In 2017 alone, $1 billion was spent in capital renovations to Florida clubs, and the pace shows no sign of subsiding, as properties focus on restaurant, fitness, tennis, pool, spa and entertainment projects to complement their golf offers. Where 80 percent of homebuyers in Florida developments signed up to be golf members in the 1990s, now only 15 to 20 percent go that route.
Southwest Florida clubs are making some big changes, the Naples Daily News reported.
Since 2010, private clubs across the region have spent tens of millions of dollars to up their game, and they continue to tee up capital improvements at a fast tempo, the Daily News reported.
The improvements go far beyond the greens, tees and holes of the clubs’ golf courses to also include restaurants, fitness and tennis centers, pools, spas and entertainment venues, the Daily News reported.
The spending spree follows state and national trends, the Daily News reported. Club members now want more than golf. They want friends, health, comfort and happiness — the so-called quality of life.
Members see the projects as a way to improve their health and wellness and protect the value of their memberships, their clubs, and their homes tucked inside gated country club communities, the Daily News reported.
“Last year alone, there was $1 billion in capital renovations to Florida clubs. That shows you how much is going into the club facilities to posture for the future,” said Jason Becker, a founder and CEO of Golf Life Navigator in Naples, which helps golfers find their best-matched clubs.
The dynamics of large golf communities in Southwest Florida has changed so much since the 1980s when they were introduced by big developers, such as Bonita Bay and WCI Communities, the Daily News reported.
Then, 80 percent of homebuyers living in those developments were signing up to be golf members; now it’s closer to 15 to 20 percent, so clubs must do more to stand out to attract members outside their gates, Becker told the Daily News.
The improvements that are being made by clubs in the region are both big and small, the Daily News reported. “Pickleball is pretty hot. They all seem to be adding little things,” Becker said.
And outdoor dining, a much bigger investment, is even hotter, the Daily News reported.
“Outdoor dining and sports bars are huge. Forty-two percent of consumers that we talk to are looking for that. So that is a big number when you are talking about thousands of new people coming in,” Becker said.
But while members want more than golf, that shouldn’t suggest golf is a dying sport, Becker added.
“I never argue that golf is dying,” he said. “Golf in the state has a more than $8 billion economic impact and supports more than 132,000 jobs annually. Its economic impact is three times that of the theme parks.”
In Southwest Florida, the interest in golf and golf clubs remains strong, Becker told the Daily News. “We had 900 clients this winter looking at Fort Myers and Naples, which was pretty incredible,” he said.
A recent survey by Golf Life Navigators showed that more than 54 percent of future golf members are interested in health and wellness offerings, the Daily News reported, and that 79 percent of buyers want a cardio component to their future club, demonstrating the need for clubs to invest in more than just their golf courses. Nearly 3,800 were interviewed for the survey.
More women are joining clubs in Southwest Florida, as they have been nationally, for golf, tennis, fitness, dining and business networking, the Daily News reported. So capital improvements are more geared toward men, women and their families, including children and grandchildren.
That’s led to a lot of “keep up with the Joneses” activity, the Daily News reported, as clubs try to get ahead of the competition with something bigger, better or just different.
“What we’ve found is that the competition is really driving a sense of urgency for these different clubs. There are God knows how many,” said David Humphrey, founder and president of Humphrey Rosal Architects in Naples.
There are 250 clubs in Collier and Lee counties, Humphrey estimated, and his firm has done roughly 40 major renovation projects from Sarasota to Naples since 2010.
The Daily News report highlighted how clubs are getting more casual, looking nothing like the stodgy places of years ago, designed for men only and requiring coats and ties in their formal dining rooms.
“People started realizing resort-style isn’t a dirty word,” Humphrey said. “Who doesn’t like a resort, right?”
One of Humphrey’s most recent designs, the Daily News reported, was for the Kensington Golf & Country Club in Naples. The project includes a 150-seat resort-style café as part of a $3.5 million renovation and expansion that coincides with the club’s 25th anniversary.
The new 3,800-sq. ft. outdoor café will have an island feel, with a bar, fire pit and waterfall, the Daily News reported. The eatery will feature retractable sides with portable heaters and misters, instead of air conditioning. It will serve food and drinks poolside, along with having its own casual seating.
“Our surveys showed that more than 70 percent of our members wanted more casual outdoor dining options,” said David Krzywonos, Kensington’s General Manager, told the Daily News.
When it comes to major renovations, the Daily News reported, the Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs, Fla. has been one of the leaders in Southwest Florida. The club teed up for growth in 2010, following the Great Recession and a shift in club ownership to its members after its developer, the Bonita Bay Group, ran into financial problems.
In 2013, the Bonita Bay clubhouse closed for eight months for an $11.5 million renovation that gave it a new look and a more functional layout. One of the biggest changes was the conversion of the golf shop into a 4,700-sq. ft. open-air bar and casual grill called the 55th Hole.
Less than a year later, the Daily News reported, the Bonita Bay Club invested in a 60,000-sq.-ft., three-story medical office building just outside the Bonita Bay residential community, to build a new $17 million lifestyle center that includes an 18,000-sq.-ft. fitness center and a 9,000-sq.-ft. spa and salon.
“So many clubs followed up on what we started,” Dan Miles, Bonita Bay Club’s General Manager, told the Daily News.
Most recently, Bonita Bay opened a $6 million, 15,000-sq.-ft. sports center that includes a new racket complex, a resort-style saltwater pool with 75-foot lap lanes, and an open-air casual dining spot with 130 seats.
The sports center, now one of the largest tennis complexes in Southwest Florida with 18 courts, will host a U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit tournament next May with a $100,000 purse, which is expected to attract 1,000 fans a day, the Daily News reported.
