Defining Decade

By | April 30th, 2015
2005 The new $10 million clubhouse at Waynesborough CC (Paoli, Pa.) was featured in C&RB’s debut issue, along with Jack  Nicklaus’ praise for the unsung contributions of golf course superintendents during a Golf Channel interview at the first-ever Golf Industry Show (Nicklaus received the 2005 Old Tom Morris Award). Other properties featured in C&RB’s first year included the then-six-year-old Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, Ore.), which had just opened its third course; Norwood Hills CC (St. Louis, Mo.); and Charlotte (N.C.) CC.

2005 The new $10 million clubhouse at Waynesborough CC (Paoli, Pa.) was featured in C&RB’s debut issue, along with Jack Nicklaus’ praise for the unsung contributions of golf course superintendents during a Golf Channel interview at the first-ever Golf Industry Show (Nicklaus received the 2005 Old Tom Morris Award). Other properties featured in C&RB’s first year included the then-six-year-old Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, Ore.), which had just opened its third course; Norwood Hills CC (St. Louis, Mo.); and Charlotte (N.C.) CC.

For C&RB‘s 10th Anniversary Issue, we look back at the challenges of the past ten years—and ahead at the new opportunities to come.

On the surface, all seemed right with the club world in April 2005. Tiger Woods had just defeated Chris DeMarco on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to win the 2005 Masters, giving Woods four green jackets and nine major championships before his 30th birthday. After riding out the trauma of 9/11 and its subsequent effect on the economy in general, and leisure spending in particular, the excitement that Woods had first injected into the golf business in the late 1990s was fully percolating again. A 2005 report issued by the Golf 20/20 organization showed “significant expansion” from 2000 to 2005 of the U.S. golf economy (which it measured at $75.9 billion at the decade’s mid-point), driven by growth in facility operations revenue, golf real estate and golf tourism.

Golf 20/20 didn’t issue another Golf Economy Report until 2011—and when it did, a dramatically different picture came into view. The latter half of the decade had brought a decline of 9.4 percent, with the size of the golf economy now measured at $68.8 billion. The crashes in golf-related real estate and capital investment, including new course construction, were cited as the primary drivers for the decline, exacerbated by the effects of the deepest recession experienced in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

Golf 20/20’s 2011 report maintained an optimistic overall spin, noting that the industry had emerged from two significant economic downturns in the new millennium’s first decade to still have a higher number of traditional golf facilities than existed in 2000. But even the rosiest perspectives couldn’t overlook the fact that the bloom was now clearly off golf’s salad days, with future participation levels for the game projected to be flat or only showing marginally incremental growth at best.

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Clubhouse Facilities
Where We Were, 2005:
Usually built with a golf course or residential development as the focus, large, stately clubhouses remain the norm, featuring pro shops/locker rooms prominently and including ample space for formal dining.
Where We Are Now, 2015:
Renovation projects enhance and repurpose existing space to reflect changing focus to families and more casual nature of clubs, while also creating room for important new amenities like fitness and bringing about badly needed infrastructure upgrades.

Designated outdoor social space—terraces, patios, decks, etc.—becomes practically mandatory.
Where We Might Be, 2025:
Multi-purpose event space (equipped with flexible, sound-proof dividers) is indispensable, to provide venues for seasonal and “trial run” programming along with a much wider variety of hosted events.

Footprints are static, prompting properties to figure out the best ways to put smaller spaces to use, while also having areas like wine rooms and libraries do more doubly duty as private event space.

In addition to the primary causes for why the golf boom had come to a screeching halt—overexpansion of courses, the bursting real estate bubble, the deep-seated economic malaise—the end of the decade had also brought some fundamental lifestyle shifts into the forefront, reflecting the fast-changing nature of how American families were significantly reorganizing their lives and priorities. In part, this was a response to the digital age, but it was also because new work- and home-based realities had taken firm root.

