Rather than hibernate for the winter, clubs are embracing dropping temperatures by transforming tennis courts and golf courses into winter recreation hot spots.
For seasonal clubs that focus on warm-weather events and sports like golf and tennis, member use can be stifled by dramatic temperature shifts. Still, some clubs are choosing to adapt to cold weather by reinventing existing recreational facilities with a decidedly wintery twist—and are finding new profit centers in the process.
Frolic and Play, the Eskimo Way
In 2010, Wayzata (Minn.) Country Club decided to brighten dark winter days with its Winter Wonderland. After multiple brainstorming sessions with the course superintendent and maintenance staff, the club chose to freeze four of its eight outdoor clay tennis courts to create ice rinks for figure skating and hockey, and also to convert its golf course into a snowshoeing, sledding and cross-country skiing track, says General Manager Chris Gerardi.
|SUMMING IT UP
“The Winter Wonderland was in line with our mission statement, as a club that offers year-round activities,” says Gerardi. “It was a great way to get members engaged. Plus, Minnesota calls itself the state of hockey.”
Starting the Friday before kids go on winter break and extending through February, the club transforms its tennis building into a winter lodge warming house that serves hot cocoa and comfort food like pizza. The lodge houses snowshoes and a limited number of skates, sticks and helmets for members to use at no additional cost, Gerardi notes.
The lodge also includes a seating area, television and fireplace, and the walls are redecorated with hockey jerseys, snowshoes, wreaths and garland. Around the perimeter of the tennis courts are fire pits for s’mores, as well as more garland and plenty of lighting.
Gerardi describes turning outdoor tennis courts into ice rinks as a “lengthy process.” The staff lines boards around the perimeter of the courts, then lays down a liner on the clay. Using hoses from the clubhouse, the golf course maintenance staff applies water each day, layer after layer, until the ice reaches the desired thickness of about five to six inches, Gerardi says.
Other than removing net posts, not much is done to the courts themselves, Gerardi adds, because they are an ideal size for the rinks. The two sides of the rink are divided by a snow bank to keep skating and hockey separate. Two platform tennis courts are heated for use throughout the winter.
Wayzata CC’s staff fashioned a mini-Zamboni machine from an old utility cart, outfitting it with a water tank and brush to lay fresh ice. Less staff is kept on hand during the winter, with a scaled-back grounds crew maintaining the Winter Wonderland and handling snow removal, Gerardi says.
“The staff learned how to do everything,” he reports. “It was mostly ingenuity and learning through trial-and-error for how to maintain the ice.”
On the golf course, the club’s staff created four different snowshoe paths that are well-lit and have strategically placed reflectors to keep members in the right tracks. To segment the sledding area, the staff piled up hay bales.
Gerardi estimates that about 40% of the club’s members use the Winter Wonderland, with plenty of events scheduled throughout the season. A six-man team hockey tournament, known as the “Manly Cup,” has become a big draw for the recreational space, and the club also hosts a winter kids camp, skating lessons, skating with Santa, private birthday parties, and moonlight snowshoe tours.
Chess on Ice
Though curling was not an official sport in the Winter Olympic Games until 1998, the United States Curling Association contends that the sport was developed in Scotland in the 16th century and draws more than a few comparisons with golf.
“It can be said that the curler who is at the height of his or her game has the same edge as the golfer who is sinking the key putts: great nerves, will to win, and mental toughness,” the organization’s website says. The game employs strategy as well, earning it the nickname “chess on ice.”
Scottish farmers curled on the frozen marshes using “channel stones,” which were naturally smoothed by the water’s action. Scottish immigrants brought the game to the United States around 1832, and by 1855, curling clubs popped up in New York City, Detroit and Milwaukee.
Curling teams are made up of four players of any gender or age. A game involves 10 ends, like innings. An end consists of each team member shooting two stones. When all 16 rocks have been delivered, the score for that end is determined.
A 12-foot circle (the “house”) is the scoring area. For each stone that is closer to the center of the circles (the tee) than any of the opponent’s, one point is scored. The team scoring the most shoots first in the next end, giving the opponent the “hammer,” or last shot of that end.
The sheet of ice is 16’ 5” wide and 150 feet long, set up to accommodate play in both directions. Most curling takes place in curling clubs, which commonly have two to six sheets of ice. Hockey arenas are also used as temporary curling rinks; they can accommodate up to six sheets.
Source: The United States Curling Association
One surprisingly popular winter sport on the property is not necessarily part of the Winter Wonderland, however. Open from October through March, members can shoot trap and skeet in a separate location.
“It’s only open Saturday and Sunday, and we’re the only club in the area that still has it,” Gerardi reveals. “And women use the amenity more than anyone else.”
