Country clubs across America are closing due to declining memberships. The solution is to reach new and younger members in ways that speak to their generation.
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The country club has a long and respected tradition as a place where people of a particular social status went to socialize. They had the income available to pay for a membership and were more than willing to do it.
Unfortunately, for country clubs in Texas and across the nation, younger people seem far less interested in pursuing and maintaining membership than their parents and grandparents were. Many struggle to attract members younger than 40 to replace older members who have become too ill to visit the facility or who have died. Country clubs interested in remaining relevant and boosting membership must be willing to evaluate the numerous factors that play into the decline.
Why is Country Club Membership on the Decline?
The most obvious reason, already touched on above, is that younger people are not replacing the aging membership. Members in the Baby Boom generation had no trouble bringing in new members simply by telling their friends and business associates about the many benefits of belonging to such an exclusive club. They were eager to rub elbows with top business executives in the area and agree to new deals over dinner and drinks.
However, that was a different time and many club owners have failed to recognize this. The generations coming after the boomers, including Generation X and Millennials, do not network with their peers in the same word-of-mouth fashion. Too many country clubs in Texas are losing members due to trying to attract them in a way that does not produce the desired result in younger generations.
Outdated Facilities without the Connectiveness Younger Members Need
Some clubs have responded to the declining membership by building new facilities to attract younger generations. The problem is that they took on far too much debt and put up buildings that still did not meet the expectations of a younger crowd. Owners who have held onto existing buildings find that they need many repairs that may not be affordable without the revenue coming in from a robust membership roll. It gets to be a catch-22 situation because they cannot attract newer members with run-down facilities nor can they afford to make the necessary repairs without member revenues.
Younger Members Struggle with Work-Life Balance in a Way Older Members Did Not
While exclusivity was an important aspect of country club membership for those in the Baby Boom generation and older, younger people are typically more attracted to a facility that provides them with convenience. For example, they need a country club equipped with Wi-Fi so they can use their laptop computers and tablets while also conducting business on their phones. They also need to stay in touch with family to work out such details as who is picking up the kids from where and what is for dinner. Country clubs in Texas that remain unconnected are not likely to attract many younger members.
How to Market to a New Generation
Attracting younger members means reaching them in the places where they spend the most time. This includes social media, but that is not going nearly far enough. Country club owners also need to change the focus of the club and then highlight these changes in ads targeted to a younger audience. When creating a marketing campaign, it would be helpful to work with an agency with younger staff and to target the ads only to specific age demographics. The younger staff understand their peers in a way that older country club owners will not be able to do.
Give the Younger Members the Convenience They Seek
Many young adults are stretched in multiple directions and have precious little free time to play golf. If club owners want to attract them, they need to make it worth their time to stop in at the country club. It also needs to be more inclusive of the entire family, including having a daycare facility on site so members do not need to work out who will watch the kids before they head to the club.
Additionally, installing Wi-Fi ensures that members of all ages have the resources they need to stay connected to work and home. It sends a message from the club to the new younger members that management respects the struggle for life-work balance. This, in turn, makes the younger people feel welcome and better understood.
Upgrades to Consider
When equipping a country club with Wi-Fi, it is essential to ensure that the network is secure. Members may be conducting highly confidential business and financial transactions and they need the assurance that they can do so without worrying about anyone hacking into the information. Equally important is the ability to remain connected at any location throughout the club. This bodes well for club ownership as well since it enables members to share their location on social media along with pictures of their golf game or time spent in the clubhouse.
Offer Incentives for Current Members to Bring Their Friends
One way to see membership grow in a positive direction is to offer free or highly discounted golf games to the friends of members. The hope is that they will have such a good time they will want to join as a paying member of the country club. It brings new faces and fresh perspectives into the club, something that might inspire members who have been there for years. It could also be a good idea to reward members who bring in a certain number of friends with discounts on their own game.
Younger Generations Pay More Attention to What They Eat
People under about the age of 40 have grown up caring more about the ingredients in their food and how their food intake impacts their health. They might not be excited about seeing mostly burgers high in fat and cholesterol on the menu. To appeal to this generation, it is important to offer them a wide variety of healthier options and a few considered junk foods for those times they want to splurge. Club owners should consider overhauling the menu completely to add calorie counts and ingredient lists to each entry.
Younger people are just as tech-savvy about their food as they are everything else in life. Club owners can take advantage of this by providing options such as mobile point-of-sale systems and the ability to place an order on an iPad. A bonus for the club is that these ordering options tend to be faster and more efficient than the old way of doing things.
Promoting Activities and Events at the Club
Active members are likely to look on the club’s website for information about upcoming activities and events. The website developer should be sure to create information that is easy for them to share on social media or print to share with a friend. This leads to another important point. No country club in Texas is going to attract new members if its website is outdated and not user-friendly. That means the website needs to load quickly, be easy to navigate, and someone needs to update it consistently.
Some information, such as menus and pricing, should be made available to the public. Other details, such as a separate page for members to pay dues or rent part of the facility for a special event, should only show to members. This reinforces the notion that country clubs are exclusive and a person viewing the website in the public setting needs to join to have access to the same features.
A country club needs a strong social media presence in modern times to extend its reach to potential new members. While it is important to create accounts on as many social media platforms as possible, it is equally important to update them regularly. People will quickly lose interest in following an account that has not posted anything new for a month or is still advertising events that have already passed.
A club can gain greater exposure and public trust when its current members leave positive reviews on sites like Yelp and Google. Posting a sign in the club or sending an occasional email asking current members for a review will help remind them to share what they love about the club with others. Club owners can keep reviews mostly positive by encouraging members to speak to them directly about any potential concerns.
The times have changed rapidly, especially since the start of the new millennium. That does not mean that country clubs need to be a relic of the past when owners take proactive measures to make them relevant to a new generation.