2006 A cover story on Congressional CC (Bethesda, Md.) highlighted a prominent example of the emerging “Chief Operating Officer” approach to club management. Other properties featured during the year included La Costa Resort & Spa, Carlsbad, Calif. (after its recent purchase by KSL Resorts); Oakmont (Pa.) CC; Town & Country Club (Saint Paul, Minn.) and The Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Resort.

2006 A cover story on Congressional CC (Bethesda, Md.) highlighted a prominent example of the emerging “Chief Operating Officer” approach to club management. Other properties featured during the year included La Costa Resort & Spa, Carlsbad, Calif. (after its recent purchase by KSL Resorts); Oakmont (Pa.) CC; Town & Country Club (Saint Paul, Minn.) and The Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Resort.

2007 Then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared with Christian Thon, then the General Manager of Palo Alto Hills G&CC, for the February  issue’s cover feature. Other properties featured in 2007 included Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami (then operated by Marriott Golf), Southern Hills CC (Tulsa, Okla.) and TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which had just completed its 77,000-sq. ft. clubhouse.

2007 Then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared with Christian Thon, then the General Manager of Palo Alto Hills G&CC, for the February
issue’s cover feature. Other properties featured in 2007 included Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami (then operated by Marriott Golf), Southern Hills CC (Tulsa, Okla.) and TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which had just completed its 77,000-sq. ft. clubhouse.

So as the new decade began, the combination of golf’s changing appeal with the emerging new profiles for both existing, and potential, members and guests, compelled all club and resort organizations to rethink how the business models that had served them well for many previous decades—models often built around golf as a core, and sometimes sole, offering—might now need to be seriously reassessed to ensure a club’s survival, let alone its success, in the years to come.

Documenting the Change
Not entirely coincidentally, a new club industry publication had emerged in April 2005 that was riding the same waves of change. While the creators of Club & Resort Business couldn’t anticipate the perfect-storm convergence that shook up the industry at the end of the decade, the publication had been conceived from the start as one that would cover all aspects of club management—and when the slowing of golf’s growth and the changing needs of members and guests created a new sense of urgency to focus on a variety of other areas, C&RB proved to be a timely and useful information resource.

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Course & Grounds
Where We Were, 2005:
High-definition TV takes firm hold and fosters “Why can’t we look like Augusta?” syndrome.
Where We Are Now, 2015:
Water crisis and other environmental factors put premium on environmental stewardship; “brown is the new green.”
Where We Might Be, 2025:
Many properties have fewer holes to maintain, but those that exist are multi-purpose and year-round, with golf sharing space with walking/biking trails, foot and disc golf, winter recreation, etc.

“I have often wondered why there was not a magazine that centered on all of the different departments and treated clubs for what they have now become—a business,” wrote one General Manager after the first issue of C&RB was published. “Keep focusing on overall facility management, and I’ll keep reading,” wrote another.

As the “Factors of 10” boxes presented with this 10th anniversary report demonstrate, the areas of emphasis in each operating area that C&RB has covered in its first ten years have already changed significantly—and there promises to be no let-up in the pace of how trends will shift as we look ahead to the next ten to come, either.

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Golf
Where We Were, 2005:
Tiger Woods wins Masters and U.S. Open to run majors total to 10; game’s latest growth spurt shows few signs of subsiding.
Many golf professionals still given wide autonomy in running their own operations (including pro shops).
Where We Are Now, 2015:
Even the most established clubs now see a need to at least explore the appeal of new initiatives such as play-it-forward, executive courses, nine- and 12-hole options, etc.
Renewed emphasis on working with other departments (fitness, F&B) to help keep existing golfers on the course.
Practice areas get special attention, with a focus on creating mini-courses and conditions that mimic actual play.
Where We Might Be, 2025:
Divide continues to grow between high-end and “everyday” golf options.
Successful city clubs continue to become bigger players in acquiring or creating their own golfing options for their memberships.

