Private clubs across Triangle embracing shifting trends
By Brad King
A challenging economy, along with fierce competition and changing lifestyles have made attracting and retaining members at private clubs around the Triangle and the country increasingly difficult.
As social institutions operating in the lifestyle industry, private clubs require facilities and programs suited to the times. For private clubs to stay relevant and viable, owners and decision-makers have found they must remain responsive to ongoing shifts in attitudes and lifestyle preferences — or they inevitably pay the price.
Today, private clubs must not only provide an excellent golf experience, but also must offer a wide variety of activities and services away from the course. To meet the needs of the changing demographics, many clubs around the Triangle have begun focusing on the family.
“With the often over-stimulated and 24/7connected lifestyles, people are looking for a hub — a centralized place that intersects their hobbies, interests, family and friends,” said Sara O’Leary, director of marketing and membership at Governors Club outside of Chapel Hill. “A club environment can be the ideal solution, where one central location offers a range of amenities and programs to facilitate those desired connections. Those club’s thriving today have figured out how to implement their organization’s strengths to appeal to their ideal member, while remaining committed to investing in their vision with updates to their amenities, programs and policies.”
Governors Club now offers more than 400 activities year-round; with a wide range of events for adults, activities for children, as well as recreational, social and cultural events. In May, Governors Club hired a youth activities director to spearhead activities for children and teenagers.
O’Leary said clubs can expand the appeal of static amenities and add value by incorporating creative programs. An example would be “Date Night Events,” where parents enjoy dinner with their family at the club, while their children go to complimentary “kid care” following dinner. Other activities include “glow in the dark golf” and arts and sports camps offered all summer.
Few private clubs in the Triangle can match the family friendly amenities at Cary’s Prestonwood Country Club. Established in 1987 and best known for its 54 holes of golf courses and outstanding facilities, including a state-of-the-art Golf Learning Center, Prestonwood is now in the middle of a $3.5 million Fitness Center expansion and renovation.
The project will allow Prestonwood to increase programming for all ages, but especially youth. “Our goal is to offer more young adult activities, including basketball leagues, and athletic and strength training, to promote a healthy lifestyle and give our younger members a place at the club to expend energy,” said Prestonwood general manager Matt Massei. “With the completion of our Fitness Center expansion, we feel that we have the best golf, tennis, fitness and dining amenities any club could offer.”
Prestonwood’s Kids Club Program hosts year-round activities for kids ages 3 to 14, including Summer Camps, Track-Out Camps, Parents’ Night Out each weekend, Daddy Daughter & Mother Son Dances, Family Dining Nights and several holiday-themed family events.
“As our average age of members is trending younger, the desire for family-oriented program is growing rapidly,” Massei said. “The Kids Club is a great amenity that members find valuable.”
Prestonwood’s junior golf program boasts more than 150 children. Kids are divided into programs based on age and skill level, and enjoy junior tournaments, one-on-one instruction, summer camps, use of the Learning Center technology and a Parent-Child Family Scramble event.
Not to be outdone, the club’s Red Fox a la carte restaurant is a popular dinner spot for families, who can enjoy outdoor dining year-round with all-weather patio seating.
“With more than 1,840 families, half of which are golf members, Prestonwood has always prided itself on being a destination for families,” Massei said. “The more we can diversify our offering for all of our members, the more well-rounded we are as a club.”
Raleigh-based McConnell Golf owns a dozen 18-hole, private golf courses plus one nine-hole course around the Southeast, including three private clubs in the Triangle.
Michael Thomas is the general manager of McConnell Golf’s TPC Wakefield Plantation in North Raleigh. Thomas recalls a few years back, in advance of a major renovation to the sports club at Wakefield Plantation, recognizing the need to go out and hire a full-time activities director for the club’s kids programs.
