The south Texas club leveled off to around 400 members after peaking at 700 ten years ago. “The private club industry got a wakeup call,” says GM Jeffrey Murray. “What once was dad’s playground, now mom is controlling the roost. When mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy, so we realized we need to focus on what we can do for mom and the kids.”
Women enjoying spa days, families singing karaoke, s’mores roasting on the patio and children’s summer camps that are packed and popular are all now part of the scene at Harlingen (Texas) Country Club, reported the Harlingen Valley Morning Star, proving that it’s not your grandfather’s country club any more.
Harlingen CC, located in deep south Texas north of Brownsville, is in the midst of battling many of the same issues other clubs throughout the country also are struggling with, the Valley Morning Star reported, including stagnant or declining membership, high expenses, an aging member nucleus and a decreasing interest in the game of golf.
After significant growth and a peak of about 700 or more members more than 10 years ago, the Valley Morning Star reported, the club, which was founded in 1949, has leveled off to about 390 to 400 members.
“What once was dad’s playground, now mom is controlling the roost,” Harlingen Country Club GM Jeffrey Murray told the Valley Morning Star. “The truth is, mom is in charge and the private club industry got a wakeup call. When mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy, so we realized we need to focus on what we can do for mom and the kids.”
The new business model for country clubs, Murray said, is creating a “family value” versus being just for “dad” in the past.
That means more social activities and other events such as couples’ cooking classes, ladies’ spa day, kids’ club on Friday night, pasta bars, bingo on the patio, karaoke, s’mores and much more, the Valley Morning Star reported.
“My grandfather, he would never have understood this,” said Murray, who grew up in the country club setting.
Harlingen CC’s Membership Director, Julie Herrington, told the Valley Morning Star that the club continues to search for new ways to utilize resources to create more value for the members and guests.
She likes to ask the simple question, “Why haven’t you joined the Harlingen Country Club?” and the club is taking steps to address the answers she receives, the Valley Morning Star reported
“We are in a price-sensitive market with people who have diverse interests and active weekends at the beach, hunting and kids’ activities along with the desire to travel for weekends away,” Herrington said. “[Harlingen CC] is focused on managing resources, employees and creative energy to add value and delivering excellence in hospitality and recreational activities.”
Changes that have been made as a result, Herrington said, including lowering golf dues with a special offer for a year, more special events being scheduled, an improved menu and food choices, open-play golf and holiday season events. “The momentum is building in all the right directions,” she said.
(C&RB reported on changes in Harlingen’s food-and-beverage program, under the direction of Executive Chef Gerald Anchelo, earlier this year: http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2015/06/17/sharing-the-love-of-food/)
As part of the new focus, Murray added, the club now has “a strategic business plan that is guiding our steps for a strong financial foothold.”
“Our innovative programming is aiding our mission and our promotions are driving in new members,” he said. “There has never been a better time to join [Harlingen, to gain access to] the best course at a great price.”
With private clubs no longer being able to rely on legacy and prestige to continue to draw members who join because their families had belonged, “We are now trying to serve younger families,” Murray said. “We are going after that market, because we are trying to build a new legacy.”
If that doesn’t happen, Murray added, private country clubs will cease to exist. “Clubs are changing who they are, catering to everyone,” he told the Valley Morning Star reported. “The demographics have evolved. The economic power has shifted a lot in the United States. We all know what the truth is, and private clubs must change how we think.”
That’s why a visit to Harlingen Country Club is much different now than in the past, the Valley Morning Star reported
“You have to get more resort-like,” Murray said in describing the need to respond to how people are changing the way they use their money for vacations and other experiences. “You have to come up with more family activities, and we are no exception to that.
“We are also dealing with the X Generation, where it is more about me and not about legacy or being a member of a prestigious club,” Murray said. “They are looking for the good time or where their friends are.”
Matt Gorges, one of the original investors in the course and a 55-year member of Harlingen Country Club, told the Valley Morning News that the club has had the benefit of being sustained by a strong nucleus of members. “This group of about 350 is [made up of] very loyal, long-term, committed members who care about the club, understand the impact of the club on Harlingen and generally support it from a social and civic point of view,” Gorges said. “We need to increase this nucleus.”
As it seeks to provide more family-oriented activities, Murray said, there will still be an emphasis on creating the memories that have always remained valuable to individual members and families. “For our older crowd, we will continue to have all the things they love and have always loved; that will never change,” Murray said. “[As long as we have that, the older members will] put up with the basketball courts and the kids’ bingo.”
Jason Edwards, Harlingen’s Golf Course Superintendent, noted that many more kids have been participating in club activities, as youth facilities have expanded and the fitness center has been improved.
“We have molded and shifted this club into something different and it’s been very successful,” Murray said. “We are pleased with that. If you looked at our calendars [from years] before and today, they look so much different. It revolves around all the different things we are trying to do. It just amazes me how we have changed as an industry over the past 15 years. We have taken a whole new approach.”
One woman member recently summed up the long-term hopes of all of those who are involved with and care about Harlingen Country Club, Murray told the Valley Morning News.
“Our family will always be part of the club,” Murray said the woman told him. “If we could get back to that, it would be amazing. That is what clubs are really about.”