SUMMING IT UP
• Tournaments can open a club up to its community and be helpful in breaking down barriers and attracting new prospects.
• Many properties highlight their courses with community outreach programs.
• Opening a property to children in the area can set a foundation for quality community relations—and future club growth.
Community outreach programs are allowing clubs and resorts to break the mold and make a difference.
Nestled in Colorado’s Vail Valley, The Club at Cordillera is a private club committed to both its members and the outside community. With three to five charity golf tournaments per year, food and beverage operations that are open to the public and a staff of community-minded individuals, Cordillera has debunked the stereotypes often associated with private clubs, as it cements a position as an integral local business.
“Being in a small community, you want to be one of those businesses that people respect and talk well about,” says Alison Wadey, Membership Director. “Word travels fast, and you want to have a good reputation.”
In today’s volatile economy, many clubs and resorts are implementing community service programs and initiatives to establish goodwill, increase visibility and improve their images. As an added perk, solid community relations often translate into increased interest in the properties, which can lead to revenue growth, larger memberships and more enthusiastic employees.
Ending the Isolation
Correcting the misperception that country clubs and resorts are elitist and isolated is one of the biggest challenges the industry must overcome to ensure future growth. To change this image, properties are emphasizing their value as lifestyle and recreation choices for individuals and families.
Charity initiatives and community outreach programs are excellent opportunities to reinforce this message. Non-members are given the opportunity to spend an entire day in a facility and get a feel for the property. For instance, The Club at Cordillera’s restaurant is open to the public and the club often gives away gift certificates to non-members within the community, allowing them to experience what the club has to offer.
Doing right by the community can also help properties make financial gains. Superior (Neb.) Country Club is a private club that is currently planning a new clubhouse that will offer non-members a chance to enjoy the club as well.
“To get the community more involved, we decided to build a stage in the clubhouse, so we can have the high school theater department or the community theater come out and put on plays, or [we can use it] if we have bands or comedians come in,” says Jay Nielsen, General Manager. “We want to get the country club involved in the community a little more.”
The new stage area will also help the club boost its outside revenue—and Nielsen is hopeful that drawing more non-members to the club may increase memberships, too.
“Before I came to Superior, the people who used to run the club wanted it to be their own private little club; they didn’t want ‘outsiders’ to come in at all,” he says. “They weren’t making any money, and they couldn’t figure out why. It is not hard to figure out though: The more people you have involved in the golf course or in the clubhouse, and the more events you have, the more revenue you will produce.”
Using Your Best Assets
Most clubs and resorts pride themselves on their golf courses, so it’s natural for many properties to highlight their courses with community outreach programs. Charity golf tournaments help both private and public clubs gain visibility by giving back to the community. With these events, properties host tournaments with national or local charities to raise money. Although clubs do not typically make much money—if any—from these tournaments, the publicity is priceless.
Scott Lake Country Club in Comstock Park, Mich., is a public club that recently launched its Women’s Charity Challenge: five women’s-only scrambles (one per month from May-September) that raise money for four charitable causes. For each event, participants pay a $40 entry fee, plus a $5 donation that goes into a “charity pool.” At the end of the season, the club will match the charity pool, up to $2,000.
“The women who play golf here care about what’s going on in the community,” says Jeff Hoag, Co-owner and General Manager. “The Women’s Charity Challenge gives us a springboard to do something neat in the community that members can be involved in, and play a little golf too.”
While the charities are the real winners, the event has boosted the club’s presence, drawing more people in to check out the course. “We need to be successful to be helpful in the community, so part of this is the business component,” says Hoag. “The other part is doing something meaningful. This gives us a chance to connect with our customers, and that is really important to us.”
Keeping It Real With Kids
As today’s properties become more family-focused, opening up the doors to the community’s children can be the foundation of quality community relations—and make especially good sense as a business-growth initiative.
This summer, to kick off summer vacation, the Shawnee Country Club in Milford, Del., hosted a “Scream and Shout, School’s Out” pool party for members’ and non-members’ kids. Additionally, the club’s swim team is open to every child in the community. “It is an outreach program that says, ‘We’re here and we love kids,’ ” explains Patricia Marney, Business Manager. “If we don’t have kids, we don’t have a future.”
Similarly, the Indian Palms Country Club & Resort, in Indio, Calif., allows the local high school’s boys’ and girls’ golf teams to use its course for practices and tournaments, and the club’s assistant head pro volunteers as the girls’ team’s coach. “It’s nice to give back to the public,” says Dianna Todd, the resort’s Administration Manager.
Some properties are finding service success through personalized programs that put members and guests into the community. The Ritz-Carlton Club’s newly launched Give Back Getaways program offers a chance to volunteer and contribute within the local communities. Each Ritz-Carlton property developed half-day community events and programs tailored to the particular club’s destination.
“We heard from our guests, members and owners that they cherish what [the Ritz-Carlton Club] does to support our local communities—but they wanted to know how they could help,” says Beth Ridenour, Director of Public Relations. “They too want to contribute and give back.”
The Ritz-Carlton Club, St. Thomas, for example, offers a Give Back Getaway that focuses on preserving the island’s habitat. Volunteers take a tour of the mangroves and salt ponds and learn how the trees protect the island and provide a safe haven for underwater life. They then work in the mangrove nursery, planting seedlings or transplanting juvenile mangroves.
“If we can be side-by-side working together on a project like this, the relationships are much deeper and there is a great connection,” says Ridenour.
Taking the Lead
When it comes to community outreach, it pays to lead by example. Many properties encourage, and sometimes even require, their managers and staff members to get involved. “Our employees are our best ambassadors,” says The Club at Cordillera’s Wadey. “They make us shine as a company.”
In fact, managers at Cordillera are required to attend cleanup days within the community, and their participation is directly linked to their bonuses. Staff members are also encouraged, but not required, to participate. “You say it is mandatory, but it just reminds our managers how great it feels to do things like this,” says Wadey. “We’ve never had an issue where we’ve had to force anyone to do it.”
Some of the club’s employees are also on a bike team that participates in races within the community, which is a fun way to get them out into local circles. This enthusiasm and visibility also helps the club recruit and retain employees. “It shows we are proactive and that while it is work, we also have fun,” says Wadey. “We get our best representatives out in the valley and they spread the word.’”
Whether a club or resort volunteers its course for a local charity golf tournament or establishes a community service program tailored for the needs of the area where it operates, the key is to do something. “If [guests and members] believe in your company, trust your company and see that you are a good contributor to the local community overall, they can get behind you,” says Ridenour.