A Controlled Environment
Not all clubs do ice the same way. The Cleveland Skating Club (CSC) in Shaker Heights, Ohio has eight different types of athletic activities in one all-encompassing, 150,000-sq. ft. “controlled environment bubble” on eight acres.
“Most clubs start in a certain area and they grow from there. Our club is somewhat unique,” says Jack Goldberg, General Manager/COO. “We took an armory that was in place that housed soldiers, horses and tanks, and converted it into a private club. First we put in a skating facility—then came tennis, dining, an indoor pool and fitness center, squash and paddle courts. It evolved over time.”
Keeping temperature-reliant activities indoors requires more maintenance than many clubs can handle, Goldberg notes. In addition to efficiently (and economically) managing utilities, the club keeps up with multiple types of roofs, HVAC units, indoor ceilings, compressors and, of course, a Zamboni.
Because the ice is used for four different activities—hockey, figure skating, curling and open family skating—ice temperatures vary slightly throughout the year, from the freezing point down to 24 degrees. Room temperature varies as well, ranging from 48 degrees in the winter to 65 degrees in the summer.
Even though CSC’s rink is in a controlled environment, it is still subject to the whims of Mother Nature—though not to the same degree as outdoor rinks. For example, if summer temperatures climb to the 90s and stay there for a week, the club will gauge the ice and conditions to determine how to proceed. “To have consecutive days of 90-degree weather does put a strain on our facilities,” says Goldberg. “We tend to stop utilization of ice in order to conserve the ice sheet. Even though it’s controlled, you can’t beat 90-degree weather.”
On a day-to-day basis, CSC cuts the ice, depending on how much it gets used, to give members a clear sheet. Every Wednesday, the club floods the ice to replenish the water that’s lost through evaporation and use, a process that starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m., Goldberg says. The club will also do edging, which makes the ice smoother and less hilly.
Some sports are higher-maintenance than others, Goldberg notes. Hockey players prefer hard ice to push off on, and for curling, CSC uses a deionizing product that makes the water better for producing ice and results in an especially hard product, particularly for the club’s annual International Mixed Curling Bonspiel event, held every January.
For the curling sheet itself, the club employs a technique called pebbling, through which small drops of ice are layered on top of the sheet to provide tread that grips curlers’ feet as they play and also gives curling stones the ability to track and move toward the target. The process of preparing the curling sheet takes about an hour and a half, Goldberg estimates. Staff also paint the lines for the curling sheet before the ice is laid down, making it visible from above.
To maintain its facilities, CSC employs a team with jack-of-all-trade skills. In addition to the Director of Facilities, three maintenance-facility staff members handle everything from ice to pool maintenance, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and anything else that comes up.
“They’ve got to know it all,” says Goldberg. “It’s a big job.”
Looking at a pond on hole No. 9 of Interlachen Country Club’s golf course in 2000, General Manager George Carroll, CCM, CCE, considered using it for ice skating in the winter. Instead, the Edina, Minn., club has become another that chooses to flood its clay tennis courts and use its tennis building as a skating lodge.
Taking up a total of nine tennis courts, Interlachen’s winter recreation center is divided into multiple rinks for hockey, ice skating, broomball and curling. The club acquired a set of used stones from a curling club, and got a Zamboni from another club, which is now painted in Interlachen’s colors.
Interlachen had staff members who already knew how to make ice, Carroll says, from their experience flooding ice rinks in high school. The staff takes irrigation heads, turns on lawn sprinklers and saturates the clay. When it gets cold, and after a permit is acquired from the city, a fire hydrant and hose with a large nozzle are used to flood the rinks every night.
“The problem with tennis courts is they’re not flat—they’re pitched at the net,” Carroll notes. “It takes some finesse to flood the corners.”
And of course, the ice is also subject to warm (or delayed) winters, he adds. “Some years we’ll open December 1, and one year it was Christmas Day before we opened,” he says. “We’ve also had years where it will thaw in the beginning of January and we have to shut it down for a day or two.
“The clay is so dark that if the sun hits it, it warms up,” Carroll adds. “We tried to put down white plastic, but the crew couldn’t keep it flat enough, so it had ripples in it.”
Interlachen’s skating lodge has a full bar and serves pizza, hot dogs, soups and candy bars. The space also offers members a place to change skates and unload hockey equipment. Though the club does not rent out skates because most people have their own, if a member calls and asks, someone is usually around who has an extra pair, Carroll says.
The ice rinks generate revenue for Interlachen, bringing in about $20,000 a season. The club sells ads of all kinds on the boards of its hockey rink, which resembles a pro team’s rink. Members can take out ads congratulating the University of Minnesota’s hockey team or advertise a business or service, which ultimately cover all expenses for winter sports. The club also sells hockey pucks with the Interlachen logo on them, and sharpens ice skates for $4 a pair.
“We do more business in three months of skating than six months of tennis,” Carroll says. “It’s a profit center.”