Country Clubs Jazz Up Facilities, Trying to Attract Younger Crowd

Many clubs are taking out loans or borrowing from members

IN an effort to attract younger members and to keep current ones from jumping ship, country clubs nationwide are renovating and expanding their facilities. Their goal is to provide members with a smorgasbord of new amenities.

``Country clubs are changing as society is changing,'' says Frank Vain, president of the McMahon Group, an architectural firm in St. Louis. In the 1920s, country clubs started with golf; in the '50s, they added swimming pools; and in the '70s, tennis was the hot ticket.

Today, as a result of more casual lifestyles, coupled with the fact that more families are joining country clubs, members are demanding informal dining facilities, state-of-the art fitness centers, game rooms for teenagers, and child-care facilities and nurseries, Mr. Vain says.

``A lot of what we are seeing with clubs ... does reflect the fact that the demographics of the membership within clubs is starting to change,'' says Sue Wegrzyn, executive vice president of the National Club Association in Washington. ``You're starting to see some younger members ... and that reflects the type of facilities that [clubs] would make available.''

The typical country club has 300 to 500 members, one golf course, five tennis courts, a pool area, and a small fitness facility, says Jay DiPietro, general manager of Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla.

These clubs ``now are the ones that are hurting,'' he says. ``[They] are doing renovations in order to retain their membership because a lot of these clubs now have been there for 15 or 20 years; they haven't done much with them, [their members] have gotten older, and they're not attracting young people.''

Clubs spend anywhere from $100,000 to several million dollars for renovations, estimates Bill Wernersback, senior partner with McGladrey & Pullen, an accounting firm based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., that audits country clubs. To finance such projects, some clubs draw on cash reserves, Mr. Wernersback says. But because the majority of clubs are not profitmaking ventures, most take out loans and pay them back through dues increases. Alternatively, the clubs borrow the money from club members, reimbursing them when they leave.

``In the last three years, we've probably seen the most activity,'' says Michael Ramsey, referring to the number of country clubs undergoing renovations. Mr. Ramsey is a principal at Architectural Design Group in Ft. Lauderdale, which specializes in building and renovating country clubs in the area.

``The biggest trend that we've seen is the expansion of facilities for women,'' he says. On average, his firm renovates three clubs a year and builds six to eight new ones. But this year, business is booming, Mr. Ramsey says. So far, Architectural Design Group is renovating three clubs and building five new ones.

``Throughout the country, people are making assessments of their members, and they're renovating their clubs to attract younger members ... and they're lowering their bonds or entry fees,'' Mr. DiPietro says. ``They're making it very easy for people to come in because the competition is tough.''

Boca West - one of the nation's largest membership-owned clubs -

boasts four golf courses and 36 tennis courts. While Boca West has consistently turned a profit, the 20-year-old club is undergoing a three-year, $22 million renovation to be completed at the end of 1996.

The club's three-year expansion plan calls for a new 44,000-square-foot, two-level facility including state-of-the-art multipurpose aerobics; fitness facilities; massage, sauna, and steam rooms; a grill room for dining; a full-service pro shop; and an open-air terrace overlooking a series of pools and the adjacent golf course.

To finance the renovation, the club has used $12 million in cash reserves and a $4,800 one-time refundable payment from each member.

``We get a good group of people in their 50s and 60s buying here,'' DiPietro says. ``We'd like to get a few more of the 35 and 40 [age group] so that we will keep that 53-year-old age average, because that's how the club stays healthy.''

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