Country Club mergers: the future of private golf facilities
Here’s a bit of news I came across this week that seems to represent a growing shift in the world of private golf and country clubs: The Detroit Athletic Club and Forest Lake Country Club have entered a merger agreement which would combine the downtown amenities of the Detroit Athletic Club and golf amenities of Forest Lake north of the city in Bloomfield HIlls.
Private clubs all over, not just in Michigan are struggling to stay afloat. I think one of the main reasons is that the younger generation moves around a lot, so we’re not going to pay a $10,000-40,000 initiation fee to a place that we might move away from a few years later. I also don’t think it makes sense to pay such a high price to play the same golf course over and over again. Then again, my day job has me playing close to 100 different golf courses each year, so I suppose I’m a bit spoiled.
But mergers with two or more clubs makes a lot of sense. Private clubs are continuing to go public in a lot of places, which makes sense for average golf courses but not always for outstanding or historic ones. I’m a great advocate for semi-private clubs, but I also understand that being a member of a club should mean there are times you can go and have the joint to yourself and your golf buddies. Once a golf club starts allowing the riff raff it makes the club less appealing to those willing to pay high premium for that “sanctuary.”
During a recent visit to the Renaissance Club in Scotland, I was asking some of the staff and investors there why they don’t allow public play while membership grows. Their response was that they wouldn’t get the initiation fees they’re asking if they allowed regular public play. But with so many clubs around the corner like Gullane, North Berwick, Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Kilspindie and more, I have a hard time believing their “American-style” model can make it, which is especially dependent on wealthy overseas members, even with a dynamite Tom Doak design and exceptional amenities.
I think it makes perfect sense for more and more golf clubs to consider mergers and joint agreements. The great hurdle, it seems, is convincing membership bent on a private experience to go ahead with the merger. Members are generally very, very conservative with club rules and the thought of opening their haven up in any way can cause a great deal of outrage.
But I don’t see a whole lot that is wrong with club mergers if you find the right fit, especially when you can combine each club’s best amenities and services.
Here’s a good quick read I came across from McMahon report, a group of consultants who advise private clubs, who agree that country club mergers are probably the way to go in order to keep private clubs alive.
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