Recognizing that the older generations won’t be able to play 18 holes on a full-length course forever, many clubs are expanding their range of recreational options offered to seniors, to greatly enhance the appeal for them to remain active, dues-paying members.
Celebrated TV personality Art Linkletter once famously said, “Old age is not for sissies.” Increasingly, as the “old age” benchmark climbs ever higher, it’s not for couch potatoes, either—and today’s club and resort properties are making sure their more senior members and customers have plenty of opportunities to get up, get out and recreate.
While the Baby Boomer generation is currently carrying the golf industry on its back, those folks won’t be able to play 18 holes on a full-length course forever. Recognizing this, many clubs have stepped up the choice of other recreational options they can offer to those who are winding down their golf activity, and to their non-golfing senior friends, to greatly enhance the chances of having all of them remain active, dues-paying members.
|SUMMING IT UP
• As playing 18 holes on a full-length golf course becomes more difficult for seniors, they’re responding to the challenges that advancing age brings by embracing a wider range of recreational options that includes pickleball, bocce, aqua volleyball, horseshoes and much more.
• Let individual senior interest groups and “clubs within the club” select their own leadership; club staff members’ roles should focus on scheduling and coordinating use of the club’s facilities, and in some cases arbitrating issues that may arise.
• More can be done to also expand senior participation in golf, through programs like putting leagues or ladies’ nine-hole groups.
“We have programs for all of our members; we try to engage as many of them as possible,” says J.R. Rosenbluth, General Manager of Anthem (Ariz.) Golf & Country Club, located in a nearly 2,900-home, 7,000-resident community.
Built in 1999 by Del Webb for that company’s active-adult target market, Anthem offers a broad array of recreational programs for seniors that range from complimentary water aerobics at one of the club’s two pools to pickleball, bocce ball, swimming, golf, tennis and a wide range of fitness programs at the club’s two fitness centers.
Anthem built four pickleball courts on top of existing tennis courts that now attract a regular turnout of 50 to 80 players, Rosenbluth reports, with the club even hiring a pickleball professional to give lessons.
Bocce has proved to be similarly popular; Anthem’s bocce court, built over concrete at a cost of $15,000 after a number of members requested it, is equally busy. At a recent Friday evening mixer to introduce the sport, Rosenbluth says, 68 people turned out.
As at most clubs with a golf course, golf remains a big part of the recreational picture for Anthem’s older players. There are a number of large golf groups at the club for all skill levels who play once or twice a week, Rosenbluth says, along with one couples group that has 90 members in season. To promote the various golf clubs within the club, individual club leaders are invited to Anthem’s new-member mixers, to introduce themselves and promote golf-group participation.
As club members age, many develop specialized needs that must be accommodated to help them continue with some form of active recreation, and Rosenbluth also makes sure that Anthem does what it can to assist in those areas.
“We have a couple of ALS and Parkinson’s Disease patients at the club, so we had our fitness trainer certified at the Mayo Clinic to work with them on their fitness and exercise programs,” he says. “It’s an amazing program. We also have a couple of trainers who were brought on because of their work with stroke victims, including hydrotherapy. We have AEDs [defibrillators] at every front desk, with public notices as to where they all are, and our people go through bi-annual CPR training and retraining.”
Anthem’s fitness centers have 1,200 people go through them every week, Rosenbluth notes, which makes all of the diverse programming and specialized training and instruction necessary. “We really try hard to focus on all ends of the spectrum and make sure everyone feels engaged,” he says.
Keeping Up With the Kids
In Fort Myers, Fla., the Verandah Club is another community-based property with extensive recreational programs for its members, who boast a substantial number of AARP cards. The club’s array of fitness and sports programming runs the gamut from water aerobics and lap swimming in the year-round heated pool to tai chi, pilates, yoga and weight training in its Fitness & Lifestyle Center, as well as cycling, kayaking on the nearby Orange River, and activities like golf, tennis and newly introduced bocce.
“We have a very active membership,” says Julie Garcia, Director of Wellness & Lifestyle. “[Our members] want to be able to keep up with their kids and grandkids, and we try to offer a wide range of activities to help them do that.”
