Our new series of in-depth Fitness Profiles starts with the story of how Sand Creek Country Club’s fitness center- originally added as an afterthought-has grown to become one of its most attractive amenities.
Club Name & Location: Sand Creek Country Club; Chesterton, Ind.
Club Web Site: www.sandcreek.com
Club Founded: 1976
Total Membership: 525 (119 Recreation, 315 Golf, 91 Dining)
Average age of Membership: 55
% of Members Using Fitness Facility: 65%
Fitness Facility Established: 1997
Fitness Facility Size: 2,000 sq. ft., plus separate 600-sq. ft. group fitness center
Fitness Equipment: 4 treadmills, 3 ellipticals, 1 stepper, 2 recumbent bikes, 10 spinning bikes, full circuit of free weights and strength-training machines, specialized cardio machine
After a briskly paced half-hour on the treadmill, the fitness-minded members of Sand Creek Country Club are typically a little flushed. So before heading off for phase two of their workouts on the strength-training machines, they take a moment to wipe away the sweat, adjust their headsets and instruct a fellow member on how to use a hip abductor.
It’s 5 AM, and the Chesterton, Ind.-based private club is already full of life. Members are running, biking, stretching, doing pilates and yoga, lifting weights, eating a healthful breakfast, and thanking their lucky stars that their club has a five-star, full-service, one-stop fitness shop.
Sand Creek now boasts a fully staffed health and wellness center that caters to men, women and children of all ages, year-round. Complementary group aerobic classes like Zumba, Spinning and Total Body Conditioning are also packed with members arriving early to claim their spots. A Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer—who doubles as the club’s Director of Fitness & Recreation—helps members discover which unique diet and lifestyle habits work best for them. Sand Creek also employs personal trainers to help members meet fitness goals, recover from injuries, improve their golf swings, and strengthen their tennis elbows.
The emphasis on fitness also extends to a variety of recreational activities not often found at private clubs. In the winter, the club offers outdoor ice skating and ice fishing. In the summer, a nine-hole children’s golf course, a soccer field, baseball diamond and extensive playground facilities are available.
There is truly something for everyone at Sand Creek. And with its welcoming staff, accessible layout, and gleaming array of cardio and weight machines, the club now boasts 119 recreational members, in addition to over 400 in its golf and dining categories.
The Sand Creek fitness story wasn’t always in such prime condition, however. In fact, for a while, the notion of adding fitness to the mix hardly had any strength at all.
Ten Times More Than Planned
“We opened this clubhouse with a bare-bones work-out room,” says General Manager Michael Clindaniel. “We had a couple of bikes and some free weights…nothing special. We figured having something was better than having nothing, like an added bonus. At that time, no one thought members would make use of the fitness room, let alone more space, more equipment, personal trainers and group exercise classes.”
In 1997, Sand Creek built a new 55,000 sq.-ft. clubhouse to replace its existing one, which was really nothing more than a pro shop with a dining room.
Focused primarily on golf—the club offers 27 holes of world-class courses—and dining, Sand Creek’s original plan only allocated one room, measuring a meager 200 square feet, for fitness.
“It was very small, more like a hotel fitness room, then an actual gym,” says Clindaniel. “But members mentioned wanting something more. We had no idea how big it would become.”
Sand Creek learned the hard way that in order to have a successful fitness program, space is needed for machines, dumbbells, bands and balls. With more and more members making use of the tiny space, the club decided to change the clubhouse plan and find more room for fitness. But the decision to expand to what is now a 2,000-sq. ft. fitness center was not reached lightly.
“We conducted an extensive competitor analysis, which included both private clubs and public facilities,” says Rick Matthys, Director of Fitness and Recreation. “We also researched the demographic and psychographic profiles of potential club members, and were encouraged by the increasing weight of importance that prospective members placed on the existence of a full-service health club.”
The club also canvassed current members to determine how many of them already had memberships with other fitness facilities. Those results tipped the scale.
“A surprising number of Sand Creek members had gym memberships in addition to their club memberships,” says Matthys. “With the economy beginning to shrink, we wanted to be sure they chose to keep us if the going got tough. But in order to be all things to all people, we needed to create a facility that functioned both as a golf club and a full-fledged health club. We needed to evolve with our members and offer them everything to suit their lifestyles.”
Subsequently, Sand Creek’s offerings have diversified quite considerably. Matthys and his team have experimented with childcare, social mixers and spa services, and, as a result, have greatly increased participation by women.
“Most clubs are closed on Mondays,” says Matthys. “Our members were looking for more flexibility with their exercise schedules, though. ” And so, to continue to evolve with its membership’s needs, the club has extended its hours of operation from six days a week to seven.
