Facilities For The Future

Carmel Country Club

The pandemic forced clubs to use their facilities in new and different ways. They would do well to make many of these changes permanent when the crisis passes. 

While there is still a swirl of pandemic-induced uncertainty across the country, member feedback and usage patterns suggest that the social impact of the disease has been to accelerate lifestyle trends that were already underway. Relaxed and casual, simple fun and recreation, family and friends remain the watchwords. This is good for the club world, as absent the need to innovate in response to this year’s demands, many clubs would have only fallen farther behind next generation demands. 

Country clubs have had a good summer serving as the haven for their members and sunbelt clubs are lined up for a good season, depending on local restrictions on gatherings. The country is likely to remain in suspended animation for much of 2021 as we await distribution of an effective vaccine. Club leaders should plan now to apply the lessons learned from this season’s temporary measures and develop their facilities to reflect the evolving demands. This will position clubs to benefit from the confluence of changing lifestyles and demographics. The maturation of the Millennial generation will put more and more people in the prime joining years each year for the next decade. Positioning your club to align with these factors will pay dividends for many years to come. 

Outdoor Living: In our recent pulse survey, 72% of clubs indicated they were making more use of their outdoor spaces this summer. Clubs like Country Club of Detroit that had invested in outdoor spaces in recent years saw record numbers. Their Summer Village lived up to its name this season. Other clubs made it happen by putting more tables on an existing patio or purchasing pop-up tents for the lawn. Creating permanent spaces for outdoor use should be on the docket for all clubs. Fixed canopies for all-weather reliability combined with outdoor bars and cooking stations and awesome views make outdoor spaces a big winner for country clubs. 

Simple Service: Food and beverage service will be increasingly relaxed and casual in the years ahead. The new dining facilities at Carmel Country in Charlotte will prove prescient. Part pub, part Panera with a distinct upscale club vibe, check out their Generation Next plan on the internet. More clubs should embrace limited service as it puts the consumer in control. With tight or non-existent training budgets, new concepts that blend ease of access with quick service will be the norm. 

Detroit Athletic Club

The Coffee Shop Culture: The pandemic has permanently changed how people live and work. Walk through most clubhouses midday and you will see laptops flipped open on many a grill room table. That might work as a temporary measure, but remote work is here to stay. Making your club a place where it is welcome will draw more members out more frequently, which is the goal of a membership model. Howard Shultz’s vision for Starbucks was serve as the “Third Place” in people’s lives – the go-to place when they were not at work or home. That is the definition of a club and these drop-in spaces bring it to life. 

John’s Island Cafe

Takeout: To-go food was a savior for clubs and members in the peak of the spring lockdown. Unfortunately, we seem headed back to that type of world. While still not recognized as a traditional activity for not-for-profits, clubs seem to have no choice but to accede to member demands. Meal replacement remains a huge trend as the next generation does not cook like prior ones. The ability to pick up chef-prepared foods for takeaway after a workout or game will be expected. Add in opportunities for branded club products and you have a wining combination. 

Technology: Facility enhancements should be paired with a technology overlay. The adoption of new technologies during the pandemic has been incredible. What would have taken years occurred in only a matter of months. Clubs have long lagged the hospitality industry in using technology to predict, serve and track member activity. In a future populated with tech-savvy members, limited service and staff shortages, technology will become more important than ever. From club Apps for reservations and ordering to smart managers using AI to really know what members are doing and why, tech-friendly clubs need to become the norm. 

The crisis made 2020 the year of the Member’s Club. Smart planning and investing will make these gains permanent. 

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About Frank Vain

Mr. Vain provides consulting and planning services to private clubs throughout North America. Through use of specialized services including membership surveys, strategic planning, operational analysis and facility long range planning, Frank assists club in developing individualized strategies for their unique situations. 

Mr. Vain joined McMahon Group in 1988 and has more than forty years of experience in the management and development of hospitality properties including country clubs, city athletic and dining clubs and residential communities. Frank is Past President of The Country Club of St. Albans, a 36-hole country club located in Missouri, and he is a former partner in Concord Sports Club, a 1,700 member family athletic club in St. Louis. Frank was elected to the Board of the National Club Association in 2011 and served as Chairman in 2019-20. 

Mr. Vain is a native of Philadelphia and graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a featured speaker at the annual Club Managers Association of America World Conference, National Club Association National and Regional Conferences, Major Golf Associations and a regional chapter meeting of club managers and leaders. 

Frank is a regular contributor to industry leading publications like Club Management, Club Director and BoardRoom. He was named the Gary Player Club Educator of the Year for 2012 and 2015 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021 by BoardRoom. He is also a co-author of McMahon’s Club Trends, a recognized industry benchmark on the trends and issues affecting private clubs. 

More articles by Frank Vain
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