Technology: Leaping from Low (or No) to High
In the area of technology, for example, leaps have been made that represent much more than ten years of progress, in relative terms. When C&RB began covering the industry, the state of “technology” was largely confined to rudimentary websites and point-of-sale systems. Printed documents—chits, newsletters, member directories—were still by far the norm. “Information systems” was usually the purview of a controller or administrative assistant. And private clubs in particular were struggling with two major issues related to Wi-Fi: 1) Do we want to have it on our property, if that will encourage use of cellphones? and 2) If we do want to have it, how can we make it work in these old fortresses we call our clubhouses?

2008 Golf’s peaking popularity, just before the decade’s second and deeper recession hit, was reflected in a March 2008 feature on the management of TPC Scottsdale. Other properties featured during the year included: Sage Valley GC (Graniteville, S.C.); Reynolds Plantation (Greensboro, Ga.); Chambers Bay (University Place, Wash., one year after it had opened and already landed the 2015 U.S. Open), and New Orleans (La.) CC, to tell the inspiring story of how that historic club recovered from its own damage from Hurricane Katrina while also helping the city rebound.

2008 Golf’s peaking popularity, just before the decade’s second and deeper recession hit, was reflected in a March 2008 feature on the management of TPC Scottsdale. Other properties featured during the year included: Sage Valley GC (Graniteville, S.C.); Reynolds Plantation (Greensboro, Ga.); Chambers Bay (University Place, Wash., one year after it had opened and already landed the 2015 U.S. Open), and New Orleans (La.) CC, to tell the inspiring story of how that historic club recovered from its own damage from Hurricane Katrina while also helping the city rebound.

2009 Tiger Woods’s handshake with Y.E. Yang after Yang won the 2009 PGA Championship illustrated the September 2009 cover story on Hazeltine National GC (Chaska, Minn.). Other properties featured during the year included Cleveland, Ohio’s newly merged Mayfield Sand Ridge Club, and Nemacolin Woodlands resort (Farmington, Pa.).

2009 Tiger Woods’s handshake with Y.E. Yang after Yang won the 2009 PGA Championship illustrated the September 2009 cover story on Hazeltine National GC (Chaska, Minn.). Other properties featured during the year included Cleveland, Ohio’s newly merged Mayfield Sand Ridge Club, and Nemacolin Woodlands resort (Farmington, Pa.).

As we note in the “Factors of 10: Technology” box on pg. 23, in the past ten years many properties have made quantum leaps in this critical area. Clubhouse renovations have cleared the way for effective installation of Wi-Fi service throughout the property, and workable rules and policies have been instituted accordingly. Most club management operations would now suffer serious setbacks in service and productivity without the benefit of wireless communication for both members’ and staff’s activities.

Printed copies of newsletters and directories are becoming increasingly rare, and e-blasts and social media have been embraced by managers in every department as valuable (and free) tools for communicating with both existing and prospective members and guests. Valuable applications like Clubster and ClubCentral have also emerged to address privacy and security concerns and make it possible for clubs and members to interact outside of the open nature of the Internet.

And what might the next ten years bring to clubs from a technology standpoint? Look for it to be embedded throughout the property, in the form of interactive screens that can be used to get up-to-the-minute reports on course conditions or menus, maybe even with live feeds, all immediately accessible through cloud computing. Many members and guests will also probably be using wearable technologies, such as the new Apple Watch and its many new versions and imitators that are sure to follow, to stay on top of all that’s happening on the property.

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Food & Beverage
Where We Were, 2005:
Food minimums still often prevail as a “tax on bad food.”
“Old standbys” maintain a stronghold on infrequently changing menus.
Formal dining still occupies a disproportionate amount of space and attention relative to its appeal.
Where We Are Now, 2015:
Chefs given higher profiles, both on site and as a marketing attraction for prospective members and events.
Menu variety becomes evident both within venues at a property and with more frequent specials, seasonal changes and farm-to-table selections.
Clubs positioned as destinations, with minimums either greatly reduced or eliminated at many properties.
Operations adapt to greater emphasis on outdoor and takeout service.
Where We Might Be, 2025:
More branding of club and resort restaurants and catering operations around chefs’ identities.

