February 07, 2020 | Clubs & Resorts
Millennials get blamed for "destroying" a lot of things, and country clubs don't want to be the next on the list. Long associated with a male-centric, ethnically homogenous, upper-class audience, country clubs are discovering that this doesn't exactly appeal to a Millennial crowd. To fix this, there are a number of things these clubs are doing to try to create a culture that's more inclusive, appealing to families, and better at retaining and growing membership.
The National Club Association represents about 700 country clubs across the United States. Of these, roughly 80% are golf clubs. During the 1990s, this made sense — roughly 9 million people played golf. Unfortunately, the sport is waning in popularity, and there are only about 6 million golfers today. This means that golf is no longer the draw that it used to be and not something that is likely to attract or keep members. Part of the problem here is that golf is generally a solo activity, and the demographics of avid golf players don't necessarily match up with the prospective members country clubs need to be courting.
In previous generations, country clubs were largely a refuge for men. Fathers would only occasionally be joined by their families, but that's beginning to change. Younger people are seeking out family activities, and country clubs have to try to keep pace. Instead of focusing on the kind of activities previously enjoyed by upper-class men, they're expanding into games like tennis, loosening dress codes, and relaxing phone and device policies. Modern country clubs should consider becoming family-friendly centers, with an array of activity and dining options.
Millennials have a reputation for being broke. With skyrocketing rent and high student loan debt, it's no wonder that not many adults are able to afford several-thousand-dollar a year club fees. That said, Millennials have also shown that they're happy to become members of private clubs as long as they're hip, urban, and diverse. This means that one of the best ways for country clubs to continue to function is to discard their image as a place for rich old men and reinvent themselves as a welcoming space for people of more diverse ages, ethnicities, and income brackets.
Really, a strong web and social media strategy is any business's best friend. Millennials are tech-savvy, and the stereotype of country clubs as places for old men is not aided by a lack of web presence. Clubs hoping to attract a younger crowd should consider starting and updating a blog, setting up and maintaining profiles across social media platforms, and investing in some sleek photography and video tours. Food photography, in particular, is a must — hiring good food stylists can help gain traction among travel, dining, and food bloggers alike.
Along with loosening dress codes, more and more country clubs are adding casual dining options to their list of amenities. Casual dining appeals more to families, especially those with children. Formal dining isn't a place people generally expect to see kids, and many parents don't want the hassle of bringing children into a formal setting. Casual dining makes country clubs a much more approachable option for parents and makes families much more likely to return.
All clubs have events for members, but what about potential members? While video tours and brochures are nice, they aren't a substitute for an unforgettable experience. Hosting events that allow members to bring a guest, or even events for non-members, allow prospective clients to see exactly what the club has to offer firsthand. They can see how well the club fits within their lifestyle, make new friends, and get a sense of all that membership has to offer them. Include top-quality food and beverage options to help reel them in.
Diners are more interested in locally sourced, artisanal goods and craft beverages now than ever before. They're very aware of what they eat and want quality ingredients and food that's as healthful as it is delicious. They also have knowledgeable palates, so a good wine list is paramount. Beverage programs won't just help attract wine-savvy clientele, they can also be a source of high-profit sales.
Up until now, country clubs have failed to appeal to several key demographics: families, younger people, and minorities. In order to continue to thrive in the face of an aging clientele, it's time for them to work harder to appeal to Millennials and families. Expanding their list of activities, improving their social media presence, hosting non-member activities, offering casual dining, and improving their food and beverage offerings are only some of the ways they can draw in a younger, more diverse crowd.