Introducing well-rounded social and recreational dimensions into traditional clubs or resort settings involves more than holding member/guest cocktail hours or theme nights in the dining room. Many properties now realize that greater attention to fitness and recreation amenities is one of the best ways to attract newer and younger members, guests, and their families. Often this includes taking a fresh look at one of the most traditional parts of club or resort life: the pool area.
At locations around the country, there's a new devotion to working inventively with pools and their accompanying swim and fitness programs. By putting time, thought and money into pool makeovers, properties are reaping the benefits of rejuvenated member and guest interest.
"We use our pool as a sales tool," says Ray Easler, General Manager of Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla. "It is part of the amenities package to draw in new membership." While most pools won't produce significant revenues on their own, managers are learning how to maximize their pool budgets in ways that will encourage usage and have positive residual effects on many other aspects of club and resort operations.
Deepening Family Ties
Clubs today spend a significant amount of energy and capital recruiting new, young members and families to ensure a strong future. And resort properties are always seeking new ways to get front-of-mind as a family vacation or "health spot" destination. In both cases, pools are critical to the success of these efforts.
In club settings, pool programs often act as an introduction for new members and children. West Lake Country Club in Augusta, Ga., for example, underwent a $300,000-$400,000 pool and pool-house renovation several years ago. "The pool is such an important amenity for four or five months of the year, it really needs to be a focal point during those months, because that attracts families," says David McManus, General Manager. "We need this kind of amenity for younger people because they are not automatically attracted to golf or tennis. Once children grow up a little bit, they get into tennis and golf, and the family grows with the club. This way, we retain members longer."
Similarly, the Spring Lake Country Club in Spring Lake, Mich., relies on its pool to help attract new members. This club initially opened in 1911 and had a long-time reputation as a male-dominated golf and dining property. Several years ago, however, it recognized the need to diversify and increase family memberships.
In 2000, the club added an expansive pool area that includes a competition-sized pool with six lanes and a kiddie pool. The pool area, surrounded by pine and blue spruce trees, native grasses and flowers, has comfortable lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a trellised snack bar area. In line with the demand for more fitness amenities, the club also added a swim team, swim lessons and a water aerobics program.
The expansion more than paid for itself, as the club's social membership tripled from 75 social members prior to the pool opening to 225 social members today. "The pool began our transition into a true country club," says Kevin Green, General Manager. "There is a lot more activity, as families come out to the club a lot more now. I think it really started with the pool."
To reap the ongoing benefits of a quality pool program, a club need not take on extensive pool renovations, however. The six-lane junior Olympic-sized pool at the Deerwood Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla., remains relatively unchanged since its inception years ago, minus necessary re-tiling and re-marciting for upkeep. The pool's familiarity is part of its appeal, says J.C. Hanley, Fitness Director. "Our pool is where most of our members grew up, so when they have their own families they rejoin and bring their kids; it is a revolving tradition," he notes.
Equipped for Success
Although pools often serve as a lure for new members or guests, they aren't without their cost. But making the right initial investments in highquality equipment can save time and, most importantly, money in the long term.
For 15 years, the Arizona Country Club in Phoenix, Ariz., has used a $3,500 automatic vacuum to clean its pool efficiently with little effort. "We put the vacuum in at night and it has its own filter, so it never goes through the pool filter, and we never have to vacuum the pool," says Ron Gercke, the club's head swimming professional. "The pool is always clean the next day, and it has saved us a lot on chemicals, strictly because we do not have to backwash [the pool and filter] as much."
While an automated vacuum makes pool maintenance easier for Gercke, he prefers working with the pool chemicals manually. "I've had automatic chemical feeders, but if you get down to the nitty-gritty, you have to do it manually," he says. "The biggest problem any pool owner or manager has is making sure the chemicals are perfect." Gercke and his staff check the chemicals three times a day to ensure proper pH and chlorine levels, and then fill out daily reports that document the chemical readings.
While clubs cannot afford to slack on pool maintenance, they don't have to break the bank, either. The Deerwood Country Club's modest pool operation has neither the manpower nor the space to invest in staff-led pool maintenance and equipment storage, so it contracts out the pool maintenance.
"We'd rather leave the pool [maintenance] to the professionals," says Hanley. "They have the best equipment. Our turnaround time on anything that may break is quicker [with the contractors] than if we were to do it ourselves. The pool maintenance company comes to the club for routine service every other day, and is on call for emergency repairs."
Making Dollars Do Laps
Another way to make a pool budget go further is to find inventive ways to maximize pool usage (and increase pool-related revenues). For example, the West Lake Country Club invested in overhead lighting that encourages members to host nighttime pool parties. Additionally, last year the club spent $30,000 to build pergolas over the pool patio, with fans and electric shades that block the evening sun, thereby giving members a new place to unwind with food and beverages after a day at the club.
