Private Club Innovation – The Secret to Having the Club of the Future

Club Future

We are at an interesting point in our nation where the innovators are carrying the day.

Look at technology, especially the iPhone, where the predominant use of this phone is no longer voice communication. Look at the auto industry where the Tesla of the new age is whizzing by the old-line companies like General Motors and Chrysler.

We in the club industry are always a little behind the innovation curve as we are traditionalists by nature and thus, slow to change; but, change we must unless we want to disappear.

As in all aspects of 21st century life, the rewards and successes go to the innovators. We in the private club world have something that is becoming increasingly important to society as technology isolates people more and more. Clubs are all about people, community and interaction. There are not many places left in our world where these qualities exist. So to us as innovators, we must repackage our clubs to attract our next generations.

We are clubs and we have something special to provide.

In our business and social lives, there is less and less personal contact; and yet, people crave being with other people. Fortunately, clubs are special places, where people actually get together. Friendships are made, business is conducted and the healthy lifestyles of social and recreational activities are promoted. We are clubs and we have something special to provide. For clubs to remain successful and grow, they have to change with the times. They must be innovators! Clubs cannot keep offering the same golf experience, food, dress code, restrictive rules, recreation offerings and tired missions of service. Club innovation is coming and we must be part of it!!

Don’t look now, but major club innovation is happening, and the smart clubs are embracing it.

A club standing still with a status quo approach will soon find itself losing members from normal attrition and a lack of new members joining. Once this decline starts, it is difficult to stop. Then the management companies and buyout opportunists are at their doors.

Relaxed Dress Codes: Dress codes are more relaxed so that at least some areas of the club must allow denim.


Accepting Technology: Non-voice use of cell phones is becoming the norm for members while at their club.


Casual Dining: Dining is going totally casual in dress codes, but food offerings themselves are going trendy, healthy and innovative. Bars and lounges are important centers of club activities. Bars are great places of social activity that should no longer be placed in mixed grills. They need their own places in a clubhouse, on patios or near fire pits.

Golf Practice: Golf is going from a total emphasis on playing 18 holes and course conditions to expansive offerings for practice facilities, thus redefining the definition of what playing golf actually is. Topgolf and digital games are invading clubdome in a big way.

Third Place: Club facilities are being reprogrammed to address the ever-expanding offering clubs must provide to offer the full-service, year-round club experience wanted. The recreation wing of clubs is expanding far more than the dining wing, thus causing a new design formula for facilities.

Year Round Recreation: The seasonal club offering, be it summer in the north or winter in the south, is moving quickly to total year-round clubs with more and more non-traditional club offerings being added. The seasonal club of yesterday is now a thing of the past except for a few rare exceptions.

Management Delivers: The best clubs in the country have not and will not be run by management companies or corporate club operators. Management companies manage costs, but they seldom achieve the 50% very satisfied level that members demand at great clubs. There is no substitute for a highly-qualified general manager if a club wants to be one of the best.

Strategic Plan: Every club needs a strategic plan shaping its long-range direction. No business today can function without a strategic plan and clubs are no different. It is an interesting fact that today’s most successful clubs have (and follow) strategic plans. Club success does not happen by accident. Plan ahead to get ahead!

What Club Innovation is All About

It is about making a club not only a special place, but an everyday place. It is about offering a club experience not just for him, but also for her and the family. It is about making the club an “in-place”, a place “where everybody knows your name”. We must do the above in new and innovative ways that will continually make clubs more attractive to an everchanging membership. These ways must always have at least 50% of members very satisfied with their overall club experience, not just satisfied. This is the club of the future.

Two questions every manager and board member should ask themselves are:

  1. Are we leaders or followers?
  2. Is our club looking to the future or satisfied with maintaining the status quo?

Clubs living in the past will soon be part of it. We must ensure our clubs are part of the future. All clubs have the opportunity to be innovators, that is if their boards and management teams are committed to maximizing club success. Let McMahon Group’s club innovators help shape your club’s future.

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About Bill McMahon, Sr. AIA, OAA

Bill is a strategic, financial and architectural planning consultant to clubs throughout North America. He established McMahon Group in 1983 as an affiliate of the family architectural firm his grandfather founded in 1906. Over the ensuing years, the firm has expanded its club consulting services beyond clubhouse improvement planning to a full range of services for all aspects of private club challenges. To date, the firm has assisted more than 2,000 private clubs across the United States, Canada, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. McMahon Group provides a unique approach to developing club facility projects first establishing design and financial feasibility so membership approval is achieved. Thereafter final design and construction firms are selected to build the member approved project.

Mr. McMahon is unique among club consultants in providing an integrated strategic, financial and architectural approach to solving club problems. His personal involvement with his own clubs in St. Louis (serving in the roles of president, board member and committee member) has allowed him to bring unparalleled experience to each client. Mr. McMahon’s club memberships have included Bellerive Country Club (St. Louis), Racquet Club Ladue (St. Louis), University Club of St. Louis, Spring Lake Yacht Club (Michigan) and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

Mr. McMahon is a graduate of Washington University School of Architecture in St. Louis and holds architecture licenses in 44 U.S. states and in Ontario, Canada. He is a featured author in industry publications and a featured speaker at the annual conferences of the Club Managers Association of America, the Canadian Society of Club Managers, the National Club Association and the Hospitality, Financial and Technology Professionals. He serves as a visiting lecturer at continuing education sessions offered by regional CMAA chapters and at Michigan State University. Bill is a co-author of McMahon Club Trends®, the comprehensive research reports on strategic issues facing private clubs published with the National Club Association. He is also founder of the Excellence in Club Management Award.

Mr. McMahon is a member of the American Institute of Architects, and the National Club Association. He is a former president of the Missouri Council of Architects, AIA and has served on various charitable boards in the St. Louis area.

More articles by Bill McMahon, Sr. AIA, OAA
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