(Photo of Quail Valley’s Kevin Given by Kaila Jones, VeroNews.com)
The 14 private clubs in the Vero Beach, Fla. region are now enjoying waiting lists as long as six-plus years and using the surge of funds from initiation fees and dues for projects that are increasing club use by existing members while also attracting more prospects. “A year ago, people were walking around with their shoulders slumped,” says Michael Gibson, General Manager of Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club. “Now everyone has a bounce in their step.” Adds Kevin Given, Managing Partner of Quail Valley GC: “Honestly, there isn’t a bad club in town. It’s just a matter of finding the one that fits your personality.”
The 14 private clubs in the Vero Beach, Fla. region are enjoying a “phenomenal boom” heading into what is expected to be a “mostly post-pandemic season,” VeroNews.com reported—with waiting lists that are now as long as six years and tens of millions in upgrades recently completed or underway that are increasing club use by members and attracting still more prospects.
Much of the success is driven by the same pandemic-related factors that have pushed the real estate market in the area to record heights, VeroNews.com reported—specifically, people migrating from big cities to smaller, charming towns like Vero Beach and developing a renewed passion for outdoor pastimes such as golf, tennis and boating.
“The clubs are doing great, and they are a tremendous asset to the community [and] major economic drivers,” Kevin Given, a managing partner of Vero Beach’s Quail Valley Golf Club, told VeroNews.com. Given takes the pulse of the clubs in the area through a regular Zoom meeting where club managers talk about challenges and share tips and intelligence.
“We are all doing very well,” agreed Ursula Gunter, Marketing Manager at The Moorings Yacht & Country Club. “Business so far this year has blown away what we did in 2019. I think the coming season will be huge.”
And Michael Gibson, General Manager of Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club, told VeroNews.com that “October was crazy—it was the busiest golf month we have had in years.”
“Everyone is very happy,” Gibson added.
Since Grand Harbor’s members took the club over from a problematic developer a year ago, membership has increased from a low of about 580 to more than 700, bringing in millions of additional dollars in $50,000 buy-in fees and annual dues that average $10,000,VeroNews.com reported. Gibson expects to add another 80 to 100 new members in 2022.
“When we took over the club, we said our goal was to grow the membership by 200 over the next four to five years,” he said. “But we now we think we will accomplish that in two-and-a-half years.”
Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club opened its doors to non-resident members in April, which has accelerated the growth and revenue trajectory and made members optimistic about the future, VeroNews.com reported.
Under Gibson’s leadership, the club has spruced up its island beach club and finished a $2 million renovation of its Harbor Golf Course, one of two in the 900-acre, Mediterranean-style planned community, which includes a full slate of amenities and a beautiful harbor on the river, VeroNews.com reported.
Gibson now plans to present a masterplan to the members for a vote in January 2022 that, if approved, will include a major expansion of the beach club and upgrading the second golf course, VeroNews.com reported.
“Honestly, we want to be a premiere golf club, and we plan to have the finest restaurant in Vero at our beach club,” he said. “We believe in that because growth feeds on itself. Half of our new members are non-residents, and with all the new people moving into the community, we think we are in line for a strong upward move in numbers.
“The new members bring guests to play golf and eat and drink here and some of them end up joining,” he added. “Our existing members are more active, too. A year ago, people were walking around with their shoulders slumped. Now everyone has a bounce in their step. The more members we have paying dues and spending money here, the better club we can create.”
Even Quail Valley’s Given, who tends to talk up other clubs in the region as much as he does his own, is bullish on Grand Harbor, VeroNews.com reported. “I think Grand Harbor’s future is extremely bright,” he said. “Their growth trajectory is going to be steep.
“Honestly, there isn’t a bad club in town,” Given added. “It’s just a matter of finding the one that fits your personality.”
Quail Valley and The Moorings—one of which is free-standing and the other embedded in an eponymous residential community—illustrate just how dynamic the Vero Beach club world has become, VeroNews.com reported.
Quail Valley with its sprawling river club, hotel and restaurant facility and golf course west of town has thrived in the past two years, with more than $7 million in capital upgrades completed or underway since the beginning of 2020, VeroNews.com reported. The club now has more than 1,000 members, 300 employees and a 6 ½-year wait list.
Recent projects have included a new 7-hole, par-3 course, a 2-hole short-game facility and a complete revamp of the golf practice area, VeroNews.com reported. The golf clubhouse is getting major upgrades, too, with a new and expanded pro shop, expanded dining room, new outdoor kitchen and new main dining room bar overlooking the 18th hole of the club’s championship golf course.
At Quail Valley’s river club, the 43-slip marina was dredged just in time for the explosion in the popularity of boating, VeroNews.comreported, and management moved quickly during the COVID shutdowns to completely rebuild and expand the fitness center and add “Martha’s Market,” named after Martha Redner, Director of Membership and Marketing, who has worked at the club since it was founded.