Like Anthem G&CC, Verandah takes special care to meet the needs of older members who want to remain active, Garcia says. Staff members currently undergo specialized training for working with seniors, including those suffering from dementia, Parkinson’s or problems with balance.
“We also do programs for surgical patients here,” Garcia adds. “They bring their [rehabilitation] homework here to work out. We’d like to develop a physical-therapy program here in the fall, so members can do their rehab without having to leave the community. That seems to be something that’s growing in communities like ours.”
To celebrate the accomplishments of members in their chosen forms of recreation, Garcia says the club also holds an awards ceremony each year, modeled after the ESPYs on ESPN, that is always much-anticipated and popular with the membership.
Age = Big Numbers
At Sun Lakes Country Club in Banning, Calif., an age-restricted community of 3,900 homes and approximately 6,500 residents, it might be difficult to find a resident club member who is not involved in at least one of the club’s recreational or social programs. Sun Lakes has 77 different clubs and groups, says Recreation Director Jason Ewals, with active participants in everything from golf, tennis, pickleball, bocce, paddle tennis or aqua volleyball, plus lifestyle activities such as dancing, sewing, dinner clubs and other organized pursuits.
Sun Lakes also combines member recreation with public service in an annual “Charity Week” to benefit the Sun Lakes Charity Trust, which includes golf tournaments and other activities to raise money for worthy causes. This year, Ewals says, the week’s activities raised $100,000.
Another community loaded with activities, and clubs through which to enjoy them, is Rio Verde Country Club, just outside Scottsdale, Ariz. Rio Verde’s overriding organizational philosophy, says General Manager Dave Ulm, is to form “clubs within the club.”
The club’s 36 holes of parkland-style golf—a relative rarity in the desert Southwest—attract plenty of participation, with the roughly 1,000 homes in the community generating 463 golf memberships. “We have four men’s leagues, a couple’s league and 220 ladies in one league or another, including a six-hole ladies league,” Ulm says.
But recreational options at Rio Verde have also expanded, he adds, to include, among other activities, water aerobics, volleyball, pickleball, Frisbee golf and horseshoes.
“Putting” New Ideas into Action
Even with golf, clubs are realizing they can find ways to do more to attract older players beyond the traditional elderly white male sweet spot—and not just at private or community-based clubs, either. Some public courses are beginning to realize that women of “a certain age” may be an overlooked customer demographic, both currently and in the future.
At the Del Webb-owned daily-fee Poston Butte Golf Course in Florence, Ariz., which is operated by Troon Golf, General Manager Josh Clay says a significant investment has been made in both facilities and strategies that are designed to attract seniors and newcomers to the game, and the course.
“Twelve months ago, we put in a new 10,000-sq. ft. putting green,” Clay says. “We also developed a Lady Putters group that now includes around 300 members, roughly only 20% of whom had ever played golf before. They go out in groups of three or four, and have a great time playing the putting course, which has holes ranging from 10 to 30 feet in length.”
The course doesn’t charge the putting-league players, Clay adds. Group members typically pay a $10 membership to the putting club, and have a buy-in of $3 or a similarly small amount that’s put towards prize money at their events. The club paid $80,000 to install the new green, which will probably never pay for itself in terms of additional revenue, other than the ancillary F&B income from putting-group players after their rounds. But eventually, Clay says, the hope is that the new players will generate some additional greens-fee revenue.
“The program is kind of a combination of a seniors program and a grow-the-game idea,” he explains. “We think you’ve got to get clubs in people’s hands, even if they’ve never played before, and this is one way to introduce people to the game, get them accustomed to the fact that they are welcome at the course, and show them there are things for them to do here, even if they’re not a regular, frequent player.”
Poston Butte also developed a ladies nine-hole program, usually in a best-ball or similar low-stress format, which currently has around 36 members, again consisting mainly of women who had never played the game prior to joining the group. The group tees off on the back nine to avoid holding other players up or being rushed. The course will also be hosting a men’s putting group soon, Clay reports, as well as a couples night league.