Club love: Is merging the way forward for private clubs?

I was intrigued to be told (by a Twitter follower no less) that Vancouver’s Shaughnessy and Point Grey are looking at a potential merger that would pair two of the city’s better private clubs. In a document leaked to me (see the details here), the two clubs document their discussions, including the fact Shaughnessy paid $20-million for a public golf course and adjacent piece of property, which it runs in case its lease with a native band is suddenly terminated and it needs a home. Doug Carrick has created a new design on the property, but I hear it isn’t a particularly good piece of property.

Interestingly, the real reason for the merger looks to be this:

An important point discovered using actuarial projection was that both Clubs will experience membership attrition that will dramatically increase costs and compromise capital spending over the next 20 years.

So even two of the best clubs in Vancouver are worried about the state of their businesses going forward. At least they are being proactive. I just finished a story on private clubs in the Toronto area and they are almost all investigating alternatives to traditional models for private clubs.

Shaughnessy to merge with Point Grey: Trend-setting?

But does the Shaughnessy/Point Grey scenario suggest another way forward — merging? Certainly Ontario and Quebec clubs have to contend with ClubLink, the corporate golf giant with thousands of members and clubs scattered around Toronto and Montreal. What if private clubs with similar cultures — say Summit and Thornhill, for example, or Weston and Bayview — got together, offering members two clubs to belong to, both with classic club cultures (something ClubLink does not offer)? That seems to be the concept Shaughnessy and Point Grey are working towards.

Would it work? That’s a good question. Right now private clubs are feeling a lot of pressure from the economy, from deep discounting by ClubLink and high-end public courses like Eagles Nest and Copper Creek, among others. Hardly any private club in the city (with the exception of Rosedale) has a waiting list. Got cash? Private clubs that might have seemed out of the range of possibility in the past are suddenly offering deals. For instance Summit offers a weekday membership, and a variety of age-based options. So does Cedar Brae. Lots of clubs — Scarboro for instance — offer “trial” memberships designed to showcase the course for a single year. And more often clubs are putting out their details — costs, initiation, annuals — on their website for all to see. Hard to sell something if there isn’t a price tag after all.
One thing is clear — private clubs must look at alternatives to survive. Shaughnessy and Point Grey are pondering one option — but I’m sure we’ll see different options with other private clubs in coming years.
Brad Zeimer in the Vancouver Sun picked up the story on Saturday — here’s his take.


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Jeff Lancaster

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • They need to address the change in family structures. Men feel obligated to stay home and be with their kids. They need to think about attracting families.

    I bet if a club offered a family plan, where once a man or woman joined and paid full fare, the rest of the family would be welcome to play after 6pm for no additional fee. Many would seize the opportunity because this has now become a family activity. Since the club is generally empty through this period, this is a net gain. Give the families three years and then require the annual dues from the family to play. By this time you may have hooked them all….

    • Ian-That’s an interesting idea for Private Clubs. What are your thoughts for the Public/Semi-Private Courses for attracting new players?

  • If private clubs look to “Share” members it has to be a benfit to both parties.

    Would be a treat to play another course near to my home course and be able to sign all charges back to my home course.

    A “Trail” membership is a great idea if you are interested in using the course at different times. Getting involved in matches, mens day or special events for the year and experience different people who get involved in thes types of events. Above all, get out and have some fun playing golf!!!!!!

  • Insider: Joe Murphy at St. George’s said they have a “very slight” (i.e. less than year) list and it is my understanding that Toronto GC’s waiting list is practically gone.

  • Here in Calgary we have weathered the economic downturn better than most areas. However many of the private courses in the area no longer have waiting lists to join.

    The industry needs to think outside the box like this article suggests in addition to programs such as Golf 2.0 and the first tee.

    Assuming your round is completed in 4 hours, golf is a 6 hour commitment including travel time, warmup, and one beverage after the round. In todays world most people don’t have the time. Cost is another factor.

  • I agree with Bob L, with most clubs in TO charging around $4000 per year on annual fees. A member needs to be playing over 40 rounds a year to make it worth his time and money.

    As in life, people hit a “Breaking point” and think very hard of joining a club or playing other courses in the area that they live in.

  • Ian,

    I was thinking similarly to you. Most guys 35-45 who can afford a club don’t have the clout to get it done on the homefront – the optics are bad.

    Your suggestion makes sense, as does introducing golf to more girls/women at a young age, so that they will be more open to golf as a family or couples activity later in life.

    Will (from Old Mac)

  • I’m in the category Will mentioned. People use to have kids earlier. Times are changing. There really needs to be a change to the model.

    I’ve got the cash but don’t have the time. Would pay initiation but yearlies are death when I don’t have the time to golf (2 young kids at home) + corp won’t let me expense now. Why not heavier initiation (I’ll get value later in life) and an a la carte option of paying for say 20,30 or 40 rounds a year? Force F&B on people and club house stays alive.

    I’d ride this option for a while till weekend golf is back in play without risking losing my family.

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