The country club remains the heart of some communities but in most of the U.S., the impact of the local golf course and their attached amenities are having less of an impact. In the U.S., the number of country clubs actively trading has fallen from over 6,000 in the 1990s to under 4,000 by 2014. This means that even fewer country clubs are operating at the end of the second decade of the 21st-century and the threat for many is that these important aspects of community life are being lost.
The questions most country clubs are asking is how did they get into their current situation and what can be done to reverse this decline? Starting with the first part of the question, the decline of the U.S. country club can be traced back to the high standards placed on almost every aspect of attendance from membership fees to the limiting dress code. The second part of the question of decline and how to reverse it can be traced to changing the image and standards at country clubs around the U.S.
By the 1970s, the country club was the center of life for many communities with the game of golf hitting its peak of popularity among affluent white families. However, despite many attempts to change the majority of country clubs, the traditions of needing a member to refer a new applicant and high fees keeping most families out of becoming members mean the country club does not speak to millennials. Alongside the issue of money, the fact that country clubs have retained the stigma of failing to move with the times remains a major issue.
So how can country clubs change their image and attract millennials at a time when our lives are already so busy. Firstly, the country clubs of the U.S. need to change their image by refocusing away from golf as the sole reason for joining. The number of people playing golf continues to fall and is stranded in the middle-aged white demographic that is either already part of a club or not interested in joining one. Instead of focusing on golf, millennials would be more likely to join if the focus is placed on other services such as pools, gyms, and spas that are now a focus for the younger generation.
Another area of concern is the outdated dress code most country clubs still use outside of the gym and pool areas. Blue Sky Golf in Jacksonville, FL is changing its image by removing the traditional dress code and allowing members more freedom in what they choose to wear. By doing this, new members are joining their club.
Another issue is the way the dining and mingling experience is presented in country clubs. Northland Country Club golf in Duluth, MN is stepping up its efforts to change its image by creating a snack shack where light meals can be obtained by families who are not looking for the full, sit down meal service during their activities.
Millennials are changing their communities and the country club industry can make a huge impact in this demographic. One of which, it to consider lowering fees and regulations to include many more members of their local millennial community.