To give its pool budget a break this year, the club committed to only one pool-related capital expenditure—$5,000 for new poolside lounge chairs and tables. But again, to stretch those funds as far as possible, the club has been shopping for the furniture during the off-season, when prices on high-quality outdoor furnishings are lower.
But as most businesses know, sometimes you just have to accept that you need to spend money to make money. And that certainly can prove to be the case with club pools. While the Arizona Country Club's L-shape pool easily accommodates swim lessons, swim team practice, lap swimming and general pool play, the club is adding two super slides this year, to attract even more families to the club. While the slides will cost $40,000-$50,000, Gercke does not expect his pockets to be empty for very long.
"We're also building a new clubhouse, and this was part of the money allotted to the clubhous
e," he says. "We'll get our money back within six months, with guests coming in and families joining the club, strictly because we're the only club in town with super slides." Additionally, Gercke has no plans to increase his staff to run the super slides; he will, instead, train his current pool staff on slide operations to ensure safety.
Streamlining the pool staff 's responsibilities is another effective way that clubs and resorts can maximize pool budgets without skimping on upkeep. "If a lifeguard has to work until 5 and we're dead until 3, we let the guard go early," says Gercke. Meanwhile, the pool staff at Spring Lake wears many hats by teaching swim lessons, leading the kids' camp, organizing activities in the pool, maintaining the pool, and serving as lifeguards. These extra-curricular programs can also be good revenue streams. "The main thing we do is maximize revenue opportunities with swim lessons, swim team, water aerobics and pool parties," says Green.
Wetting the Appetite
Nothing builds up an appetite more than sun-and-swim. Luckily for many properties, this leads to increased food and beverage intake. Beyond the usual poolside snack bars, clubs and resorts are branching out to offer unconventional pool treats that further encourage F&B purchases.
The snack bar at the Spring Lake Country Club, for example, now features healthy meal and snack alternatives alongside the typical burger, French fry and ice cream options. "People are focusing on the health needs of children, so that's something that mothers have asked us to focus on at the pool," says Green.
Rather than a standard snack bar set-up, the current clubhouse and pool renovation at Alpine Country Club in Demarest, N.J., calls for an outdoor patio to be built off the main dining room and attached to the pool area, so poolgoers can dine al fresco and enjoy a dining-room type experience, without heading indoors.
Clearly, one key to boosting F&B revenue at a pool is convenience. Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge added full service all around its pool, not only to enhance members' pool experiences but also to draw in revenue based on the assumption that making food and beverage more accessible increases activity.
Other properties still rely on poolside events and crowds to draw the most food and beverage revenue. Spring Lake CC's Green notes that the most pool-related food and beverage revenue at his club still comes from when a group hosts a poolside party. And at the Arizona Country Club— where its 35-year-old club swim team has a widely recognized reputation—meets draw in many spectators and almost as much F&B business as banquets or weddings.
"We have five major country clubs in the area, and each club rotates during the summer for the meets," explains Gercke. "We have big buffet dinners outside where all the clubs come together to enjoy dinner and get to know each other." C&RB
Summing It Up
• Pools are a great way for clubs to attract younger people, especially members’ children, who aren’t yet interested in golf or tennis.
• Proper maintenance is an absolute must, to make pools as enticing as possible to members and guests.
• Improvements are costly, but essential to enhancing pools’ appeal. And they can actually cut down maintenance and stave off future repairs.
• When expanding food and beverage options near the pool, don’t forget to make healthy options available—you might make a sale to someone who otherwise wouldn’t snack poolside.
Workout in the Water
As clubs and resorts seek to provide additional recreational and fitness perks to members and guests, many have deepened their pool-related offers by expanding in these areas:
Water Sports: Rather than lose pool goers to team sports, clubs are bringing the games into the water. The Arizona Country Club has set up a basketball net in the play area of its pool, and the Alpine Country Club plans to put a volleyball net in its pool.
Water Aerobics: The Deerwood Country Club offers water aerobics classes two times a week at 9:30 a.m. for interested members who wish to exercise and avoid the crowds at the same time.
Training: Many of the Deerwood Country Club’s members are very active in triathlons, and the pool gives them a place to train. There is always at least one lap lane open during the busy hours, and more in the morning for people in training.
Swimming for Exercise: The swim professional at Spring Lake Country Club can work one-on-one with members to determine the best strokes and techniques for their fitness needs.
Rehabilitation: The swim professional at Spring Lake Country Club also works with some of the club’s senior members who need rehabilitation for certain injuries or exercise limitations.—DM