As it enters its next phase of growth, the Charleston, S.C., club continues to offer its family-centric membership an extension of home through exceptional service.
Natural disasters have a way of bringing people together. When Hurricane Matthew hit the southeastern U.S. in early October, some clubs along the seacoast were under water for weeks. The Daniel Island Club in Charleston, S.C., was fortunate, though. With over 30 felled trees, debris and some flooding, the club’s staff and their families, and even members, still worked in concert with the maintenance crew to restore the facility’s picturesque grounds. That sense of community and togetherness, regardless of the scope of need, is a quality that pervades the club’s amenities, commitment to service, and vision for the future.
At A Glance
Daniel Island Club
Location: Charleston, S.C.
In 1947, Harry Frank Guggenheim bought most of Daniel Island’s 4,000 acres for $70,000, which he then used for hunting and cattle ranching. The city of Charleston annexed the island in 1991 to accommodate future growth, and when Interstate 526 was completed, allowing easy access to the entire region, a master plan was created to guide the island’s development with a goal of creating a small-town community. The Daniel Island Company began developing homes in 1996, essentially “re-foresting” the land by planting thousands of trees along neighborhood streets (about 2,800 acres of the island can be developed).
In 1997, the Daniel Island Company purchased land from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. The first of two golf courses, offered as an amenity for those buying homes on the island, welcomed play in 2000, and the clubhouse opened its doors shortly after in 2001.
“The goal of creating Daniel Island Club was to provide a private, in-town country club that would be a key amenity and a strong real-estate tool,” says Julie Dombrowski, Communications Director for the Daniel Island Company. “Everything is close—you can get to Charleston or the beach in 20 minutes, and the island has 400 acres of parks and green space, all connected by a trail system.”
In bringing potential new residents to the island, the Daniel Island Company markets heavily to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, with about 50% of the population coming from the Carolinas. But as the buildout nears completion (Dombrowski predicts the company has four to five years left for building homes on the island), the club will transition to a stand-alone facility that is no longer dependent on real-estate sales.
“When we reach critical mass, we’ll continue to refine our position, adding facilities as needed but not changing the original concept of the club very much,” says Greg Keating, Vice President of Club Operations. “We want to continue to offer a high-end experience, where members aren’t struggling for tee times or dining reservations.
“We want to remain relevant to our members, so when they get their statement and write a check, they won’t want to reconsider the expense of belonging to the club, because they won’t want to go without it,” Keating adds.
A New Vision
When Keating joined the Daniel Island Club 14 years ago, the facility included 18 holes of golf, an 18,000-sq. ft. clubhouse, tennis courts and a swimming pool. From then on, “improvements haven’t stopped,” he says.
Now, the club offers its 1,100 member families a 70,000-sq. ft. clubhouse with 36 holes of golf (one designed by Tom Fazio and the other by Rees Jones, with both playing out of the same clubhouse). There are also 11 tennis courts with a tennis pavilion, a 6,000-sq. ft. fitness center that will grow to 11,000 sq. ft. by January 2017, and three cottages for overnight stays.
“The owners originally didn’t think we would be a multifaceted club—they thought it would just be more of a golf club,” Keating says. “But we soon saw the need to establish the wide-reaching programming that makes sense, given our family-centric, diverse membership.”
The cottages stand as a noteworthy example of how the club is accommodating the needs of its members and their guests. Set up as 3,000-sq. ft., fully furnished buildings that can each be further divided into sections, the cottages are primarily used by the club’s 37 national members and often play host to bridal parties and wedding groups. Guests of the cottages have full access to all club amenities, and staff will pre-stock them with snacks as requested and deliver food from club dining venues.
“We have weddings scheduled every weekend through next July, so our biggest struggle is deciding who has priority,” says Sarah Connelly, Cottages and Transportation Manager. The accommodations now have a 70% occupancy rate throughout the year, she adds.
Connelly also oversees the club’s transportation program, which provides rides to members in one of three passenger vehicles. Though they are used mostly for trips to and from the airport, the vehicles also follow a scheduled loop that travels to downtown Charleston on Fridays and Saturdays for $10 a seat, allowing members to enjoy the spoils of the city without worrying about driving or parking.
“We keep the prices reasonable because we know they have other options, like Uber,” Connelly notes.
A Foundation in Fun
The 18-hole Beresford Creek golf course opened in November 2000, before the clubhouse was erected. Along with the 18-hole Ralston Creek golf course, which opened in April 2006, the club also features a driving range and practice green for its 650 golf members. While clinics, social events and tournaments keep the golf courses busy, Director of Golf Chris Edwards, PGA, and his staff put a priority on making sure the game is fun as well.
“We have to make sure that expectations aren’t higher than a golfer’s ability, and you have to have fun, because people come here for leisure,” Edwards says. “If it’s too serious, they won’t be interested and you’re missing the point.”
When residents buy a home in Daniel Island Park, they automatically become social members—a membership option that is only given to homeowners. For Matt Smith, Membership Sales Manager, the challenge is to then encourage new residents to upgrade to either a sports membership, which includes access to the clubhouse, swimming, fitness and tennis facilities, or a golf membership, which allows access to everything the club has to offer.
When informing potential members of the club’s offerings, Smith highlights programming for kids.
