategic plan of action will identify the “Mission Statement” of the Club and the goals and services it wishes to accomplish and put into place. Although this article is in no way intended to provide a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) as to how your club should be structured, it will point out a few recommendations and best practices.
Each club has its own personality. This is where the Board and a consulting firm can assist in developing where and what your club should be focusing on. I have heard from several boards that the personality and make up of their clubs will be designed for retired golfers and keep the traditions that have been in place for the last 50 years. While these clubs will have an uphill battle in these modern times, they know what to focus on and are fundamentally prepared.
The National Golf Foundation has estimated that 400,000 golfers have left the sport since 2014, adding to the belief that the up and coming millenials are non-golfers. However, this group of emerging professionals and successful entrepreneurs are searching to join clubs for reasons other than golf. “Golf is in a bit of a drought,” said Allen Adamson, managing director at brand consulting firm Landor Associates in New York. “It’s a pretty high-price sport, and leisure time is getting crunched.”
The National Golf Foundation found that only 14 new courses were built in the U.S. in 2014, while that same year, almost 160 shut down. Clubs now need to be willing to respond to the changing world or they will fall victim to a devastating economic trend in private clubs.
We need to make some changes, what next?
If your club does not have a strategic plan with the club’s mission statement in place, this should be the first plan of action. I encourage the board to interview several club consulting firms to assist in this process. A good place to start can be as simple as a GOOGLE search for “country club strategic plan.”
Times are changing and so are people and their priorities. I have been involved in several country club surveys asking current members to list the top priorities that they’d like from their club.
Top responses include:
- Friendliness of Members & Staff
- Location & Beauty
- Clubhouse, Social, Dining & Lounge
- Wellness & Exercise
Twenty years ago, golf would have been at the top of this list. However, clubs nowadays have become social incubators that must respond to the ever-changing world. Long range planning, now identified as strategic planning, must look at trends not traditions to continue a successful and healthy membership. Today’s board discussions usually include topics such as:
- Coats & Ties Required
- Cell Phone Usage
- Family Activities
- Length of Ladies Shorts & Skirts on the Golf Course (LPGA)
The list goes on and on and if action is not taken to “keep up with the times,” younger members will find clubs that embrace these trends. If the lifeblood of your club desires the status quo, a very detailed marketing campaign must be in place to replace the attrition, which will be an on going concern.
Lifestyles and club marketing
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a club as, “an organization of people with a common purpose or interest who regularly meet and share activities.” Twenty-plus years ago, clubs were mostly made up of friends and families usually from a few specific cities and even more specifically, neighborhoods or clubs. Today’s paradigm shift includes club communities with mandatory membership requirements. The exclusive membership committee and approval process has become a thing of the past with mandatory membership clubs which are regulated by HUD requirements. Think about it this way: buy a home in the club and become a member.
Today, clubs are competing with other local clubs for members. Marketing campaigns are becoming more and move valuable with many clubs hiring marketing and PR professionals. Having a niche or competitive edge will assist the club in gaining and retaining new members.
Diverse marketing venues will allow the club to attract members. In mandatory membership club communities, partnering with a real estate company that understands and specializes in club communities brings another marketing direction while not costing the club additional marketing expenditures. Social media, SEO and traditional marketing are all key aspects of club promotions. Lifestyle is the newest buzzword in the industry; what is your club doing to attract new members to experience your unique lifestyle?
Not your father’s club
How do you stack up with your local competition? Have you assessed your facilities and amenities? More and more clubs are renovating or even replacing their clubhouses, golf courses and other facilities. New and fresh brings an exciting feel to the club.
A recent trend in clubs has been the presence of young children and families. We’ve seen recently a club in Pennsylvania create a mascot for their kids’ programs, a trend that will likely grow and spread throughout the country as well. This is a great way to add diversity as well as endorse your club as standing out among the others.
A healthy club includes a diverse age group with amenities and activities tailored accordingly. Keep in mind things like scheduling fitness classes and dining hours. For example, classes scheduled during the day will not work for members with 9-5 jobs. Expanding dining hours to accommodate those that eat early as well as those who work late will appeal to a diverse membership. It is also important to recognize that even in these changing times, keeping traditions and activities, like card rooms and formal dining, will always be paramount.
What makes you stand out?
What makes your club special? What do other clubs think about your club? Growing up in South Palm Beach County, country clubs are everywhere. Local golfers knew what club had the best greens or no tee times or 100 single digit handicap players or the best seafood buffet or the best pool and beach club.
Some clubs are known for a specialty drink, that you must have one when you go there. Known as your club’s personality, what makes your club different from others? Tell your club’s story. Let your members know the story that needs to be told and let them help spread the word as well.
A great example of a club personality is Muirfield Village, home to Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial PGA Tournament has become known for its milkshakes as well as having one of the best courses in the world. If you visit Muirfield, you must try a milkshake. During the most recent tournament hosted there, a rain delay forced the players into the clubhouse and CBS featured the famous milkshakes on live television. This may seem trivial, but it sure garnered tons of attention and you have to believe Muirfield is a fun place to be. This is a great example of a club that stands out for something truly one-of-a-kind.
Be the Purple Cow of Clubs within your demographics
In his book Purple Cow, Seth Godin says, “The key to success is to find a way to stand out-to. Be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins.”
What does this mean for your club? Most importantly, develop a strategic plan and create or update your club’s mission statement. Understand you are at war, at sorts, with the other clubs in your market in regards to attracting qualified new members. You must deliver quality and uniqueness to be successful and stand out - like the purple cow.
When Wayne Gretzky was asked the question “What makes you the best NHL player all time?” his response was, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Where is your club going to be? Trends or Traditions, embrace both!
About the Author—
Stephen Jara’s esteemed real estate and club career has included President and Managing Broker with Pristine Properties International, VP Operations at Mountain Sotheby’s and now Senior Vice President at Golden Bear Realty. Steve began his professional career in country club management and property association management. He has also worked extensively with Cotton & Company, a luxury real estate marketing firm that works to empower real estate success worldwide. With more than three decades of industry expertise, Cotton & Company has proven to be a strong resource and powerful alliance. Steve’s unique back ground and experience makes him especially well prepared for the private club, consulting & club real estate business.