For areas like fitness centers and locker rooms, fingerprint scanning or voice activation are likely to become the norm, as more secure alternatives than key-card or -fob access systems. And who knows, even Google may get into the golf car business, adapting its self-driving vehicle to help course operators keep golfers on cart paths when required, and to provide extra security against theft and vandalism.

2010 C&RB’s Annual Ideas Issue has become well-established as a highly anticipated and widely used management resource. Club and resort property features in this year included an inside look at the transition to member ownership at The Country Club of Mirasol (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.); Whistling Straits (Sheboygan, Wis.), and Westwood CC (Rocky River, Ohio).

2010 C&RB’s Annual Ideas Issue has become well-established as a highly anticipated and widely used management resource. Club and resort property features in this year included an inside look at the transition to member ownership at The Country Club of Mirasol (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.); Whistling Straits (Sheboygan, Wis.), and Westwood CC (Rocky River, Ohio).

2011 The cover story on Kansas City CC (Mission Hills, Kan.) reflected the surge in fitness facilities as an in-demand member amenity. Properties also featured in 2011 included The Country Club of Orlando (Fla.); Peninsula G&CC (San Mateo, Calif.) and Atlanta Athletic Club (Johns Creek, Ga.).

2011 The cover story on Kansas City CC (Mission Hills, Kan.) reflected the surge in fitness facilities as an in-demand member amenity. Properties also featured in 2011 included The Country Club of Orlando (Fla.); Peninsula G&CC (San Mateo, Calif.) and Atlanta Athletic Club (Johns Creek, Ga.).

Maximizing F&B
Another operating area that has made much more than ten years’ worth of progressive strides in the club business since 2005 is food and beverage. An editorial in C&RB’s third issue that was written by Founding Publisher Bill Donohue drew immediate and passionate objections to his suggestion that having monthly minimums in a club setting was akin to imposing a tax on bad foodservice.

“Your article [was] written from an uninformed point of view,” wrote one General Manager. Added another reader: “If somebody figures out a way to make it all work without minimum spending requirements, I hope they write an article in your magazine.”

Indeed, over the next ten years C&RB presented many examples of clubs that have succeeded in transitioning to profitable F&B programs that either do not rely on minimum-spending subsidies, or have reduced them significantly. (Editor’s Note: The latest example, San Antonio (Texas) Country Club, will be presented next month, as part of C&RB’s May 2015 cover story.)

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Membership
Where We Were, 2005:
Even before the effects of the recession began to be felt, clubs struggling to attract new members with existing initiation and dues structures began to experiment with new membership
categories and “incentives”; this quickly snowballed into a dealmaking frenzy as the economy went south.
Where We Are Now, 2015:
Recognizing the damage that can come from cheapening the brand and diluting the value of membership, order and stability has been restored.
Where We Might Be, 2025:
Continued development of club partnerships, mergers and bundling of features among properties.

As club and resort properties began to note growing interest among their members and guests in food—reflecting the impact of the Food Network and other outlets that gained considerable traction in the late 2000s—more attention was devoted to the need to upgrade culinary programs. This only became more of a priority as the need to cultivate new growth areas became apparent, not only to help alleviate the flattening of golf, but also to broaden the appeal of club membership to an entire family.

2012 Rory McIlroy made a cover appearance as part of a feature on Kiawah Island Golf Resort, after he won the PGA Championship there. Other properties featured in 2012  included The Club at Mediterra (Naples, Fla.) and The Prairie Club (Valentine, Neb.).

2012 Rory McIlroy made a cover appearance as part of a feature on Kiawah Island Golf Resort, after he won the PGA Championship there. Other properties featured in 2012
included The Club at Mediterra (Naples, Fla.) and The Prairie Club (Valentine, Neb.).

