The Scottsdale, Ariz. club created opportunities with F&B, fitness, youth and social programming while staying active through consistent messaging. Also in this report: a club that straddles the U.S. and Canadian borders balances its international membership; tennis clubs and driving ranges in New Jersey get the OK to open; the future of private club dining is explored; clubs start to push their value as “staycation” sites; and pushcarts join toilet paper and hand sanitizer on the growing list of shortages created by the pandemic.
Here is C+RB‘s latest roundup and summary of club-related developments surrounding the pandemic that have recently been reported. Please send updates on what your property is doing that you would like to share with the C+RB community to [email protected].
All of C+RB’s daily updates on the coronavirus situation can be found at https://clubandresortbusiness.com/category/covid-19/.
—In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Country Club at DC Ranch in Scottsdale, Ariz. created a full calendar of social distancing events to keep members engaged and active.
After Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy and Stay Connected” platform, golf courses were approved as an essential business, so the course was allowed to stay open. The Country Club at DC Ranch followed every social distancing rule and protocol to keep the members safe and healthy.
Dick Hyland, the club’s Director of Golf, said, “We don’t get mulligans in life so no rules can be broken, no matter who it might be.”
While the golf course continued to stay busy, the kitchen and food-and-beverage department organized to-go parties, online cooking classes, coffee pick-up in valet, grocery service, homemade hand sanitizer, and holiday take home parties. The popular Quaratin-O curbside pick-up parade party involved several stations where members stayed in their car and engaged in a drive-through party, picked up drinks, desserts, and food, all while live music played in the background.
Youth programming was essential, as well. The youth department created cooking contests, zoom craft parties, virtual workouts for kids, and pick-up art projects to keep kids busy.
The Fitness and Wellness department started zoom classes, online seminars, and do-it-yourself home spa tutorials, while social activities continued with online Happy Hours, book clubs, flower-arranging classes, and online art lessons.
The Country Club at DC Ranch kept its members informed through text messaging, videos, social media, and the club’s member app.
On the Border
Aroostook Valley Country Club in Ft. Fairfield, Maine and Four Falls, New Brunswick has a rich history with the pro shop in the United States and the clubhouse and golf course located in Canada. Canadians have to enter the United States to access the course and now with the border being closed until June 21, that means the course is not accessible to a large part of the AVCC membership, WAGM reported. Despite the border closure, the course opened May 15 for residents of Maine.
General Manager Steve Leitch said the course has had quite a bit of play since its opening, but with the cold weather and Canadians not able to access the course, the totals are lower than normal.”
“The fact that we couldn’t get all the people that we wanted … all of our membership here for the foreseeable future … meant that it could have been very tough on us financially, so we had to make the decision to allow those who could get to the golf course to come and use their facility and generate some revenue and keep the place sustained.”
Leitch told WAGM he has received support from other courses in New Brunswick offering to allow some AVCC members to play at their clubs.
“We had some golf clubs reach out to us. The Hampton Golf Club down in St John offered a foursome a day if they happen to be members of Aroostook Valley and were in the area to stop in and play free of charge,” he said. “I was reached out to by a golf course in St George, who we were fortunate enough to play against last year in the Past Presidents Cup. They just loved this golf course and the hospitality, and they said if our people are ever in that area to stop in and they would love to treat them to a game of golf.”
Leith told WAGM he knows how difficult it is for the members who normally spend so much time at the course, but are now not able to access the facility.
“They love this place … this is where they spend their summers and where they volunteer,” he said. “This is their home away from home.”
New Openings in Jersey
New Jersey residents will soon have more outdoor recreation options with tennis clubs, driving ranges and community gardens allowed to reopen in the latest incremental announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy to loosen restrictions he ordered during the coronavirus pandemic, NJ.com reported.
Murphy is signing an executive order that allows “some additional outdoor recreational areas and businesses to restart their operations,” including batting cages, golf ranges, shooting and archery ranges and horseback riding, NJ.com reported. Golfers may also now tee-off in foursomes. Private tennis clubs and community gardens can also reopen, the governor said.
The order takes effect Friday at 6 a.m., NJ.com reported.
“This announcement adds to the those we have made over the past week, as we have taken the first steps to put our state on the road back to restart and recovery,” Murphy said during his regular COVID-19 briefing.