The club’s fitness department has also started to interface more actively with the golf department, which has led to an increase of golf members. Overall, the fitness component at Sand Creek has been so well-received, Matthys now sees new opportunities for it to get even bigger. “We are researching a possible facility expansion,” he reports.
The Good of the Group
Sand Creek’s group exercise classes have also undergone a renaissance in recent years. What was once avoided now has members arriving as much as 20 minutes early, just to make sure they get a spot. How did Sand Creek’s group exercise program go from so few participants to lines that can now be five deep?
As group exercise programs began to pique members’ interest, Matthys says, the club worked to revamp class offerings and increase their appeal. “We have a wonderful array of classes with continuity, great music, and great instructors,” he says. New classes that were created include Zumba (a Latin dance-based fitness class), Total Body Pump (an intensified cardio circuit), Yoga, Cardio Fit, Stability Ball, Core/Spin and Spinning.
But class content wasn’t the only thing that got a makeover. With a daily list of group classes now on the workout list, Sand Creek’s members also needed a dedicated space to sweat together. So in 2002, the club converted a golf cart storage area into a separate group fitness room. The 600-sq. ft. space is now lined with mirrors, has a floor that boasts maximum elasticity and superior weight resistance while ensuring long-lasting durability, a brand new sound system, and specialized group exercise equipment like steps, spinning bikes, exercise balls and yoga mats.
“We used to only have a couple of classes every week,” says Matthys. “But now, we have a full schedule of classes everyday, on a rotation that changes monthly.”
Until recently, members were asked to pay a small fee for each class they participated in. They could purchase on a per-class basis, or in monthly bundles. But when Matthys and his team of instructors noticed that the classes’ numbers were dwindling, they sought to remedy the problem immediately.
“The local health clubs don’t charge for classes, so to stay competitive, we needed to offer ours for free as well,” he says.
“Yes, we took a financial hit with this initiative—but if we saved two or three members as a result, it really was a break-even.”
To help minimize the bottom-line impact, Matthys reassigned hourly staff to key locations at peak periods. “It wasn’t the most efficient use of time or money to have staff members sit at the front desk in the afternoon, when there aren’t many members using the facility,” he explains. “Now we staff the important areas during the peak usage periods in the early morning, and after 4 PM.”
Dynamic Fitness Training
Once considered a luxury, personal training has become a necessity for many of Sand Creek’s members, who are interested in seeing results quickly and safely. The club’s personal trainers, who are full-time staff employees, now work with members to create plans for success based on their individual needs, be it training for a 5K run or addressing a specific health condition that requires a supervised exercise routine.
“We don’t just fix a bad golf swing by trying a few new exercises,” says Matthys. “Instead we target the source of the problem. Is it muscular? Malnutrition? A joint issue? As we get answers, we work to strengthen and repair the body as a whole, to establish balance and wellness. When these things are addressed, the golf swing will also improve.”
Matthys also draws on his certification as a Certified High-Performance Exercise Kinesiologist to help target problems and prescribe solutions. The program draws on clinical experience in the field of orthopedic rehabilitation and strength coaching. Certification is completed in four blocks of intense modules, taught in a focused, small-group setting, and includes an examination. Graduates, like Matthys, are proficient with functional anatomy and kinesiology, strength-training theory and practical, objective assessments, and have the ability to design both rehabilitative and sports performance exercise programs.
“It’s not just about helping the fit get fitter,” Matthys says. “We want to help our members improve their entire health, and that includes everything from fitness to nutrition.”
When the Gym Goes Gourmet
While members pound treadmills and pump weights, Sand Creek’s kitchen staff is getting a workout of its own. Nathan Wronko, Chef de Cuisine, has been at the club since 1999. Hired as a banquet chef, he was promoted to Sous Chef in 2002 and Executive Sous Chef in 2004, and earned his current title in 2006.
While Matthys pushes members’ muscles, Wronko hustles fresh fruit plates and dishes such as fruitwood-smoked chicken with woodland mushroom dressing, natural jus and a vegetable du jour.
By working as a team to create more healthful offerings, Matthys and Wronko are moving “gym food” away from granola and smoothies, and into the realm of gourmet cuisine. And Sand Creek’s dining room has become a well-positioned amenity that can keep members happy as well as healthy.
Everyone, old and new, seems to appreciate the fancier fare, too. “Members like that they can eat a nice lunch, not just a salad, that’s made just for them and based on their metabolic profile,” says Matthys. “More and more members are coming to me to ask what they should and shouldn’t be eating. Having a list of foods that I can point to on the menu helps steer them in the right direction.”
The health and wellness cross-overs don’t end there. On Wednesday Family Nights, Matthys and his team make a brief fitness presentation to kids and their parents, and the food that is served is both healthful and easy to prepare at home.
“Thanks to the family fitness program,” Matthys adds, “we are able to engage every member of the family together. That’s our goal.”
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