Year-Round Club Opportunities – The Holy Grail for Country Club Success

Portrait of thumb up smiling business people
Portrait of thumb up smiling business people

In country club after country club and even for golf clubs, the next generation of members want more than a seasonal club offering. Clubs have an entire staff they pay all year, so the fixed costs of offering more than the outdoor, seasonal offerings of golf, tennis and swimming can be reasonably expanded with very little additional cost.  But delivering a much more valued club offering to the members takes vision and commitment from the board and management. Going year-round makes sense to members because they are paying 12 months of dues, but only getting a six month club. From our membership survey research with thousands of country clubs, we see a precipitous drop in member usage in the off seasons. But this does not have to happen, and clubs are waking up to this.

For the northern country clubs the drop in member and family usage drops right after Labor Day. With schools starting up and college and professional sports beginning their fall seasons, the club becomes a ghost town. Yes, we have started to address this issue with the addition of fitness and paddle tennis, but this is not enough. There needs to be an entire year-round, club recreation program offered that compliments the summer program as we move from summer outdoor recreation to winter indoor/outdoor recreation. The same can be applied to southern country clubs in their need to attract member usage all year long if they are to stay viable. The opportunity to provide more to members will become even more important as we learn to adjust to a new work-at-home, play-at-home Covid society where members are living and working near their clubs.

We only have to look at the proliferation of fitness clubs like Lifetime and LA Fitness to see how these commercial clubs have attracted our country club members in the off seasons. And yet our country clubs are well located to serve their members if they wanted to. But to do this successfully, our clubs have to have the facilities, programs and sufficient membership numbers to offer the needed programs that members want.

What will the full service, year-round country club of the future look like? 

Well we don’t have to wonder as they now exist. Good examples can be found in the two Interlachen Country Clubs (Minneapolis and Orlando) as they have achieved the year-round status. Both have a full array of winter and summer programs, and both are the best, most successful clubs in their respective cities, one north and one south.

We can also learn about year-round clubs from our non-golf, family recreation clubs like the Briar Club in Houston, the Saddle and Cycle Club and the East Bank Club in Chicago, the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis and the Bel Air Bay Club in Santa Monica. They too show what we need to add to the traditional country clubs to make them much more year-round in their offerings. Some clubs like Boca West Country Club have achieved their year-round club position in its gated residential communities as their seasonal population has grown Boca West into a more year-round Community.

One thing that will almost assuredly happen is the country club of the future will have more members than they traditionally have today. Today’s typical country clubs with one golf course for say 400 full members and about 200 members in all other categories will have to expand their non-golfing membership size. Not greatly, but perhaps by a third to create the critical mass of members to make the club both socially and economically viable. Remember that in most off seasons, our highly mobile memberships can easily lose up to a third of their members to winter or summer homes. So clubs have the room for more members in their off seasons.

Also from McMahon’s membership survey research, we have found that the larger a club’s membership, the higher the members’ satisfaction and the better value members feel they get from their club. When achieving these two aspects of higher satisfaction and better value, club success is assured.

So what should clubs be offering to achieve this year-round success?

This should include offerings like indoor and outdoor golf hitting areas, adding simulators in areas adjacent to bars and gathering spots, adding very casual places for members to hang out near lockers rooms and fitness areas, obviously converting fitness offering to health/wellness/conditioning offerings for all ages, making outdoor sports like tennis, pickleball and bocce/bowling indoors, customizing dining offering for the off season when members can’t dine outside (like the wildly popular Grand Central Grill at Boca West that is better than any restaurant in Boca). The best way to determine what your year-round club should offer is simply to ask your own members, especially those recently joining.

The future belongs to those clubs who innovate. Be an innovator at your club by helping the board see the great opportunity that year-round offerings can achieve.

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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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