“We took all of these steps because the data we have been seeing over the past weeks has signaled that it is becoming safer for us to dip our toes back into the water—literally,” he said. “And, while we are not nearly out of the woods yet—and thousands of our fellow New Jerseyans remain in the hospital battling COVID-19—we are moving forward, carefully, methodically, and responsibly.”
Golf retail made the big moves last week, while golf course supply continued to move toward fully open, the National Golf Foundation (NGF) reported. The percentage of off-course specialty stores open to foot traffic jumped from 61 percent to 75 percent, with on-course pro shops following close behind at 63 percent now open, up from 52 percent the prior week. Even with some occupancy limitations not unlike restaurants, this comes just in time for an important equipment buying period—mid-May to mid-June.
On the consumer side, NGF reported seeing personal financial outlooks inch optimistically upward, while golf equipment-related searches on Google have begun to resemble “normal” for this time of year. Both are evidence of increasing confidence, although NGF has yet to see significant changes in reported spend behavior, as most core golfers indicate they’re still purchasing less or considerably less than pre-pandemic.
Last week’s golf course poll found 95 percent of courses are open for play, although many still have restrictions on operations, NGF reported. Preliminary indications are that most courses are busier than usual for this time of year.
Changes in Dining
The McMahon Group offered insights on the future of dining at private clubs.
Clubs have made a lot of progress in their dining operations in the past decade. Once the domain of stuffy formality and accepting of “country club food,” they have invested millions revamping their facilities and hiring better talent, McMahon Group wrote. Most now recognize it is a critical tool for increasing member engagement and building community, not a profit center. Our surveys show improvement in member satisfaction, although it is a never-ending battle. Without a doubt, the food-and-beverage department remains the most complex and challenging aspect of club operations.
Despite the advancements, there continues to exist a very large gap in perceptions between operators and members. In polls of club managers, McMahon found that 89 percent believe members want their club to be one of their favorite places to dine and 71 percent think that they are meeting that expectation. On the other side of the ledger, fully 91 percent of members want their club to be one of their favorite places to dine, but only 44 percent consider that to be the case.
The covid-19 pandemic layers on another challenge for clubs, but it also presents a tremendous opportunity. Prior to the shuttering of the economy back in March, the biggest issues in club F&B included finding and retaining staff and losing share to the ever-growing and ever-improving commercial market. The restaurant industry is now under tremendous threat and it is unlikely to recover for years, McMahon wrote. Just this week, famed New York restauranteur Danny Meyer, a keynote speaker at CMAA’s 2020 World Conference on Club Management, announced he will not venture back into the sit-down restaurant business until there is a vaccine for covid-19, something that even the most optimistic projections suggest is more than a year away. He cited a litany of challenges, but it mostly boils down to unsustainable economics when you can use only 50 percent of your seats due to social distancing.
This is where clubs come in. They could be one of the first places members are willing to go when economies open—provided they are both safe and favored, McMahon wrote. This will require well-defined and rigorously enforced safety protocols along with reinvention. As most states begin to emerge from quarantine and enter the Phase 1 limited opening, it is time for club leaders to develop an action plan that both protects members and leverages this new opportunity.
The first order of business will be to develop a financially sustainable model and assure the safety side of things. The main elements of your opening checklist include:
Financial Sustainability: The remainder of 2020 will primarily feature a “members-only” approach with limited guest activity and few, if any, large events, such as weddings and holiday celebrations. In addition to lost revenue, the club will also need to account for additional costs of operations from controlling entries, taking temperatures, administering tests, providing personal protective gear to all staff, purchasing and more liberally using higher cost cleaning agents and extensive use of disposable containers, cutlery and the like.
Sanitize Your Clubhouse: Prepare your clubhouse through deep-cleaning, fogging and other sanitation procedures.
Protect and Train Your Staff: Equip your staff with personal protective gear and making sure they understand and commit to adhering to elevated sanitation protocols and no touching policies. The cleaning staff will be one of the most important parts of the team. Assure they are performing their duties in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Create a Private Enclave: Entrances should be reduced, and manned, and secondary entries closed. Take temperatures, require reservations and registration.
Reposition for Social Distancing: Create your social distancing plan by removing or cordoning off sections, potentially moving your a la carte operation into your larger event spaces to take advantage of the room. Most managers are correctly focused on their staff because a secure and comfortable staff is the priority in creating a winning member experience. This would be a good time to look at the back-of-house areas in your club. These are generally tight spaces and many clubs have lived with unacceptable break and locker areas for far too long.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Develop a comprehensive communications plan for members and staff and regularly refresh it. Keep the information new and interesting so it is understood and heeded. Video is proving to be a great tool for filling the insatiable desire for regular updates brought about by the COVID crisis.
