Club pools rule during summer-but knowing what amenities and programs to offer, and when, is key.
Crystal-clear water and hot summer days make for an irresistible formula as, once again, few amenities at a club or resort property prove more popular in the summer than the swimming pool. But offering engaging facilities, a safe environment and the right mix of programs and pool space requires careful planning to address a host of important questions, such as: How can lessons be scheduled to avoid inconveniencing other members? Should the club hire its own lifeguards? Is adding a waterslide worth the expense?
Clearly, creating—and maintaining—a dynamic club aquatic center is certainly no small task. But all the work and risk can be well worth the rewards.
Riding The Member Recruitment Wave
When The Clubs of Kingwood, a ClubCorp property located outside of Houston, Texas, finished renovations in 2007, it went from having a pool with lanes and a small children’s pool to sporting a resort-style aquatic center with two large water slides, a splash pad and a 500-ft. lazy river amenity (“How ClubCorp is Redefining the Market…Again,” C&RB, August 2008).
SUMMING IT UP
• Adding amenities like waterslides and splash pools can help to serve as member retention and recruitment tools—pools are often a particularly strong draw for young families with children.• When adding or expanding pools and pool features, work closely with architects and engineers who know local building codes and regulations, and keep your insurer informed of all changes, from the planning process on.
• To maximize pool space usage, make sure swim team practices, lesson times and social events don’t conflict with lap swimming or general member usage.
“We started with the goal of, ‘What does a club need to be more relevant or add value to the community?” says Mike Feild, General Manager of 3,800-member Kingwood, where 162,000 annual rounds are played on 117 holes of golf. By adding swim and splash amenities to the club’s existing pool, Feild notes, Kingwood created a new “destination” that has been consistently attracting families, and in the process recharging the business. “The new facilities [have proved to] contain a lot of things young families were looking for,” Feild says.
At many other large clubs where in the past aquatic activities often took a backseat to other endeavors, management has discovered that paying more attention to creating an attractive pool space can vastly change the dynamics of an operation for the better. In Charlotte, N.C., 1,400-member Carmel Country Club completed a $5 million renovation in 2008 to its 8-lane pool and foot-deep baby pool, creating a larger water park-type area complete with two intertwined waterslides.
“Golf is still king [at Carmel, where a $10 million renovation of the club’s Rees Jones-designed South Course is being completed this summer],” says General Manager John Schultz. “But I also know that, in anticipation of [reopening the pool], we took in twice the amount of members we normally do, and our social membership is way up.”
Don’t Slip Up on the Insurance Side
It takes more than a couple of rafts and a sprinkler to impress some of the most discerning waterpark enthusiasts. But while adding amenities that offer more thrills can increase a pool’s excitement factor, they can also cause insurance costs to rise.
However, the expense of adding a slide or splash pad may not be as high as you initially anticipate, depending on where your club is located. “Some of it is geographical, in my experience,” says C.W. Cook, General Manager/COO of the North Hills Club in Raleigh, N.C. “I have been at other clubs where insurance rates did take a little bit of a hit by having those types of items, but I’ve had none of those same issues in North Carolina.”
To avoid unpleasant surprises in premium adjustments, a Senior Executive Vice President at a New Jersey-based insurance company says it’s important to keep your provider informed, starting with the early planning phase, about any new features you might be considering.
“Some carriers may not be willing to insure certain exposures, such as slides, diving boards, or wave pools,” he says.
Clubs may also be unaware of some insurance recommendations and requirements, such as surrounding the pool area with a 4-foot or higher fence to prevent access during unsupervised periods, says the Executive Vice President of a club-focused insurance provider located in Pennsylvania.
“I always recommend clubs call us because it’s free counseling,” he notes. “They’re protecting us; we’re protecting them.”
Getting Members Splash-Happy
While the benefits of revamped pool facilities are apparent, a complete overhaul can make cost-conscious members nervous, even at clubs like Kingwood, where ClubCorp shouldered most of the construction costs.
To soothe member concerns about the facility’s potential to affect dues, Kingwood’s management devised a plan. “We introduced several new categories that allowed families with young children to be active at the club without having to pay high-end tennis or golf membership fees,” Feild says.
Kingwood has already added more than 400 new members in those categories since the aquatic center opened in 2007, he reports. The pool’s private party area has also provided an important new revenue source.