“We created a kid’s zone with two different rooms, including a game and media room to accommodate activities for kids from 3 to 16 years old,” Thomas said. “We hired Natalie Clemens, who is considered to be one of the best in the business, as our activities director. Natalie and her staff are a huge part of what we do on a daily basis at the club. Our customizable birthday parties are a huge hit. Each birthday party is themed according the child’s wishes. The staff dresses up accordingly and they create activities and games around the theme of the party. Additionally, we have nearly tripled the amount of camps and clinics that we offer.
“We like to think outside the box and provide our kids camps with some educational value, while having a whole lot of fun,” Thomas said. “Some of this summer’s camps (at Wakefield Plantation) include Kids with Wings, Rocking in Rio and a Star Wars Camp.”
Perhaps no Triangle private club has experienced the challenges of economic turmoil and a changing club demographic more than Hasentree, a golf course community near Falls Lake in northern Wake County. Hasentree opened in 2006 and was forced into foreclosure during the economic crash three years later.
Hasentree has grown significantly since Toll Brothers, the nation’s leading builder of luxury homes, purchased the community in 2010. Toll Brothers, which also developed Brier Creek Country Club near Raleigh-Durham International Airport, recently celebrated the opening of Hasentree’s new community centerpiece — a 16,500-square-foot clubhouse where the club’s staff hosts a myriad of social gatherings, and a blend of gourmet and casual dining options.
“(The new clubhouse) has become our members’ sanctuary, the place of their everyday vacation and their home away from home,” said Hasentree general manager Cris Carter. “Hasentree is more than just a place to live; it’s a place to celebrate life. We have created an environment where friendships flourish and the camaraderie among the members is contagious.”
Facilities and programs driving growth at numerous Triangle clubs include informal indoor and outdoor dining areas, unique social events for all ages, fitness facilities and wellness programs, family friendly, resort-style swim complexes, vibrant tennis operations — and a wide variety of family and children’s activities.
Offering food popular among discerning members of all ages is no easy task, and building loyalty is the key to keeping members coming back. Forced to compete with local restaurants on everything from food quality to service to atmosphere, clubs must serve up cuisine that is tasty, versatile and capably served — ideally in both an indoor and outdoor setting.
Prestonwood’s lunch buffet is renowned for its freshness and variety, and is one extremely popular among the membership and Champions Tour players who participate in the SAS Championship.
Meanwhile, Governors Club served more than 42,000 meals in the club’s dining rooms last year. Executive Chef Ben Guaman trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and now creates a personalized dining experience for members. Governors Club also offers cooking classes; in-home catering and seasonal menus incorporating locally sourced ingredients, the freshest seafood, hormone-free meats, and vegetarian, heart-healthy and gluten-free options.
Governors Club also offers a variety of restaurant-style perks such as to-go ordering, themed bistro weeks, sushi nights and drop-in burger bar nights, too.
“Our members enjoy the variety of our creative events, premier facilities and a personalized experience where the staff looks forward to meeting members’ needs and wishes,” O’Leary said.
Carter said Hasentree deals with golf and club members who lead very busy lives, moving more quickly, dealing with change faster, and is constantly on top of technology while coordinating a very demanding family schedule. He recognizes that most members do not join a private country club for access to its food and beverage offerings, but added that Hasentree understands the importance that quality and a variety of food and beverage facilities help to attract and retain members.
“Our plan to stay relevant within the market is to offer what others fear to fail at,” Carter said. “We are constantly adjusting, incorporating our primarily driven adult events with the entire family in mind. Events like our “What’s your beef?” Jazz under the stars, Minute to win it, family trivia and our Wine Dinner Series, just to name a few, have become family traditions at the club. While adults dine at the club, they have the option to use our Child Development Corner for their children, where our team provides play based learning that focus on elements such as science, math, arts, and technology.
“We are a club that offers absolutely everything for our families, because we believe family is everything.”
At TPC Wakefield Plantation, traditional holiday celebrations like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and New Year’s Eve continue to be enjoyed by the entire family.
Thomas said most of the improvements are implemented with an eye on the future.
“We try to make these events fun and casual for our members while offering childcare down at the sports club,” Thomas said. “We recognize that our kids today hopefully down the road will become future members.”