As you know, private golf clubs are closing, redeveloping and converting to public play in record numbers. This is why I thought to bring a positive example of the LedgeRock Golf Club (in suburban Philadelphia: 15 minutes southwest of Reading).
The success of the LedgeRock Golf Club is really interesting as they only offer:
- Great golf experience: Rees Jones-design golf course + the LedgeRock Learning Center (Golf Range Magazine of America’s Top 50 Private Ranges from 2014-2018)
- Restaurant: for private dining, the golf club offers the Greenbriar Lounge and Founders Room are located in the Learning Center
- Kohl lodge: has 4 fully furnished bedrooms.
As we can see the LedgeRock Golf Club is not offering those services that are available at the leading private golf clubs (e.g. tennis courts, swimming pools, spa & wellness services, fitness, etc.).
Building sense of community vs club
I will tell you right away, how the LedgeRock Golf Club has thrived by doubling down on golf itself.
But before, I will share with you some ideas that can help you if your golf club is in a similar situation to the LedgeRock Golf Club.
If I were a private golf club’s manager in addition to investing in customer experience development, I would also try to create a sense of community.
Just like RSM’s 2017-2018 trends in private clubs study, Global Golf Advisor’s Gauging the Impact of Private Club Trends found that club dining operations represent the most popular member amenity.
I think having to continuously resell the same dining experience is a tough challenge. According to some estimates, 50% of private golf club members eat at their club 1 out of 10 dining out experiences.
If we want to build a community in our private golf club and not just manage a private golf club then we have to help our members to build relationships with each other.
Community building is about relationship building. We should think about our clubhouse as a ‘marketplace’ where members develop and exchange connections and relationships.
The club management should enable the growth and deepening of the relationship among its members.
I would also think about how could the club help their members grow not just on a social level, but on a financial and intellectual level.
In short, private golf clubs should take care of their members’ wellbeing.
These are essential for both sides. The club member wants to thrive and grow and feel the value of his membership. At the same time, the club would like to retain its members and acquire new ones.
LedgeRock Golf Club: national and regional membership
The LedgeRock Golf Club created two special types of membership:
- National candidates for LedgeRock Golf Club membership cannot live within 100 miles of the club. They may play up to 20 rounds of golf per year and have access to all club facilities, including overnights at Kohl Lodge, the club’s on-site guest cottage.
- Regional, or “Non-Resident” members may not own or rent property within 35 miles of the club. Their dues and initiation fees are slightly higher — full membership is more expensive still — but a regional member may play up to 50 rounds a year.
Be it standard, regional or national, membership in LedgeRock Golf Club is offered by invitation only and remains subject to Board of Managers’ approval.
In the Philadelphia market, A-list clubs are doing just fine. But B-list clubs — like their member-owned, “equity” brethren across the nation — are fighting like the dickens to survive.
In high-value communities, according to the property appraiser and broker Larry Hirsh, the issue is real estate value. Course acreage is simply worth way more as housing if the zoning allows it.
The exacerbating factor is often club debt, much of it accrued prior to the 2008 recession.
That debt burden is the reason so many clubs have, in the last decade, sold out to corporate management companies like ClubCorp (North Hills CC, Hartefeld National in Avondale) and Concert Golf Properties (White Manor in Malvern, Philmont in Huntingdon Valley).
Larry Hirsh, the owner of Conshohocken, Pa.-based Golf Property Analysts says
The challenge for LedgeRock Golf Club is its location. But as a regional club, its market actually extends well past Harrisburg, north of Reading, south to Lancaster and all the way into the western Main Line suburbs.
The approach is sound. We’ll see how this new market reacts.