Summing It Up
Few clubs and resorts can now afford their own “winter breaks.” In fact, some properties now view the offseason as critical to building revenues and turning profits in departments that previously suffered from “seasonal depression.”
Many—especially the maintenance crew— thought George Carroll, General Manager of Interlachen Country Club, had that disorder seven years ago, when he suggested flooding the club’s clay tennis courts to make an outdoor skating rink. But no one questions his judgment now.
On an average winter day, 100 members and their guests now lace up and hit the ice at Interlachen, located in Edina, Minn. (20 miles west of St. Paul). The seven converted courts accommodate recreational skating, hockey, curling and private parties on three rinks.
“Before, that section of the club was basically shut down for the winter,” says Carroll. “Now, it’s busier than it is in the summer. But I knew it would be successful, because I’m a hockey nut.”
The Cold Catches On
When the temperatures plummet (usually by mid-December), things also heat up in Interlachen’s tennis building, which is converted into a full-service skating lodge, complete with hockey photos and collectibles on the walls, a snack bar serving hot food and beverages, and a retail shop selling “Interlachen Hockey” jackets, hats and sweatshirts.
|Interlachen Country Club offsets the cost of maintaining its hockey rink by selling ad space.|
Management offsets the costs of operating its winterized facilities not only with retail and F&B sales, but also by charging $5 for member-invited guests. In addition, Interlachen sells 4’ x 6’ or 4’ x 12’ ad space on the boards of its rinks, to members who want to show support for their business, family or favorite hockey team.
As a result, “we collect more revenue in 45 days of skating than six months of tennis,” reports Dick Hartwell, Interlachen’s Facilities Manager, who spends seven days a week maintaining the rinks and booking parties.
He and Carroll go the extra mile to make sure the members and guests enjoy their visits. Every other week, one of the grounds crew will dress up as Frosty the Snowman, and Goldie the Gopher, the mascot of the University of Minnesota hockey team, comes out to skate with the kids each season. The club holds a Goldie the Gopher Brunch to go along with the event. Even adults get into the action.
“You will see three generations of people out on the ice together,” says Hartwell. “There’s hardly any activity where you can get that kind of age range.”
Three years ago, Interlachen added curling to its list of winter activities, when the club bought a set of used granite stones to throw on the ice. While the club doesn’t hold any formal curling tournaments, “it’s a big hit for corporate parties,” says Carroll, adding that lessons are available with members of the St. Paul Curling Club.
In contrast, Nashua Country Club in Nashua, N.H. (20 miles north of Lowell, Mass.), has offered curling since the club was founded in 1916. Nashua has 140 curling members from the age of five to 85 who participate in bonspiels, or tournaments, not only on site, but nationally and internationally.
With so many experienced curlers, one might think it would intimidate new people from joining. That’s not the case, says David Deane, who maintains the curling facility.
“With curling picking up in interest from the Olympics, we’ve been inundated with folks,” says Deane. “We have people who have been golf members for 30 years who had never been on the curling rink. Once the Olympics started, they were all down here. We picked up 20 to 22 members that way.”
And they haven’t lost interest. On the contrary, Deane reports that “they become obsessed.” The key is the support given to new members. The curling club offers social curling events every Friday and Saturday night, which gives rookies the opportunity to improve their game. Additional instruction is available through the New Curlers Instruction Program, led by two championship curling members.
And there’s another reason why curling continues to grow in popularity: It’s a great way to work off extra winter weight.
|Last winter, Heritage Club converted a bag room into an indoor hitting area. Now, the staff plans to keep it open all year, so members can practice, whatever the weather.|
“I have guys who come here at five o’clock in the morning to throw rocks, instead of going to the gym,” Deane says. “They get more exercise doing that. And, sweeping must be one of the most aerobic exercises.”
Deane, who shows up early to prepare the ice, gets his workout by “fixing whatever’s broken” in the facility, which is located inside a 100-year-old historic barn on the property (“It’s eight inches out of level, and if you drop something in one room, it rolls into the other,” he says).
But Nashua’s General Manager, Gregory Cincotta, is supportive. “He’s been more than gracious with capital on the curling side, because normally the golf course is the first priority,” Deane says.
Coming In Swinging
Golf is still the first priority, no matter what the season, at the Heritage Club in Mason, Ohio (north of Cincinnati) And this coming year, the club is experimenting with keeping its course open longer than the usual March-to-mid-December period, says General Manager Peter Davies.
“This year, we had enough feedback from members who wished to play golf during the winter,” he explains. The new plan calls for the club to reopen in 2007 at the beginning of February and not close again until the end of December, “depending on the weather.”
To keep the club’s golf activities thriving during the winter months, even with the unpredictable weather, the Heritage Club is exploring the idea of building an all-weather indoor golf instruction facility on the property, as part of its strategic plan.
For now, though, the club’s golf pros have converted a bag room into an indoor hitting area—an idea they came up with last year to drum up more winter business.
“You couldn’t really compare it to having a full-blown facility, but it was very helpful to gauge the interest of the members,” Davies says.
Better yet, Davies liked the idea, not only because it was “ingenious,” but also because “it didn’t require a huge financial outlay.”
For roughly $400, the staff installed a 10’ x 10’ x 10’ hitting net, heavy-duty green carpet and a hitting mat, along with the club’s existing digital swing-analysis system,
says Head Golf Professional Joe Zinchini, who saw major improvement among the members who used it.
“When students are in that environment, they can concentrate on the feel of the swing instead of where the ball is going, like they do when they are outdoors,” he says.
The pro shop has benefitted from the indoor hitting area, too.
“Retail sales went up, because more people could try out a club before they bought it,” Zinchini says. “That’s an angle I never thought about.”
Whether it’s retail or food and beverage, many other clubs and resorts are finding ways to tie winter activities into other areas of the club. Meanwhile, the variety of winter activities offered is growing, too.
As long as members and guests have a place to cool their heels during the winter months, clubs and resorts won’t have a chance to cool theirs.
Tell Us What You Think!
You must be logged in to post a comment.