“We can host up to four events a day—pool parties for kids, private dining for adults,” Feild says. “We’re usually booked every weekend throughout the summer.“
Using pool space to host water-related programming such as swim teams, competitions and lessons can add value to a club’s membership—but can also create scheduling challenges.
The Raleigh, N.C.-based North Hills Club—which added a lap pool, children’s pool, main member pool and 100-ft. water slide to its aquatic area six years ago—has a large swim team that topped out last year at about 250 swimmers. The club also has a smaller diving team.
|By creating kid-friendly splash pads and swim teams, clubs are able to increase member usage.|
To avoid any inconvenience for the membership at large, North Hills schedules swim team practice in its lap pool between 4 and 6 PM, so the team can get its work in while most of the club’s adult members are still on their way home.
“We try to make sure there is not any day, no matter what’s going on, that we displace members from being able to swim at the club,” says General Manager/COO C.W. Cook.
Working out the scheduling is worth the effort, because clubs like North Hills have found swim teams, lessons and other kid-centric water activities to be a big draw.
“Post-renovation, the club filled all of its empty spots primarily with families with young children,” Cook says. “Taking swimming lessons and joining a swim team are definitely pertinent items when it comes to sizing up a potential new club.”
|North Hills Club boasts three outdoor pools, a 100-foot waterslide, and a spacious pool deck, perfect for “Flicks and Floats” pool/movie parties.|
The Clubs of Kingwood began to offer swimming instruction two years ago, shortly after its renovation was complete.
“Previously, there were several gyms and YMCAs in the area that offered lessons, so it didn’t make sense for us to be in that business,” Feild says. “But once we opened the water park, we saw a renewed demand and contracted with an outside service provider to offer lessons, at a price point members would be interested in.”
Utilizing poolside space for parties and other social events when it’s not booked for lessons or practice can also encourage club members to spend more time at the club. Here too, though, it’s important to schedule those types of events so they don’t interfere with member pool usage.
Carmel CC, for example, is happy to host small parties for birthdays and other occasions in part of its pool area, but encourages members to use other space on the property for larger events.
|The water park at The Clubs of Kingwood consists of five recreational areas: an adult pool and pool area; the Big Kahuna waterslide and landing pool (top left of photo at right) ; the family pool and diving area; the lazy river (right, foreground) and the splash pad play area. Each part of the waterpark is unique and has different rules and policies (view here|
“I’m not going to take the entire pool out at 5 PM to make a little money,” Schultz says. “It’s just too critical to have it available for the membership.”
As managers like Schultz, Feild and Cook will attest from their experiences, pool renovations aren’t easy to plan, and operating an aquatic center during the busy summer season can be a challenge.
North Hills, which does not have a golf course, initially lost a large chunk of members when its pool renovation plans were announced. However, the club has since filled each open spot—and currently has an extensive waiting list.
Cook credits the renovated pool area as one of the major catalysts in the club’s transformation to a more family-oriented operation—and one of the central reasons for North Hills’ membership boom.
“Our initiation fee is $10,000 and we know that we have a fair amount of members who don’t use anything but the swimming facilities,” he says. “It’s quite a draw. For us, it’s been somewhat of that ‘Field of Dreams’ sentiment—if you build it, they will come.”
Rules For Renovation
Creating your club’s perfect swimming space requires planning. Managers who have recently been through major pool expansions and renovations offer these tips:
• Even minor changes can increase construction time and cost. North Hills Club in Raleigh, N.C. opted to include a gutter system that is often used in high-volume, Olympic-style commercial facilities. “We find that we spend an inordinate amount of time maintaining those gutter systems,” says General Manager/COO C.W. Cook. “I don’t know that we’ve benefitted by having it, versus a traditional gutter system.”
• Hire people who know state and local guidelines. “Clubs should work with an architect and a construction company that are familiar with local building codes and the permit process,” says Mike Feild, General Manager of The Clubs of Kingwood, outside Houston.
• Following that advice saved Carmel Country Club of Charlotte, N.C. a lot of headaches, after its builder suggested a slight reduction in the height of its new waterslide, to keep it at 24.5 feet (slides 25 feet and over are subject to additional regulations in North Carolina). “They provided us with the rules and the structure,” says John Schultz, General Manager.
• Consider hiring an aquatic facility manager when the work is done. “It’s critical to have someone on staff who understands health code requirements and other safety regulations so that the club is capable of caring for the facility—and the people who use it—properly,” says Feild.