Clubs are finding a variety of ways, and places, to keep children engaged and entertained as part of all-inclusive settings throughout their properties.
A dip in the pool followed by an ice cream at the snack bar may have sufficed for giving kids a satisfying club experience back in the day. But for today’s member families, spending time at the club means getting a full helping of amenities for all ages. As more clubs attract prospective families, they are fulfilling the demand for dedicated spaces that afford structured activities, free play and even child care services.
Grooming Future Pros
At The Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, Minn., kids can practice perfecting their golf swing in a less intensive setting—and at no cost. This spring marked the opening of the club’s six-hole short course, a product of the combined efforts of golf legends Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam and Pro Links Sports’ Hollis Cavner.“They all wanted to provide a course that would give kids access to golf where money and equipment would not be a barrier,” says Head Golf Professional Kent Blaschko. The course is designed for kids ages 17 and under, who can play for free and are provided with equipment as needed.
Ranging from 60 to 100 yards and named after famous golf courses from the around the world, the junior course is designed with holes featuring one set of tees made from synthetic turf. (The remainder of the course is natural grass.) It sits adjacent to the parking lot and within walking distance to the clubhouse and practice area.
A soon-to-be constructed fitness center will overlook the short course, offering easy access for kids and adults alike. “The philosophy is to allow parents a great vantage point to watch their kids play golf while they get a workout in,” Blaschko says.
To protect players from a sudden rainstorm or the summer sun, kids can find a spot under a gazebo, just off the first hole. As an extra safety measure, an attendant is on site to monitor and supervise adult and junior golfers. This staff member also ensures that all golfers sign up in advance.
In light of the COVID-19 epidemic, the club has implemented proper safety protocols on its short course. Custom posts have replaced flags and cups, eliminating the need to retrieve golf balls out of the hole. This rule is expected to continue for the remainder of the season.
“We are also requiring all childrender under 13 to be supervised by an adult at all times while playing the short course, and advising all others to practice social distancing,” says Blaschko.
Since its opening, Royal Golf’s short course has proved to be a success story for both its members and surrounding communities. According to Blaschko, it represents “a unique gesture of good will for the entire area. People drive from afar to give their kids this unique opportunity and exposure to the game of golf.”
Shark Tank Payoffs
At the Birmingham Athletic Club (BAC) in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., finding ways to welcome a burgeoning family membership has been top-of-mind for management. “When I started at the club in 2016, we had 20 members in our intermediate (junior) category,” says General Manager Paul Spencer. “We now have 97, so we’ve been trending younger.”
After renovating the clubhouse’s kids’ room two years ago to wide acclaim, management decided to unveil a new, two-story dining and recreation facility. Dubbed the Shark Tank, the 8,000-sq. ft area features locker rooms, a tennis pro shop, grab-and-go fare, a lifeguard stand and a kids’ camp on the lower level. A rooftop bar, kitchen and paddle hut make up the upper level. Spencer describes the entire building as family-oriented, connecting the kids’ and adults’ areas, yet maintaining distinct identities.
The rooftop bar incorporates a walk-up snack stand where kids can indulge in an ice cream cone or a piping-hot slice of pizza fresh from a wood-burning oven. “The space is right over the pool, so families will come right up for lunch or dinner, with great views of the entire club,” says Spencer.
While this dining area normally contains 18 tables and 24 bar stools, the club has currently reduced the layout to 10 tables and 8 bar stools, to promote social distancing.
In the kids’ room, where Camp BAC is held, a maximum capacity of 27 children provides ample space for engaging activities. With the ability to see the club from the main road, the Shark Tank has garnered true visibility.
“To see 100 people at the rooftop bar with kids running around having a good time sells itself,” says Spencer. “We’ve ran our Camp BAC for several years now, and the demand with the new space complete is incredible. We were never at capacity before, and now we are selling out daily.”
At press time, the club anticipated being able to reopen its kids’ club facilities following the July 4th holiday. At that time, the camp program will be limited to four kids per counselor and will host all of its activities outdoors, weather permitting.
“We have a detailed plan [for inclement weather] with several designated spaces throughout the clubhouse for the groups to spend the day,” Spencer says.
Family life has a second home at the Rochester (Minn.) Golf & Country Club. To better appeal to its younger clientele, management decided to rev up its amenities with a succession of enhancements, from a golf simulator lounge and fitness in 2018, to its latest venture: a kids’ club that was unveiled in May 2019.
“Our club’s membership was trending younger every year, with a current average age of 52,” explains General Manager/COO Carl Granberg, CCM, CCE. Staff offices were relocated to two new locations to make space for a 1,900-sq. ft. kids’ club, which has a maximum occupancy of 20.
Conveniently positioned across from the golf shop and at the bottom of the stairs just off the main entrance to the clubhouse, this facility features a check-in desk directly inside a glass-door entry. A large window looks onto an area that facilitates both free play and structured activities.
Large bean bag and child-sized chairs, along with two arts-and- crafts tables, are dotted around the room, which is well-stocked with classic playtime favorites. A magnetic/whiteboard wall, giant dollhouse, play kitchen and playhouse fuel young imaginations, while two reading nooks, five gaming stations and a movie viewing area provide alternate forms of entertainment.
To ensure a safe environment for its guests, the kids’ club door remains closed when the room is occupied, and no adults are permitted past the check-in desk. All children are escorted to an adjacent bathroom by a staff member, all of whom have been trained specifically to work in this part of the club.
“We found out that there is a significant difference from staff simply manning a check-in desk versus engaging with the children,” says Granberg. “We create raving fans when our staff engages with the children, resulting in increased member confidence and club use.”
In fact, positive member feedback has helped to tweak kids’ club programming accordingly, hosting bi-monthly pizza and movie nights and crafting events and the recent addition of child care services. “Members are now able to leave the club premises for up to three hours to run errands or for other purposes,” Granberg says. “This has been very well-received.”
While the kids’ club has yet to start up since the clubhouse’s reopening in early June, plans are in place to increase sanitization procedures once everything is back up and running.
An Inside Job
When determining how best to serve a club’s youngest members, it pays to go right to the source: the kids themselves. At the Birmingham Athletic Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., management tapped its fledgling members to determine how to operate the space effectively. “We formed a committee made up entirely of kids, and we discuss everything from games and activities for the [youth] rooms to ice cream flavors at the snack stand,” says General Manager Paul Spencer.
Parents whose children utilize the kids’ club at the Rochester (Minn.) Golf & Country Club have been instrumental in the success of that facility. Initially an ad hoc committee of a dozen members, this group has assisted with every aspect of the kids’ club, from furnishings and color schemes to rules and games.
The club’s social committee has since taken over responsibility for the kids’ club and is currently comprised of 10 members. According to General Manager Carl Granberg, the committee is working diligently to prepare for the kids club’s reopening, tentatively scheduled for late July.
Summing It Up
> Providing amenities aimed at family members ensures more time spent on site.
> Centrally located kids’ facilities provide easy access for parents utilizing other parts of the club.
> Tapping members of all ages for input on design and programming needs ensures a positive experience for the long haul.