Like many who have reached a certain age and stage in their personal lives and wonder why they need to keep taking care of so many possessions and so much space, many clubs are seeing “rightsizing” as the way to go for their business, too.
After 15 years now of visiting club and resort properties throughout the country on at least a once-a-month basis—with many of them in pretty remote or secluded, ultra-private locations, and having to find a lot of them pre-Google Maps (or “pre-” my learning how to use the app)—I’ve had my share of difficulties and surprises when trying to arrive at where I’ve needed to go.
But one of the biggest surprises came when I went to Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio for this month’s cover story. I expected my Google-aided navigation to take me on what I’ve come to expect will be the route when going to older private clubs with rich traditions—a drive into a leafy neighborhood, then turning onto a road marked by very subtle signage, for a slow ride up a tree-filled driveway.
But when that annoying British lady (I haven’t ever figured out how to change to a different voice) told me “you’ve arrived” at the address I’d plugged in for Oak Hills, I had to do quite a double-take. I was on a very active city road and looking at a modern sign like what you might expect to see when looking for a doctor’s office. And it showed the address I was looking for.
But upon closer inspection, there it was—Oak Hills Country Club was listed separately near the bottom of the sign, in a modern, backlit font that was not at all what you’d expect to see to identify a private club that was founded in 1922.
Oak Hills does still have a tree-lined road leading to its clubhouse, but I was navigated to an address and side entrance that it now shares with a new condominium complex, after selling off nine acres of its property to help fund its major renovation projects.
As our cover feature describes, Oak Hills is now pursuing a strategy of being a more exclusive and more golf-focused club, and as part of that it’s reducing its physical footprint and managing its operations in a more concentrated fashion.
And like many of us who have reached a certain age and stage in our personal lives and are wondering why we need to keep taking care of so many possessions and so much space, Oak Hills certainly isn’t alone these days in thinking that “rightsizing” may also be the way to go in the club business, both in terms of membership size and physical plants.
We’ve come across several other stories recently of clubs that are selling off parcels of land to have more manageable operations without dramatically reducing what they offer to members and guests. As another example, Yankee Hill Country Club in Lincoln, Neb. is looking into selling 51 acres to an apartment developer, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. If the sale goes through as planned, Yankee Hill would still have an 18-hole golf course, but it would lay out as 5,400 yards playing to a par 68 or 69, compared to the current 7,000-plus yards and par 72.
Cutting down the size of the property that the club would manage after the sale, from more than 150 acres to 105, would “dramatically” reduce maintenance costs and property taxes, Yankee Hill’s ownership and management told the club’s members in a letter explaining why the sale was being pursued. “We expect this will make our private golf, dining and social club business model more cost-competitive for the next two decades,” the letter added.
But if the sale doesn’t go through, Yankee Hill’s members were told, it would still be “business as usual for our operations in 2020 and beyond.”
It’s not hard to find signs now throughout the industry, though, that the notion of what’s “usual” is being reassessed, as part of many clubs’ natural progression into new stages of their business lives.