Clubhouse Renovations Cause Some Soul-Searching

Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania went back to its 1928 roots when it added onto and renovated its clubhouse

 At the prestigious Main Line Philadelphia club Aronomink, a $12.5 million project was undertaken and completed some five years ago. It was paid for using a 15-year mortgage that will continue to be funded with add-ons to each member’s monthly bill during that period. That’s a departure from the more traditional lump-sum assessment imposed by clubs.

“Our feeling was that the “future people” should pay for it,” said Aromomink club manager Michael Higgins, “since they are the ones who will get the long-term benefit.” Even once the project was a definite go, some members in Aronomink’s senior-male demographic questioned the need to relocate the women’s locker room all the way around to the front of the building, adjacent to the golf course, where it will share a “unisex entrance” with the men’s locker room.

Aronomink’s little tangle over men’s and women’s facilities isn’t the only such dispute that has occurred at golf clubs undergoing major clubhouse work. At Arizona Country Club in Phoenix, a plan to replace an existing building proved “controversial, but not enough to split the membership,” said club marketing director Brook Robar. The hue and cry that mattered was over plans for a locker-room lounge on the ground floor with windows that look directly onto the club parking lot. The lounge in the men’s locker room, meanwhile, would offer sweeping golf-course views. When a cadre of younger female members spoke up, changes were ordered. It was a budget-impacting move, according to Robar, one that required addition of a second level.

It seems to reduce strife to retain the exterior look of the building being renovated or replaced—even to keep to the original footprint. At Woodway Country Club in Darien, Conn., dissent and even resignations resulted several years back when a new clubhouse was built on a larger scale and with a far less residential appearance than its predecessor.

“The clubhouse becomes an extension of the members’ own homes,” observes Steve Cummings, club manager at Brae Burn C.C. outside Boston, where a complete clubhouse overhaul in the late ‘90s stuck to the original building’s aesthetic. “And that’s especially true for older members.”

At the other end of the age spectrum there is less nostalgia, he says. In fact, the younger members, having recently comparison-shopped the market, better realize how their facility stacks up. That makes them more open to major clubhouse renovation or replacement. “A clubhouse can and should feel like home,” says Cummings, “But a club is also a business, and you’ve got to stay competitive.”

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