“The sports center is an expansion on recreational sports beyond golf and tennis,” said Miles. “We’ve added state-of-the-art pickleball courts. We’ve introduced croquet. We have plans to add bocce.”
Bonita Bay is one of the largest private clubs in the region with 1,250 golf members and another 35 on a waiting list, the Daily News reported. But before the club started planning its major capital improvements in 2010, “We weren’t sure where our next member was coming from,” Miles said.
Now, the club has a total of more than 2,000 members.
“Only 6 percent of clubs nationally have wait lists,” Miles told the Daily News. “In Southwest Florida, I think that with the improvements in the economy and the attractiveness of the area, most clubs are doing very well right now.”
With its success, the Bonita Bay Club has been raising its initiation fee regularly, the Daily News reported. The fee is $85,000 and will grow to $95,000 in January, Miles said.
Marie Verschuuren, 63, and her husband Gary Pottruff, 72, have belonged to the club for 20 years.
“The amenities have blossomed,” Verschuuren told the Daily News. “The golf really sold us to start. But we’re big on fitness too. We had a good fitness center when we joined, but now we’ve gone to a totally new level at Bonita Bay Club.”
She and her husband, who are both retired, work with fitness trainers three days a week, the Daily News reported.
Like Bonita Bay, other clubs once owned by the Bonita Bay Group have made big improvements since the shift in club ownership to their members, the Daily News reported. Other projects that were highlighted included:
- A steady schedule of improvements made at Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Springs in over the past three years. Most recently, Shadow Wood members approved a $5.2 million plan to build a new covered outdoor casual dining venue, with views of the golf practice range.
- The Club at Mediterra in North Naples underwent a major renovation in 2013 that included updates to its kitchen and Grille Room, as well as its gathering places. In 2017, Mediterra completed a $1.5 million expansion of its Sports Club and added new tennis and bocce courts. More recently it remodeled its beach club on Little Hickory Island, which now includes a wine bar. Up next is a $12 million renovation and expansion that includes doubling the size of the Tavern Terrace, an outdoor dining and lounge built in 2008.
- In February 2017, members of Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples celebrated the opening of a new 30,000-sq. ft. Wellness Center with a clinic that provides primary and emergency care. The Wellness Center was the second phase of a $30 million-plus capital improvement project launched in 2015.
Jim Butler, the club’s former General Manager who oversaw the project, told the Daily News that the goal at Grey Oaks was to be “best in class” while meeting the wants and needs of members.
Because Southwest Florida clubs, like those throughout the country, took a hit during the Great Recession, Butler noted, they’ve had to play catch-up on deferred maintenance projects, while investing in projects for the future.
“The clubs in Naples are very progressive compared to the other clubs across the country,” Butler said. “They are usually leading the club industry in all aspects of the club. In this particular case, they are certainly leading the country in the renovations and the capital investment in their clubs.”
Butler is now the CEO of Club Benchmarking, which helps club managers and clubs analyze, manage and predict performance. Clubs that aren’t making big capital improvements are putting themselves at a “severe competitive disadvantage,” he said.
“The value of the clubs are in the facilities,” Butler said. “In order to grow the club, you have to grow the assets in the facilities.”
Among the many clubs in Southwest Florida that have recognized the value of investing in the future is Pelican Preserve of Fort Myers, which has made upgrades including a new 65,000-gallon outdoor lap pool complemented by a casual resort-style alfresco dining spot, the Daily News reported.
Other projects that are underway or recently completed that were highlighted in the Daily News report included these:
- The Dunes of Naples is in the midst of a $9.2 million renovation and expansion that will add a 25,000 –sq. ft. coastal-theme amenities center. The center will include a private dining room, an indoor/outdoor bar, a flexible room for events, and a business center. Other improvements will include the addition of fire pits and a kid’s fountain to the pool area, and the expansion of the wellness and fitness center. Construction began in April and is expected to be completed in January.
- Vineyards Country Club in North Naples started a multimillion-dollar project last year that included a new 15,000-sq.-ft., state-of-the-art wellness center and spa, slated for completion in late October.
- The Club Pelican Bay in Naples recently completed a $27 million project that replaced its 35-year-old clubhouse with a two-story building that includes covered and open decks with firepits and outdoor dining, a new fitness center and spa, and an area for golf training.
- Quail West in Naples just finished a major expansion and renovation project that included a new golf pro shop, the Market Café, an indoor/outdoor seating area and changes to its main lobby. Another upgrade to brag about is the completion of Quail West’s new two-story, 12,000-sq.-ft. fitness and wellness center.
And golf clubs aren’t the only ones spiffing up, the Daily News report noted:
- The Pelican Isle Yacht Club in North Naples recently underwent a $4.8 million renovation. Upgrades included a newly redesigned 20,000-sq.-ft. clubhouse with larger indoor and outdoor casual dining areas, a state-of-the-art kitchen, enhanced water views from the clubhouse and new meeting and banquet rooms. Outside, there are two new bocce ball courts and fire pits.
- The Naples Yacht Club on Naples Bay recently began a $10 million renovation that will replace a part of its clubhouse that’s 60 years old. A new venue will be added with larger event and entertainment spaces that will offer more expansive waterfront views. The project is expected to be completed by early next year.
- The Naples Bay Club, a private membership resort club in a marina-side waterfront setting, is undergoing a partial renovation of the lobby and the Blue Water Bar. The lobby will become an air-conditioned entryway, encased in floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The restaurant’s outdoor bar will double its seating and feature five 55-inch flat-screen TVs. Renovations at the bar will be finalized by Thanksgiving, while the lobby will be completed by Christmas.
For photos and videos that accompanied the Daily News report, go to https://www.news-press.com/story/money/2018/10/29/lee-county-golf-clubs-changing-keep-up-times/1772713002/