10 Things Your Country Club Won’t Tell You – SmartMoney.com

29 Jun

You may think of country clubs as untouchable bastions of wealth and exclusivity. While that s still the case with some, the industry as a whole has seen better days. Why don t clubs have the same appeal as they once did?

People work longer hours, and the competition for their downtime is fierce. Plus, there are plenty of places to network these days, including upscale gyms. [Country] clubs are finding themselves in this new position where they have to actively go out and pursue members, says Rick Coyne, an executive director of the Professional Club Marketing Association.

The result: Many clubs are trying to bring in new members by cutting attractive deals. The Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., for example, offers sliding fees for young executives under 40. And the Boca Pointe Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., provides one- to three-month trial memberships for about $400 per month no strings. If you don t see a deal at your local country club, that doesn t mean there isn t one. Not all discounts are advertised, so just ask.

2. Want out? It could take a while.

Quitting your country club can be even harder than joining. Just ask Bob Husband, president of Heritage Golf Group, which owns 15 clubs. A longtime member of three clubs in Southern California (none of which Heritage owns), Husband decided that paying triple monthly dues and fees was too much, and he asked to quit one of the three. That was in 2003; in 2005 he was still No. 30 on a waiting list to leave. The catch: The club requires eight new members to join before any one person can quit.

A waitlist to leave is not uncommon at clubs, where members monthly fees are the primary source of income. While eight-to-one policies are an anomaly, it s common for clubs to require one new member for each one that quits.

But there are some ways around it: Inquire about suspending membership until someone new joins. At the Quail Creek Country Club in Naples, Fla., a member can pay a year s worth of dues, then become inactive until a new membership is sold. And some clubs will refund some or all of the initiation fee, which can be thousands of dollars, upon exit but you may have to wait for the check until you re out. Kathi Driggs, chief operating officer for the Club Managers Association of America, advises carefully researching a club before joining. It s a major decision, she says.

3. Just because we look posh doesn t mean we have any money.

In 2003 members of the Raleigh Country Club in Raleigh, N.C., were shocked when the club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. They soon found out it owed about $7 million, much of it for ambitious renovations. An investor came in and rescued the club, but not before members sweated rumors that it was going to be turned into a subdivision. That same year, owners of Hunting Hills Country Club in Roanoke, Va., suffering from a decline in membership, were forced to sell the club s golf course. They leased it back and continued running it, but only by slicing monthly dues and adding hundreds of new members.

Country clubs are businesses, too. How to know if your club, or the one you want to join, is financially sound? Chat with members the gossipy ones. Look around. If routine maintenance is being ignored, that could be a red flag, says Frank Vain, president of McMahon Group, a private-club consultancy. Sure, the grass has been cut, but is worn carpeting being quickly replaced? Says Vain, That really is a sign of the underlying financial strength of the club. You can even ask to see the books. Some clubs will let potential members read their annual report.

You paid your initiation fee and your monthly dues, but your obligation isn t squared away just yet. About two out of three clubs impose a food minimum, an amount members are required to spend, which can run $100 a month or more and alcohol doesn t always count. Between his three clubs, Husband spends about $200 a month on food.

Some clubs also charge extra for services like bag storage, shoe shines, and locker rentals. At Colonie Golf & Country Club in Voorheesville, N.Y., in addition to monthly dues and a food minimum for the restaurant, families pay an annual house fee for storing golf bags, hitting balls on the practice range, and using the putting green. Cart rental is also extra. Many clubs also charge members for big maintenance and renovation projects, and some even divvy up financial losses among members.

How to avoid surprises? Study your contract: Any extra charges must be spelled out (all of the above were). Another strategy is to stay involved some clubs will put these issues up for a vote, often to all members.

5. The public course is just as nice as ours.

Avid golfers used to look down their noses at public courses. But over the past decade, public facilities have been stepping up their level of service and have become competitive with private courses. When Greg Sinner moved to Arizona, he wanted service on par with that of his exclusive private club back in Texas. Instead, he s found what he needs at the Raven Golf Club at South Mountain, a public course in Phoenix. Not only is the price reasonable $70 to $180 per person per round, and no initiation fees or club dues, as with country club courses but he can bring as many friends or clients as he likes.

Raven also offers fancy extras, like staffers who wipe down your clubs and provide course conditions. Sinner also likes the fact that he can play at other clubs guilt-free: If you spend a lot of money on some of these private courses, you don t want to play anywhere else. You can t afford it.

6. Any Joe off the street is welcome to golf at our club . . .

Is that golfer slowing your game by hogging the seventh hole? He might not even be a fellow member. To raise revenue, many country clubs have begun opening their courses to the public, charging a per-day fee for a round of golf and use of the facilities. The Colonie Golf & Country Club, for example, opened its course to nonmember foursomes in early 2003 and took in an additional $40,000 in fees in the first year as a result. (The club currently limits nonmember foursomes to weekends only.)

If your club allows nonmembers on its course, there are ways to ensure that you get to golf when you want to. At most clubs, reserved tee times are guaranteed, and in the case of walk-ins, a club will almost always give priority to its members. But with more nonmembers playing these days, it doesn t pay to be spontaneous: Clubs often won t bump nonmembers who reserve tee times a few days in advance.

Bottom line: Consult your club s bylaws. Boca Pointe s, for example, stipulate that its golf course is for members only. Also, see what your options are. ClubCorp, a national chain of country clubs, offers Signature Gold, an enhanced membership program that for a one-time fee of around $3,000 will let members enjoy complimentary golf and dining at 170 clubs and resorts around the country.

via 10 Things Your Country Club Won’t Tell You – SmartMoney.com.

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