The trend to more family-friendly atmospheres is leading clubs to remove “Men’s Only” signs, or add new rooms, to better mix things up and let everyone enjoy casual spaces.
For years, the men’s grille has been the place at the club where everybody knows your name. A place to grab a cold beer and burger after hitting the links. A place where members can both dress down and cool down in the company of friends, without worrying about formal attire or formal conversation. And, for most members, this relaxed, comfortable inner-sanctum feel is more important than the thickness of the carpet on the floor or the shade of paint on the walls. Unlike so much in club life, the traditional men’s grille is more about providing a casual environment.
“Our men’s grille is typical—wood and green. You can close your eyes and just picture it,” says George Rees, General Manager of Wetherington Golf and Country Club in West Chester (suburban Cincinnati), Ohio. The club’s male members “don’t want to change” from the traditional color scheme and Old English pub style found in so many men’s grilles, Rees adds. “They are happy.”
The women at the Ohio club, however, were not as happy to keep their comparable, albeit smaller, space—which serves more as a card room than a dining option—looking so traditional. In sharp contrast to the untailored look of the Wetherington men’s grille, the newly renovated ladies’ grille, which underwent a full decorative facelift this winter, now features an elegant soft green and beige color scheme complete with new wallpaper, reupholstered furniture and decorative wall sconces.
The women who use the space also redid the table and seating areas, making them an inviting area for reading magazines and watching television. Still, even with the new look, “The ladies’ grille doesn’t get that much use,” Rees reports. “If six women eat there in a week, that’s a lot. At least two or three times a week [a group of women] goes to the ladies’ grille to play cards, then they come up [to another dining room] to have lunch, and when they are done they go back down. The men don’t care if they eat inside the locker room.”
Mixing It Up
What all members, regardless of gender, do seem to want are casual dining options. “People are asking more and more for places to sit down after playing golf and have a drink and socialize, somewhere to have a burger or a steak,” says Rees. “They feel uncomfortable coming to the main clubhouse after they have been outside. They are hot and sticky, and don’t think it is appropriate.”
For Wetherington, the answer was a mixed grille. Members recently got together and raised money to open the Pour House, which essentially serves as the club’s mixed grille. The new room attracted 180 people when it opened on a weeknight in October, and because that level of popularity hasn’t waned, the financial goal for the Pour House has already been surpassed.
“Now it is not uncommon to see the mixed grill packed, and the men’s and ladies’ grilles empty,” Rees says. The room’s two 52-inch plasma televisions, casual menu, bar and overall informal atmosphere add to the Pour House’s appeal.
Staying On the Priority List
“A lot of people are moving toward casual dining,” agrees Sam Heaslip, Clubhouse Manager for the Sharon Country Club in western Pennsylvania. “No one wants to wear a jacket or put on a tuxedo anymore.”
Heaslip has seen the popularity of his club’s men’s grille ebb and flow since he started there 16 years ago. In its heyday in the ‘80s, a card game was always going in the basement grille and the place was overflowing with men hanging out and kicking back.
Today, Heaslip says, the club is more about families and inclusion. So during the winter the grille—done in dark woods, cream walls and the traditional green accents, and attached to the men’s locker room—is open to both women and men. On mixed grille nights, the basement space gets more traffic, and Heaslip often runs movie nights in a nearby room for the little ones, so parents can relax—and perhaps even watch movies of their own (the room can hold about 40 people).
“Times are changing,” he says. “You have to cater more to young families. If you don’t, guess what? The club [won’t be on their] priority list.”
At Fox Meadow Country Club in Medina, Ohio, Club Manager Katie Shuster has also recognized the importance of identifying and embracing members’ needs. Last year at Fox Meadow, women members encouraged the club to change the gender restriction policy of its men’s grille. As a result, the men’s grille is now open to women on Thursday through Sunday nights.
“It’s truly only a men’s grille on Tuesday and Wednesday nights,” says Shuster, who describes Fox Meadow as having a young demographic. Still, she adds, most of the women at the club don’t take advantage of the nights they’re now allowed in the grille. An exception is Thursdays, when a core group of couples meets to use it as a more intimate space for their pizza night.
“Mostly they just like to know they can,” Shuster says of the women who wanted to open up the men’s grille to all members. And in today’s day and age, it’s easy to understand why.
Instead of heading to the men’s grille on mixed nights, the majority of people at Fox Meadow tend to frequent the mixed grille, which offers the same casual dining menu as the single-gender grille along with large screen TVs, a pool table, couches, dining tables and a bar, which is the mirror image of the one in the men’s grille. Here, just as at Wetherington, the same casual feeling is present without the formality of the dining rooms or any gender restrictions.
This is not the case at one of Fox Meadow’s sister clubs, the nearby Weymouth Country Club, where Shuster used to serve as club manager. At Weymouth, she says, the men’s grille has remained something of a sacred male space. “On Sunday night it can be quiet in all of the other dining areas, but full in the men’s grille,” she says.
Weymouth attracts an older, more empty-nester type of membership, according to Shuster; many of the men who frequent the grille have been doing so since the 1960s. Plus the room, with its requisite big screen TV and green and dark wood decor, is the only place cigar smoking is allowed—a feature with a distinct appeal.
“It’s somewhere men introduce other men to one another,” she says. “It [networking] is one of the benefits of being a member of a private club. When older members get to know newer members, most of that happens in the men’s grille. In the main dining room, people don’t exactly seek out social interaction.”
One important design feature that the grilles at both clubs utilize is outdoor space. Shuster sees this as an important component to casual dining offerings. Often during tournaments, people gather at the patio to watch the shootouts and have a drink.
And the person serving those drinks is another important element in a grille’s success. “A lot of our bartenders have been here for years and years,” Shuster says. “There are members who just stop up to say hi [and talk] to them.”
So again, it comes back to creating a place at the club where everybody knows your name. Of course, at a true men’s grille, that only works if your name is Sam or Cliff. If it’s Diane or Carla, the men’s grille might seem like nothing more than a boy’s clubhouse with a big “no girls allowed” sign slapped up on the door.
Which is why more clubs are opting to forego the men’s grille all together and go with a single mixed grille. Some have come to this realiz
ation on their own, while others have found that local laws now prohibit the single-gender institution.
In 2001, when the Roanoke (Va.) Country Club was undergoing a remodeling, management realized that local code did not permit gender-restricted areas, so the club went to a mixed grille. “A very small group of people miss it [as a men’s grille],” says General Manager Greg Clark. Still, despite the now-open door policy at the grille, very few women use it, he adds. “I guess it is just a comfort level,” he says. “Some women do go there on certain occasions, but many still feel like it is the men’s grille in many respects.
Roanoke’s mixed grille, like so many others, is a casual setting with a light menu, bar and two televisions set to golf. “The facilities are nothing glamorous and pretty fundamental,” Clark says.
The key, of course, is just making sure that whatever the space looks like, the members always feel they are glad they came.
Summing It Up
• Casual dining is at the top of many members’ request lists, regardless of gender.
• Whether as a voluntary nod to changing times or a result of changing laws, many formerly traditional clubs are relaxing the rules and allowing women and even families to be in the grille for some or all of the time it is serving.
• Even if a grille is open to women, it doesn’t mean they will use it. Sometimes women just like to know they can use it if they want to.
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