Once established, it will be critical to protect your club’s safe place status. Wherever you are operating, be extremely vigilant. It will be essential to strictly enforce all social distancing, reservations-only, no guests, family-only tables, and other health-related rules, McMahon wrote. Clubs will need to ramp up the presence of management on the floor and at the door to head off problems. If you are in doubt that you can execute safely, err to the side of caution, and defer. This will undoubtedly involve saying no to members clamoring for a quick return to pre-COVID operations. If there is a problem, fix it immediately at all costs. From observation, members have been very willing to follow the rules thus far, but just as with the shelter-in-place itself, frustration is likely to grow throughout the season, so you cannot let down your guard. As the old saying goes, “trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to rebuild”.
On the concept side, McMahon research has shown members value comfort, convenience, consistency, friendliness, and easy more than over-the-top. Think upscale casual over formal, and in the irregular format that will be attainable and affordable during 2020, the staffing, linens and other extras associated with formal dining will not be in the budget anyway. This will be the year to refocus and reset your dining program to fit the more casual world and your abilities to execute. It should meet the test of quality, consistency, and value, for this and subsequent years. Menus will be limited with rotating chalkboard specials replacing overly ambitious ones that are difficult to provide consistently.
On the facility side, McMahon expects this will feature liberal use of outdoor areas, casual indoor spaces, cafes, markets, and coffee shops. To-go food, while not yet recognized as a traditional business line for private clubs, is not going away anytime soon.
The pandemic will remake and reshape the hospitality industry and clubs stand to be one of the beneficiaries, McMahon wrote. While they were prevented in the quarantine phase from serving as a place of refuge for their members, the Phase I opening of the economy will allow them to begin doing what they do best—providing a safe and secure social and recreational environment for their community of members.
Coronavirus Claims N.Y. Resort
The coronavirus pandemic has forced Bristol Harbour Resort in Canandaigua, N.Y. to close its doors, the Rochester Beacon reported. Owners Todd and Laura Cook, citing “the dilemma of how to operate a business designed to bring people together” at a time that requires social distancing, informed patrons online that the resort will cease operations.
“As a family-run business, we cannot separate our family values from our business operations,” the Cooks wrote. “As a result, we feel it is our ethical duty to be a solution in preventing the spread, despite the implications and sacrifices we must make to uphold this significant responsibility.”
In February, the Cooks disclosed plans to shutter the Restaurant at Bristol Harbour, the Beacon reported. At that time, the Cooks said food and drinks would be available to patrons during the summer season, with plans for a cocktail hour in June.
Located on the eastern shore of Canandaigua Lake, the resort includes a private 18-hole golf course, a 31-room boutique hotel, a marina and event spaces, the Beacon reported. Bristol Harbour’s golf course, which is open under current guidelines, will stay open for members for the remainder of the 2020 season. After that, the course will be closed to the public. Outstanding balances on gift cards will be refunded for requests received within 90 days of May 15.
The Cooks, who bought the resort in 2016, also are developers of the proposed Everwilde Inn and Spa, the Beacon reported. The project—which still needs approvals—includes a year-around resort with restaurant, 50-room hotel, banquet rooms, and spa and fitness facility on a 45.7-acre site across Seneca Pointe Road from Bristol Harbour. The Cooks did not offer any updates on Everwilde.
The family expects to maintain Bristol Harbour as a personal property, the Beacon reported.
—The University of Texas Golf Club provided an example of how clubs can market themselves for the “staycation” surge that’s expected as shelter-in-place mandates subside, but many families remain reticent about planning trips that involve extensive travel and distance from home.
The club sent an e-mail with virtual tours of its casitas that offer a “change of scenery” and provide “a break from your everyday life.”
—The Wall Street Journal highlighted an emerging “shortage” during the pandemic—pushcarts.
“Having fallen out of favor due to the rise of motorized golf carts and popularity of caddies, pushcarts are now following the trend of toilet paper and hand sanitizer … hard to find,” The Wall Street Journal reported, noting that where the “once-disparaged device” is concerned, “warehouses are empty, retailers are out of stock and price gouging is now taking place.”