2013 A rare snow-covered image of the iconic clubhouse of The Country Club of Virginia (Richmond, Va.) highlighted a feature on one of the U.S.’s largest and most diverse operations. Other properties featured in 2013 included Oak Hill CC (Rochester, N.Y.) and the new Streamsong Resort (Bowling Green, Fla.)

2013 A rare snow-covered image of the iconic clubhouse of The Country Club of Virginia (Richmond, Va.) highlighted a feature on one of the U.S.’s largest and most diverse operations. Other properties featured in 2013 included Oak Hill CC (Rochester, N.Y.) and the new Streamsong Resort (Bowling Green, Fla.)

As a result, the roles of club chef, club F&B director and other positions related to both a la carte restaurant and banquet operations have been elevated to significantly higher profiles, as properties strive to become established as destinations specifically for their culinary reputations. Responding to widespread and fast-growing interest in how club F&B outlets could become in-demand venues that rival any to be found in even the most food-centric cities, C&RB’s coverage of F&B topics quickly expanded beyond regular features in the monthly magazine to also encompass a separate quarterly publication, Chef to Chef, as well as a weekly e-newsletter devoted to club-related culinary topics.

Most notably, the heightened focus on F&B in the club realm spurred the steady growth over the past seven years of C&RB’s Chef to Chef Conference, which now has been firmly established as a testament to not only how far the club chef profession, but also club food, has advanced over the last ten years.

Right Time for the Right Places
Club food programs also received a huge shot in the arm as properties began to emerge from the recession and could finally turn their attention—as their balance sheets improved and low-cost funding became more available—to catching up on badly needed facilities improvements. And in most cases, “improvement” also meant completely rethinking how clubhouse facilities should be designed and operated, to better reflect changing purposes and activities.

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Technology
Where We Were, 2005:
Clubs start building their own websites, with partitioned sectors for the public and memberships. But interactive features are limited.
Where We Are Now, 2015:
Properties discover social media as a valuable and free tool for communicating and creating a brand.
Applications allow clubs and members to communicate privately outside of the open nature of the Internet.
Where We Might Be, 2025:
Technology becomes embedded throughout the property, with interactive screens and live feeds. Members get real-time updates on events through wearable technologies.
Google’s self-driving car is adapted for the golf course.

As a result, the last five years have brought a flurry of renovation projects to create buildings, rooms and venues—both indoors and out—that now bear little resemblance to what would typically be found in club settings in 2005.

2014 The shooting range that illustrated the cover feature on The Clubs at Cordillera Ranch (Boerne, Texas) highlighted the continued expansion of club amenities into new recreational realms. Other properties featured in 2014 included Valhalla GC (Louisville, Ky.), Big Cedar Lodge (Ridgedale, Mo.) and Interlachen CC (Edina, Minn.).

2014 The shooting range that illustrated the cover feature on The Clubs at Cordillera Ranch (Boerne, Texas) highlighted the continued expansion of club amenities into new recreational realms. Other properties featured in 2014 included Valhalla GC (Louisville, Ky.), Big Cedar Lodge (Ridgedale, Mo.) and Interlachen CC (Edina, Minn.).

2015 “The Donald” had clearly emerged as an important industry player as C&RB completed its first decade, so we began 2015 with a look at management of the Trump Organization’s flagship property in Bedminster, N.J.

2015 “The Donald” had clearly emerged as an important industry player as C&RB completed its first decade, so we began 2015 with a look at management of the Trump Organization’s flagship property in Bedminster, N.J.

This has been a huge factor in the expansion and growth in F&B programs, by drawing members to a variety of appealing new social-gathering spots while also giving chefs and bartenders wide-ranging opportunities to create exciting new menus and drink lists for casual and bar/grill service. It has also helped to create much more marketable and well-functioning areas for weddings and banquet events, and given clubs the space they need to properly expand into important new areas like fitness and youth programming.

Just as importantly, the renovation drive also prompted many properties to revisit the need for long-range master planning. This renewed emphasis on strategic direction will better position clubs to ride things out, should future ten-year periods prove to be as volatile as the one just completed.

