What We’ve Been Working On: Want to Buy a Country Club?

 In Experiences, Projects, Services

Nationwide, the statistics are clear. Golf participation in the US is down 14% over the last 20 years. Nike stopped manufacturing golf equipment. The growth in golf participation that does exist is tied to non-membership options like driving ranges and entertainment-based golf (Top Golf). So what do you do if you are a membership-based country club built around a championship golf course whose facilities – and members – are aging?

Our client, a membership-based country club, offers its members a championship-level golf course along with a pool, tennis courts, a range of dining option and a wide variety of banquet space. Their balance sheet is in the red, their membership is aging and they are having trouble attracting new members. The board was considering some relatively drastic options – including a one-time assessment designed to renovate the facilities and pay down some debt.

We encouraged our client to reach out to members both to gauge the needs and desires of the members but also to make them part of the process. In the past decisions from the board were seen as dictates and mandates without membership buy in. We encouraged them to make engagement with the members a primary goal of the research.

First, we surveyed club members. What were they concerned about? What was working with their club – and not working? What would they like their club to look like in five, ten or twenty years? The online survey allowed all members to participate in the project – making them all part of the process.

Next, we conducted focus groups with different segments of the membership. Because an important goal of the project was to encourage membership participation in the process, our focus groups – planned for around eight members each – grew to 15 or 20 per group. Across our six groups we talked to almost 100 members.

Our findings, presented to the board and made available to members, highlighted the following:

  • Many of the things the members thought the club was doing well were golf-related. This was true even for those who were not active golfers – and a challenge given the decline in golf participation locally and nationwide.
  • A generational divide was clear in the desired uses for the club’s space (and budget).
    • For example, younger families with children wanted more casual dining options, enhanced pool features and a more casual environment.
    • Many in their 60’s and older focused on golf – and appreciated the child-free dining options.
  • Investing in pool and gym enhancements, while maintaining the excellent golf facilities, would clearly appeal to younger families and those with children.
  • The club can’t solve all the challenges at once, so they must focus on the solutions which will help keep current membership engaged – and paying their dues – and appeal to new members.

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