With an eye to both the present and the future, general managers and activities directors are finding new ways to keep kids active and engaged year-round through a broader range of athletic endeavors.
Private clubs have long catered to their members by providing a bevy of recreational options. And in line with their shift to an increased family orientation, many clubs are now placing an extended emphasis on their youngest members’ athletic endeavors.
After all, while adults are writing the monthly checks, today’s youths are tomorrow’s dues-paying members. So it’s wise for clubs to continually search for fresh ways to keep their youngest members active and engaged.
At Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., the Prestonwood Junior Golf Association (PJGA) for boys and girls, ages 4 to 17, is extremely popular. All of the junior golf programs are at maximum capacity, reports Jeff Holden, the club’s Head Golf Professional.
“We are one of just a handful of clubs throughout the nation that has enough participation to host its very own PGA Junior League,” Holden says. “We have four teams, with 12 to 16 juniors on each team.”
All of the junior golf events at Prestonwood have reached their field limit (36 to 72 players, depending on the event), with the most popular being the PJGA Pro-Junior, where the golf professionals each play with a team of four juniors. The club also hosts the SAS Junior Championship, where 108 of the best juniors in the Raleigh-Durham area play for individual and “club” titles.
The tennis staff at Prestonwood CC offers programs five days per week for juniors, and pros are available for individual instruction as requested. The “ROGY” clinics—using different colored balls with various levels of bounce (red, orange, green, yellow)—are offered to members between the ages of 4 and 18.
Bevan Hewett, Prestonwood’s Tennis Professional, says the club’s junior program now has between 75 and 100 kids, depending on the season. Prestonwood participates in the USTA’s Junior Team Tennis league, which includes between four and eight other clubs in the area and runs its own inter-club league during the summer and winter seasons.
“The benefits for tennis are life-long,” says Hewett. “It is a sport that can be played for most of an individual’s life, regardless of skill level. It teaches kids coordination and footwork, and helps them with their confidence and self-esteem.
“Our staff at Prestonwood considers it a privilege to be a part of junior development, and we strive to provide a fun and safe learning environment,” Hewett adds.
Outside the norm for country clubs, Prestonwood also offers basketball, indoor soccer, pickleball and “futsal” (a variation of soccer played with a smaller, heavier ball) for its youngest members.
The weekly basketball academy typically has between 10 to 14 kids, while pickleball and futsal are new programs that are beginning to catch on, reports Tyler Sugg, Prestonwood’s Recreation Manager. A group of high school-aged members has even asked the club for advice on how to start a pickleball team at their school, Sugg notes.
And while there is a cost for the weekly basketball academy (because a former NBA player, Chucky Brown, leads it), futsal is offered as open pickup play, with no cost.
Filling a Year-Round Pipeline
While tennis, golf and swimming remain hugely popular for kids across the country, the Beacon Hill Club in Summit, N.J. doesn’t let its emphasis on youth sports lag over the winter months. Both ice hockey and figure skating assume top billing once Mother Nature drops the temperature.
And the strength of the hockey program, reports Alex McDonald, Beacon Hill’s General Manager, is paying long-term dividends, as the club has seen success in converting the families of hockey participants into members.
“Last year, we had 216 youth hockey players registered in the program,” McDonald reports. “We also have a large adult hockey program that has roughly 150 participants. Our hockey membership is a great pipeline for members who may become full members down the road.”
In addition to the social benefits of joining the club, there are financial benefits as well, McDonald notes, because the cost of hockey participation is significantly reduced for full members. And while its year-round programming helps Beacon Hill compete with other neighboring private clubs in the crowded North Jersey market, it has also helped the club attract members who might otherwise rely solely on public facilities for sports and activities like hockey and figure skating.
While it’s common to see mostly boys playing hockey, McDonald says, it’s by no means a male-only sport, especially after the boost in interest and popularity that grew from the United States women’s ice hockey team gold-medal win in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“I think one of the cooler elements about our hockey program is while we have figure skating that is predominately for girls, we also have a lot of girls and women playing ice hockey,” he says.
Beacon Hill’s year-end “Blades Recital” provides an opportunity for all figure skating participants—the program has roughly 65 participants, though it varies—to showcase their choreographed routines in front of the membership, followed by an awards ceremony and celebratory dinner.
Previously, when the warmer months rolled around, Beacon Hill’s rink was left as a concrete area that some kids enjoyed as an informal play area. That changed, however, when the left side of the rink was converted into two pickleball courts, which now allow members to play under the lights.
“On the right half of the rink we have our sports court, which is leveraged by our summer camp for youth members, and is a great value for members. It’s also a great marketable amenity for prospective members,” McDonald notes.
“The sport court was delayed a bit and ended up going in mid-June, but it has gotten a lot of use in its limited time so far,” he adds.
And the adults are enjoying the rink area’s new summer configuration, too. “The sport court has also provided versatility from the social front, such as our latest ‘dinks and drinks,’ with pickleball being put on the left side and the right side including adult tailgating games such as tennis beer pong, corn hole and a variety of other activities,” says McDonald.
SUMMING IT UP
> Golf, tennis and swimming remain the most popular sports for kids at private clubs.
> Pickleball, one of the fastest-growing sports for senior citizens, is gaining popularity with youngsters, too.
> While youth ice hockey participation has been dominated by boys, many girls are now also moving from figure skating to the sport.