As we march through this current economy and traditionally well-paying occupations pay less-well by the day, the amenities and service industries which cater to the professional class are feeling the pinch in proportion to their patrons. Given their out-sized operating costs and overhead, country clubs have felt that pinch more than others, and adjusted accordingly.
Membership losses and conversions, in which golfing members convert their memberships to cheaper “social” ones without golf privileges, have stripped some clubs of more than $1 million in yearly operating money, forcing club boards to scrutinize yearly budgets. Public-access courses don’t help matters, or a rising professional generation for which the club membership is no longer the social requisite it once was.
Many clubs have been able to meet the shortfalls with aggressive, pre-emptive dues hikes, allowing them to avoid major sacrifices. Since so many of their members make their livings in finance, New York clubs have been especially hard hit, although they have some cushion: typical New York club initiation fees are $50,000, double the national average, and yearly greenskeeping expenditures are about $1 million.
Keeping a quality pipeline of new and potential members, whose dues cover operating costs, is essential. This year, those clubs with the most solid pipelines have fared the best, able to afford departing or downgrading members. Despite economic ups and downs, one country club constant remains: the best clubs have the best waiting lists.