“As soon as [Florida Governor Ron DeSantis] shut things down, I called Proctor Construction who has done most of our work over the years and asked them how fast we could do a design-build project,” said Given. “We gutted the place and brought in all new equipment and created rooms for pilates and stretching. Between the fitness center and market, it was about a $2 million project that we knocked out in 90 days.”
Quail Valley’s success is due mainly to the quality of the club’s members and employees, half of whom have worked there for five years or longer, VeroNews.com reported. “You can’t have a great a club without great members and team members,” Given said. “When we ask our workers why they stay, the number-one reason is always ‘the members.’ We haven’t had the problem with staffing that many businesses have faced.”
The success of the new Martha’s Market is a prime example of how Quail Valley’s timely strategic thinking has paid off, VeroNews.comreported. “People in the club world tend to say that tennis players don’t spend much money at the club, but you have to give them something to spend on,” Given said. “That is why we opened the tiki bar a while back and the market a year ago, to capture the spending of people coming off the courts or out of the fitness center or off their boats who might feel underdressed to go into the clubhouse.
“People want a coffee or smoothie or something to eat after working out or playing tennis, and the market has a nice selection of drinks, light sandwiches, salads and gourmet grocery items—and people are comfortable coming in their tennis or workout clothes,” he added.
The Moorings Yacht & Country Club has taken steps to draw residents to its ocean-to-river community and serve its residents by also taking outside members, VeroNews.com reported, including new doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, businesspeople who have decided they can run their Northern enterprises from island home offices, and an increasing flood of seniors who moved up their Florida retirement plans during the pandemic. All of these people and others have been looking for a country club component in their lifestyle, according to Gunter.
“Things are wonderful,” she said. “The pandemic period has been great for our club, with high demand for membership and rounds of golf and other outdoor activities.”
All told, The Moorings has added 150 new members over the past two years, according to Gunter, and is now at capacity with 1,075 members and an 18-month waiting list, VeroNews.com reported. With a $75,000 initiation fee, those 150 new members have infused more than $11 million in fresh capital into the club, and are paying $1.8 million in additional annual dues—money that is being used by the Board and General Manager Craig Lopes, CCM, to upgrade and refine club facilities and make them even more appealing.
“Over the summer we renovated The Moorings golf course, which was a $2 million project that included a new irrigation system,” Gunter said. “[We also] did tons of other cosmetic improvements to what I call key touch points—with new parking lot landscaping and pavers where you saw asphalt before.”
In the summer of 2020, the club redid its tennis center and now has “nine brand-new Har-Tru tennis courts, along with four new pickleball courts,” Gunter added.
Other clubs throughout the Vero Beach region are growing and upgrading, too.
“Things are just great at this time,” says Brian Kroh, CCM, General Manager of the John’s Island Club, where the real estate market is red hot, and the club is wrapping up a renovation of its North Course to keep up with member demand and expectations.
“We are very, very busy,” added Tim Straley, CCM, General Manager/COO of Vero Beach Country Club. “The pandemic certainly created more demand for a club experience. We have a lot of members who have taken up golf or are finding ways to play more.”
With what turned out to be enviable timing, Vero Beach CC started a $3.8 million expansion in January 2020 that added a fitness center, resort-style swimming pool and outdoor bar and dining area (see https://clubandresortbusiness.com/clubs-are-taking-a-deeper-dive-with-pool-renovations/ and https://clubandresortbusiness.com/vero-beach-cc-nears-completion-of-4-1m-pool-fitness-and-bar-project/).
The improvements made the club much more appealing to young families moving into the neighborhood around the club, which has become one of the most desirable on the mainland, VeroNews.com reported. And since the start of the pandemic, the club has sold 80 new memberships, reaching capacity at 515 members, and now has 87 people on its waiting list.
“We filled up quickly, mostly with a younger demographic than what we saw in the past,” Straley said. “The wait for a golf membership is a year and half. For a social membership, it is more than three years.
“We are having fun doing what we are doing!” he added.
The Boulevard Tennis Club, one of the few clubs in the Vero Beach area without a golf course, is thriving too, according to Director of Tennis Christophe Delavaut.
“We are doing great,” Delavaut told VeroNews.com, “Our membership has filled up over the past two years to 399 and we now have a waiting list. When we bought the place in 2017 there were only 108 members, so we feel very good.”
Member families pay $2,700 a year to belong to the club, which now amounts to more than $1 million a year in dues, VeroNews.comreported. That’s supplemented by revenue that comes in from adult tennis lessons, a strong junior tennis program and the club’s restaurant, Counter Culture.
“If you love tennis, this is the place,” says Delavaut. “Our members are out here playing four or five times a week.”