Still at the Core
Despite the many challenges that arose for the golf side of the business in the past ten years, it still remains a vital part of clubs’ overall appeal, and how it is managed and directed will certainly continue to be a critical factor in properties’ future success.

And even as that ten-year period closed with a spate of course and club failures, it was matched with an influx of interest from new (or expanding) investors who clearly see continued potential for the club business, including golf, given the right circumstances and approach.

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Fitness
Where We Were, 2005:
Largely still an afterthought or short-changed amenity, with equipment that overemphasizes cardio equipment and selectorized weight machines confined to inaccessible, user-unfriendly spaces.
Where We Are Now, 2015:
With many clubs lamenting that they built new facilities “too small,” the emphasis is on finding ways to either expand or at least better utilize existing space.
At least one multi-purpose classroom space is dedicated to group programming that is regularly evaluated, to make sure member and guest needs are being met.
Where We Might Be, 2025:
Personalized training programs, including both workouts and meal planning, grow as the health and wellness trend of “one size does not fit all” takes hold.
As millennials become the prime new member target, clubs begin offering fitness-only memberships to cover the cost of more adventurous, trendy programming.

On occasion, this investment interest has emerged from among club memberships, as creative arrangements have been forged to help save troubled properties (see C&RB’s March 2015 cover feature, “Alive and Kicking,” on the rebranding of the 90-year-old Salinas (Calif.) Golf & Country Club as The Club at Crazy Horse Ranch).

The post-recession period has also led to increased influence exerted by golf and club management companies—and not only prominent firms like ClubCorp, but also “boutique” operations that make their mark by specializing in geographic regions or specific types of properties.

The resurgence of management companies represents another significant shift seen over C&RB’s first ten years. Initially, most of our coverage of the management-firm side of the business focused on the pros and cons of the “corporate” aspect to club management (a C&RB special report on management firms in the July 2006 issue showed the headquarters of ClubCorp with the headline, “Is Big Business Better Business?”). But that concern has all but dissipated, as ClubCorp and other management firms of all sizes have shown their ability to take the lead in “reinventing” the properties they have acquired, or landing contracts to operate and adapt them to the changing dictates of today’s club business. It’s become clear that progressive ideas and sound operating practices can now be found in all types of club management arrangements—as can bad ones.

BIG 10_1 copyFactors of 10: Furnishings/Amenities
Where We Were, 2005:
Traditional “golf club” colors of forest green and maroon dominate; properties struggle to balance tradition with more modern looks.
Where We Are Now, 2015:
Fire pits and outdoor furniture with soft, plush cushions gain popularity by creating natural conversation areas.
Where We Might Be, 2025:
Minimalism (think “high-end Ikea”) and environmentally friendly materials (hemp, bamboo) grow in popularity.
Marijuana legalization becomes widespread enough to create new concepts for “smoking areas”?

There’s also a good argument to be made—and Donald Trump makes it a point to always make it, any chance he gets—that high-end golf has never been in better shape. In addition to the successes that Trump points to with his properties, other industry leaders continue to identify and develop exciting new projects, such as Mike Keiser’s Sand Valley in Wisconsin and Tiger Woods’ Bluejack National in Texas, that promise to continue to reconfirm the strong potential for well-conceived and -executed golf-oriented ventures.

Certainly, it’s not hard to already spot a host of new challenges that will present themselves to the club business in the next ten years. Foremost among these will be the environmental issues posed to properties in many regions of the country that are now faced with unprecedented shortages of water, as well as other pressures, natural and man-made, that will directly impact all properties’ ability to provide acceptable playing conditions and surroundings.

But if the stories that we presented during the first ten years of C&RB’s publishing life proved anything, it was that there’s no shortage of resiliency and inventiveness among those who have made club operations and management their chosen profession. This ensures that the next ten years will once again produce plenty of interesting and inspirational content for our pages.

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