“Parents will use the place if kids are using it,” Smith says. “Few of our members are originally from this area, so we have to create social environments and activities to bring people together.”
Part of appealing to families includes the expansion of the Park Club Swim, Tennis, and Fitness Center, which is expected to be complete in April 2017. It currently features two saltwater pools, one primarily for kids and the other for adults, along with a small snack bar. With the renovation, the kitchen will triple in size, offering the ability to expand the dining facility.
When the club took on the renovation and expansion of its fitness center, it opted to give members an alternative during construction by renting a nearby 2,400-sq. ft. space to serve as a temporary fitness center, moving all of the equipment that will ultimately be swapped out when the new facility opens.
“That just shows the type of management we have here,” says Michael Steele, Fitness, Recreation and Aquatics Manager. “We could’ve told members, ‘You’re on your own for three months.’”
Before the renovation, the fitness center saw about 200 visitors per day, Steele estimates. That level of usage necessitated doubling the cardio and strength-training areas, as well as adding more classroom space, particularly for popular classes like pilates and Zumba. Steele and his staff strive to continually generate new fitness-event ideas to encourage use of the facility, including weight-loss and diet challenges.
“Working out can make people really self-conscious, so we try to break down that barrier and be super-supportive,” Steele says. “It’s a huge deal to walk into the fitness center and know you’re accepted and to feel comfortable.”
Outside the fitness center, recreation options include paddleboarding, kayaking, and a run club that helps members train for a 5k race.
The Daniel Island Club is also adding five more clay tennis courts to accommodate that “extremely popular” amenity, Smith says. The club now offers two hard courts, eight Har-Tru courts and Charleston’s only grass court. The additional courts will allow the tennis program to expand more into the junior tennis scene.
“The tennis program has grown at a pace that the facility can’t keep up with,” says Director of Tennis Ben Cook. “Sometimes we have to turn people away because of lesson demand and keeping up with leagues. We hate having to say no.”
The expanded snack bar at the aquatics facility will also serve the tennis pavilion, adding a food-and-beverage element to popular events that include a member-guest around Halloween, when participants play in costumes.
Reflecting the Times
In the beginning, the Daniel Island Club offered a single dining venue, but as the diversity of new members and their needs became apparent, the club opened The Grill Room, a casual, family-oriented restaurant, in 2009.
The Grill Room offers upscale casual fare with Southern influences, with member favorites including a Southern fried chicken sandwich, a signature gumbo that’s been on the menu since day one, and shrimp and grits.
“We must be cognizant of our surroundings, because more traditional members want formal dining that requires a suit and tie,” Keating says. “But we’re also competing with the best restaurants in Charleston that let you wear flip-flops. Some members may want to toss people out for not wearing a sports coat, but that’s not modern business, and the club must reflect that.”
Relaxed rules in a casual atmosphere are also integral to appealing to families, says Terese Dailey, Director of Finance. “We want families to think of the club first when they don’t feel like cooking at home,” she says. “But if we have too many rules, it affects the flexibility they need as a family.”
The club’s original dining space was renovated in 2012, re-opening that year on New Year’s Eve as Harry’s. Offering seafood, prime beef, a raw bar, and a full beverage bar, Harry’s offers a more experimental menu under Executive Chef Tyler Dudley.
“Charleston is a great food city, so members are open to trying new things,” Dudley says.
The kitchen that serves Harry’s is adjoined to the banquet kitchen, allowing Dudley to oversee all facets of the dining operation.
“I don’t get to cook as much as I used to, but we do many wine dinners as part of our wine clubs, which helps keep my knives sharp,” Dudley says. Working as a chef is a second career for Dudley, who previously worked in exercise physiology. His knowledge of nutrition informed his cooking early on, he says, and the club does everything it can to accommodate members’ dietary restrictions and allergies.
The Right People
As with many club facilities, staffing is one of the biggest challenges at the Daniel Island Club. Because Charleston has grown so quickly and its food scene has become so prominent, Dudley notes, more culinary talent has gravitated to downtown. But the employees who do come on board at the Daniel Island Club often stay and transition into different roles within the club.
“Part of our philosophy is focusing on friendliness, instead of being stuffy and stodgy with a lot of rules,” Keating says. “We want to be an extension of your home, and the key to that is our staff. We hire for personality, and train for the technical skills. You have to get the right person on the bus, and then put them in the right seats.”
The relationship between staff and members of the club often extends beyond the property’s boundaries, with staff sometimes being asked to housesit, babysit or dog-sit for members. Staff are quick to offer assistance for all of members’ needs, even going as far as offering a car-detailing service while members play a round of golf, or calling ahead to a restaurant where a member is going to celebrate his or her birthday, to ensure that a bottle of champagne, courtesy of the club, is waiting for them.
“That’s a recruiting tool for us with new employees,” Keating explains. “Our employees are interacting with and serving the ‘who’s who’ of the country and the business world. The opportunity is there to establish connections that can further their careers.”
Going forward, as the Daniel Island Club transitions into its next management phase, Keating thinks that other clubs will adopt a similar approach.
“The club business has moved to a COO/governance model as the need has been recognized to hire executives who can successfully manage operations,” he says. “Member-owned clubs that rely on committees for feedback can be successful—but it can be just as effective to gather that feedback by having managers walk around and interact with members, emphasizing the personal touch.”