Club + Resort Business’ Second Annual Awards recognize The Quechee Club in Hartford, Vt. for promoting a variety of new racquet-related events and introductory programs that generated a 122 percent increase in play by encouraging members to pursue new ways to have fun while remaining active. Also, The Country Club of Buffalo (N.Y.) earned honors for creating a popular new “Tin Man” event that put an inventive twist on an iron-man competition, by combining paddle tennis and sporting-clay shooting competitions with a two-person golf scramble.
The December 2020 issue of Club + Resort Business features the 2020 Innovation Awards, recognizing club and resort properties that have conceived and implemented concepts that have paid real dividends in the form of enduring member and guest satisfaction and loyalty.
These properties were recognized for innovative achievement in the Recreation + Fitness category:
The Quechee Club in Hartford, Vt. is part of a lifestyle community of 1,400 residents that includes a private, four-season resort offering a wide range of year-round recreational activities for members and guests, including skiing, golf, swimming and a variety of racquet sports.
But in the spring of 2020, the Quechee Club’s management team, like those at many clubs, was forced to rethink its rules and practices, to ensure that all of the activities it offers could still be enjoyed in a safe and secure environment.
For the club’s racquet sports program, that effort didn’t stop with just stepping up sanitizing efforts and ensuring social distancing. Led by Director of Racquet Sports Mike Keenan, Quechee also promoted a variety of innovative racquet-related choices that would encourage members and guests to view the club as a great place for getting away from the concerns caused by the outbreak and to pursue new ways to have fun while remaining active.
“Mike wanted to find ways to help people foster a safe social atmosphere to enjoy little things in the midst of the pandemic while participating in physical activity outside the home, meeting new faces and enjoying time with family and making new friends,” says Brian Kelley, CCM, PGA, The Quechee Club’s General Manager/COO. “He re-energized our tennis and pickleball programs by adding some never-before-seen events to the club calendar.”
Working with the Quechee Club food-and-beverage and golf departments, some of the new twists introduced by Keenan and his department included:
• A “Pickle Picnic” that complemented pickleball play with an outdoor meal featuring the club’s famous fried chicken and cobbler served in a Mason jar.
• “POP-Dog,” featuring round-robin POP tennis matches for novice players, with everyone gathering after the organized matches to enjoy selections from a gourmet hot dog bar (the most popular dog was The Quechee Dog, topped with local ingredients for a true Vermont flair, including maple peppered bacon, smoked cheddar cheese and garlic aioli).
• “Swingles and Mixed Doubles” where tennis players would pick numbered balls to be matched up with opponents, helping members meet new people. The event finished with everyone enjoying a New Orleans-themed meal.
• A “Chip and Volley“ biathlon-style event that joined the golf and racquet communities, pairing POP tennis matches with putting contests, after which everyone enjoyed a grab-and-go street-food buffet.
“We saw these events are not just sports,” says Keenan. “We wanted people who liked racquet sports to be introduced to something new. Paddleball, especially, is a really social game, so we aimed to build that up. And we didn’t keep score, to keep the experience fun without being too competitive.”
The response to that approach, Kelley reports, was “unanticipated—and inspiring. New interest in racquet play unfurled, registration and waitlists grew, and word around the club spread.”
The word spread fast enough, in fact, to generate a 122 percent increase in racquet play at The Quechee Club in 2020, from 5,400 plays to more than 12,000.
The growth also inspired more ideas, such as “Courtship” sessions for beginners, and a Halloween-themed “Screams and Screens” paddleball tournament, with food that included Children of the Corn Chowder, Eyeball Grinders and Almond Finger Cookies. And there’s been no shortage of other new food tie-ins that have been dreamed up, including “Back in the Paddle Again” (combining BBQ and round-robin play), “Paddles and Waffles,” “Paddles and Pai Thai,” and “Smack and Cheese.”
All of the innovation and success also inspired Kelley to develop a new “Toot the Horn” staff recognition award, for which Kelley and his team were the first recipients. “In the face of challenge, Mike and his Racquets Department successfully shifted the club into a more social and welcoming community for all,” Kelley says. “Our award will now become part of the club’s fabric, to regularly honor Quechee team members for out-of-the-box thinking and member-facing initiatives.”
Like Keowee Key with its triathlon, The Country Club of Buffalo (N.Y.) also sought to find new ways this year to engage members and maximize how they could make full use of what the club’s property had to offer, even with the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. In CCB’s case, this meant creating a popular new “Tin Man” event that put a twist on an iron-man competition, by combining paddle tennis and sporting-clay shooting competitions with a two-person golf scramble.
The first “Tin Man” event attracted a “broad bandwidth” of participants ranging in age from “mid-20s to 70s,” reports Kevin Clarke, Chairman of CCB’s Shooting Committee—and every participant in the inaugural event enjoyed the experience so much, Clarke adds, they all “demanded to have the right of first refusal” for when it will be held again.
C+RB featured the Tin Man in its video series, The Road Back, in November.
Plans are already in the works for how to expand and elaborate on the event in future years—and CCB’s General Manager/COO, Nick Markel, CCM, says the interest it generated may also extend to exploring the creation of an interclub shooting invitational tournament.