A Club Without Walls


The COVID-19 pandemic has unceremoniously disrupted the club as a get- away or retreat from everyday life for the members – a physical place that members go to connect and socialize.


As social distancing was put in place, clubs quickly learned that they had two options – completely shut the doors or drastically modify the offerings and bring the club and the community into their members’ homes.


As the pandemic’s presence grew more profound, stay at home orders issued and member’s fears have increased, it has been amazing to witness the innovation, creativity and commitment that club leaders, employees and members have taken to engage (and retain) each and every member.


There has been a dramatic shift from a physical country club, with walls, social interactions and camaraderie to an online and virtual world that no one would have expected in 2020 – let alone at the unexpected speed it occurred. The silver lining of course is that clubs quickly realized that connecting with their members and providing them added value while in their homes would be the new normal for the foreseeable future.


Adapting to lock down guidelines, clubs have adeptly moved their normal programming online – golf lessons, fitness classes and even happy hours happened electronically so members could participate, use and enjoy. The food and beverage department has shifted to to-go orders, family meal kits and even on-line shopping for essential items (toilet paper, etc.).


These efforts enhance member loyalty, create value and keep members engaged. This new virtual club may well redefine an ongoing member experience that is expected to continue. The new normal for membership retention may include members not only using the internal social aspects of a reopened club but also bringing the club into their homes.


In the past, learning more about members was often relegated to interaction and communication at the club, and then only with specific employees or areas. Now, clubs have the opportunity to learn a great deal about their members through electronic communications. Regular surveys to members are imperative as the world moves toward electronic two-way communications; the ability for members to talk directly to the club 24/7.


As lock downs are lifted, fears will likely linger. Clubs must demonstrate their specific process and procedures for keeping members and their family’s safe. Likewise, to get members back to using the club regularly and to have them invite guests as potential members will require relevant activities and programs for men, women, children, families, golfers and non-golfers. The time for planning these events is now. Maintaining a robust activity and engagement schedule that eventually mitigates fears and replaces them with a return to normal is the objective.


As important as relevant activities are toward re-engaging members, relevant, demographically driven communication is also critical. One size “did not fit all” before COVID-19. Clearly members see and react to different stimulus predicated on gender, age, family make-up and even their residence proximity to the club. Events and activities must be customized by demographic, made relevant to attract participation and enhance member satisfaction.


How we communicate events should likewise be relevant by demo- graphic. Remember that members using their club, appreciating the activities and happy with the communication efforts, will seldom leave for controllable reasons.

Now may be the time to investigate systems that allow the development of member preferences, cataloging them and making them available to every department and employee within the club. A club that personalizes each member experience is a difficult environment to leave.


Create opportunities to become more relevant to your members everyday life. Instill into every department the need for creativity, energy and enthusiasm required to keep busy families engaged and active in a post pandemic environment. It will be one of the most important rewards for clubs and members moving forward.


As members return, clubs will need to provide confidence in a safe haven environment filled with activities that get them back to “normal.” The psychosis of sequestering will require great programs, an exceptional and thorough communication strategy and an all hands-on deck effort to move away from the fears and into the new normal.


Provide members with complimentary golf, tennis or pickleball instructional clinics. It’s a great way to encourage ALL members to either improve their game or take up a new activity! Create events that are member related but encourage guest participation. We need not only to encourage our existing members to reengage, we need to engage with that next iteration of new members by giving them a taste of the brand attractiveness that clubs can offer.


As many clubs have learned, now is the time to retool their events and activities to keep members engaged from afar, eventually reopening to a vast array of new and exciting ways to engage. If you do not have a director of fun, find one or engage your membership director. The new normal isn’t going to be as simple as reopening the doors. It’s going to involve strategy, vision and hard work from every member of the team.


If the COVID-19 pandemic has given private clubs anything, it’s the ability to take a step back, reconnect with people in ways that it never has before, and when it’s all over, reenter the world with fresh eyes and prospective.


What members are learning from this horrific pandemic is a private club is so much more than just a place to play golf. By providing a sense of community and belonging, we have reignited the notion of clubs as the safe haven, a place to be with like-minded families in a refreshing and entertaining family environment.


TACTICAL CALL TO ACTION


  • Implement monthly surveys/pulse surveys – Continually ask members what they enjoy most at the club and what the club can do better

  • Invest in technology to learn more about member preferences, personalization and creating a member experience that will be impossible to leave.

  • Have a dedicated director of fun/experiences/communication

  • Every department must engage in developing the enhanced member experience through personalization, relevant activities and events for all member ages, gender, family make-up and interest.


Article written in collaboration with Steve Graves, President of Creative Golf Marketing, and Rick Coyne of ClubInsights.