When private golf clubs are about more than just golf
By: Mark Gurnow, General Manager of Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club
Having worked in the golf industry for nearly 40 years, I can tell you firsthand that golf clubs are not what they used to be. And that isn’t a bad thing. There was a time when golf was the driving factor in membership sales and men were the primary decision makers for membership purchases. Private golf clubs were a place for true golf aficionados to come together to bond – on and off the course – and the sanctity of the game was celebrated with buddies who usually shared a drink, or two, at the clubhouse.
Fast forward to 2018 where we find ourselves in a fast-paced society with a million things vying for our attention. Women now control a majority of the purchasing decisions and the family unit is maybe the most important part of a club membership decision. It’s no surprise that there is an increasing need to find balance, whether it be in our work, health or relationships. The same can be said for our private golf clubs.
Shifting Your Focus from the Course to the Club:
Members want more than just quality golf courses or formal dining facilities. Golfers want a country club with a community. A place where they can meet friends, socialize, receive personal care and attention, try new things and feel comfortable bringing the kids and grandkids along. Golf clubs are not in the golf or dining business; they are in the lifestyle business.
It’s time to switch our focus from just improving the golf course, to making sure our clubs are the hub of activity. We want to make an impact on our members whether they are home, on vacation or traveling for business. Members are looking to us for both health and lifestyle experiences, including theater performances, concerts, sporting events, culinary lessons and a myriad of other social events. Our list of amenities must grow as the needs of our members evolve.
The most recent buzz in the private golf club industry has been around fitness. Country club members are looking for state-of-the-art fitness centers with weights, cardio equipment, tennis courts, lap pools and fitness classes that include yoga, Pilates, circuit training and personal training sessions.
Something Superstition has recently added for it's members is an online fitness resource that allows them to stay connected on the go. Our fitness trainers design personalized programs for our club members that are available 24/7 through a private online portal. Trainers record personalized workouts that can be accessed from anywhere and the system allows members to record their nutrition and track fitness results. Even though they’re away from home, our level of service can remain the sam - and the club remains the center of their activities.
Golf, tennis and fitness, to some extent, go hand in hand. All are traditional offerings for a private club, but it’s time we start thinking outside the box when it comes to our amenities. In fact, let’s throw the box away.
At Superstition Mountain, we recently built lighted Bocce courts and created an area that includes expansive outdoor seating, a fire pit and beautiful views of the Superstition Mountains with food and cocktail service. Members enjoy casual games with friends or participate in our wildly popular Superstition Mountain Bocce Leagues that compete weekly. We see serious competitors practicing and we also watch families play the game with their kids laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
We also renovated one of our tennis courts and converted it into four Pickleball courts. Yes, Pickleball. The sport has been cited as one of the fastest growing sports in America and we’ve noticed the popularity among our members, primarily because it’s a family game that every age and skill level can enjoy playing together. Even cruise ships and hotels are adding Pickleball to their facilities. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon.
Outside of great amenities, our members want to be entertained and I strongly believe the club should be the center of that activity. Whether it be an event at the clubhouse or an off-site visit to the theater or a Spring Training baseball game, we want our members to know they can come to us instead of trying to figure it out on their own.
Superstition Mountain’s full-time Activities Coordinator fills the calendar with dance lessons, wine tastings, comedy shows, farmers markets, car shows and more. If you don’t already have a staff member of this nature, you need to seriously consider adding the position. An Activities Coordinator is about more than planning fun events for members – at its core, it’s about member retention.
Golf may have been the founding partner in private clubs, but other amenities are taking an equal billing in the minds of many current and potential members.
We haven’t forgotten about one of the primary reasons people come to our exclusive properties. While we know the needs of our members are shifting, their desire to enjoy the game of golf remains the same. As we continue to develop our private clubs, we must continually make improvements to our courses – take our recent $2 million bunker renovation project for example. There would be no need to spend millions of dollars on a redesign if it wasn’t a driving influence in the lives of our members. As the club progresses, so should your courses.
The need for quality golf may be a constant, but the way the game is played is not. Our industry is facing a challenge when it comes to time constraints. Gone are the days when players would spend eight hours at the club for a day of golf. Members are leading busy lives and need faster play opportunities. The good news is, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or build new facilities. By adjusting your existing structure, members can have the same great experience in a shorter time frame.
We recently incorporated both an executive course and par-3 course into our two Nicklaus Design courses. This gives our members options to play a quick nine early in the morning or late in the day (less than an hour on our par-3 course). By shifting our play mentality, members can enjoy the game they love and still get to the rest of the items on their to-do list. The shorter play times also create a unique opportunity for children to be exposed to the game we love and play a round with their parents or friends out on the course.
The Bottom Line:
To stay relevant, just like any other business, we must change with the times. As a PGA golf professional, I feel a profound personal connection to the game. But the reality of our industry is, there’s a bottom line. A failure to recognize the evolution of our members’ needs and wants is failure to prepare for the future of the private club industry. The only constant is change and we need to be ready for the next round.
Mark Gurnow is a 37-year PGA member and General Manager of Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club and can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org