Monday, October 15, 2012

Relaxed standards...membership boom or bust?

One of the funniest (and true) stories that often gets thrown around when the topic of Country Clubs is discussed is that of Groucho Marx, who famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”
Long, long ago, before the Great Recession and the Tiger Boom, supply and demand as it relates to pricing and the number of golf courses, both public and private…was at its equlibrium. I say this subjectively and with some data to back it up when you look at the estimated golfers per capita over various decades from 1940-1997 (give or take a few years).
Back in those days, there were few “semi-private” courses available, as many public and private clubs were born out of true demand, not to sell homes…”and out of the leftover land we’ll create a golf course”.
One of challenges many private clubs have faced since the great recession started has been the adoption of relaxed standards/rules in the admission and retention of its members.
I say this, not as a nod to reinstate the world view of the the Judge Smails’ of the world, but more to the sheer number of people that believe, “I paid my money, I can do what I want” mentality that has permeated many clubs since few have the guts to have current members sponsor new ones.
“Seriously, we have a hard enough time getting members as it is, surely you aren’t suggesting in a down economy we go back to the dinosaur age”.
Actually I am.
On my way to a tournament this spring at Musgrove Mill in Clinton, SC, I had the fortunate experience to ride with a member of Biltmore Forest, a wonderfully preserved Donald Ross Classic. We got on the topic of conduct of varying degrees and how his club handles incidents between members. The conversation was eye-opening to say the least, in large part because 1) Biltmore Forest still has an initiation fee, 2) Prospective members are sponsored by at least two current members, and 3) They have zero tolerance for unruly behavior, especially between members.
Is that to say all members get along like ladies and gentlemen at all times? For the most part…yes, at least within the confines of the property.
Does this practice sound too “old school” or “Stepford”? I’d like to think of it as simple courtesy. Following a code. It is acting as members should act, with decency and respect towards one another, even if they don’t break bread every Sunday over brunch.
Could reinstating the practice of sponsoring new members bring back the exclusionary days of private clubs? Without a conscientious board of directors and written policy for the interview process, I suppose, but what is the alternative?
I read through countless club newsletters every month and am always…intrigued, by the number of times I read the friendly, “for the sake of our club, please keep carts 50 yards from all greens and refrain from driving on par 3’s” requests. Do you think a club like Biltmore has to waste space in their newsletter to discuss this?
Aren’t you tired of members throwing clubs and acting like they are on a Naval ship being bombed every time they miss a green?
What about members having to be separated in the grill room because a $10 skin was won by a well-known sandbagger?
When established members are tied, literally, to new members, both act more responsibly…for the good of the entire membership.