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May 1, 2015

Practice is Improvement at Private Clubs

Recent study shows private club members are placing more emphasis on practice

BY: SALLY J. SPORTSMAN

Last year, The National Club Association asked the McMahon Group to conduct a research survey, “Navigating the Future: The Outlook for Private Clubs.” Specific to golf, an overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that clubs plan to focus increasingly on practice, training and fitness to promote golf, as members are seeking ways to cultivate their game yet manage their time.

“What we have found, especially over the last two years, is that people now practice more than they play,” says William P. McMahon Sr., chairman of the McMahon Group, an operational, financial and architectural planning consultant to private clubs throughout North America. “It’s a time issue.” This trend is occurring at private facilities across America. Here we highlight some top-tier clubs where this is taking place and asked their professional staffs how and why.

Facility: Baltusrol Golf Club Location:Springfield, New Jersey

Overview: At the classic Baltusrol Golf Club, established in 1895, where the centennial PGA Championship will be played in 2016, practice has grown more important than it was years ago, according to Doug Steffen, PGA head professional and director of golf. “Our practice facilities are the most-used facilities at our club,” he says. “More than food and beverage, more than the golf course. We began enhancing our long- and short-game practice areas about 10 years ago. Our club has taken a step up as a result of members’ increased interest in practice. People want to improve their scoring, and practice has turned into something families often want to do together. We expect this tendency to endure.”

Facility: John’s Island Club Location: Vero Beach, Florida

Overview:Instruction and practice are a growing part of members’ activities at John’s Island Club. Consequently, a new teaching professional has been hired, for a total of 20 staff professionals. “Our membership is golf centric,” says Ken Weyland, PGA director of golf operations at the facility. “We are a seasonal location and a second home for most of our members, who, as they age, are more apt to want to hit balls and practice.”

Facility: The Country Club of Virginia Location:Richmond, Virginia

Overview: With 54 holes of golf, each course has its own practice range. “Excellent practice-area design is another reason why many private-club members are practicing in greater numbers,” says Eric Layton, the facility’s PGA director of instruction. “There is no question that frequency of practice is up here. I anticipate even more practice; we are trending that way.”

Facility: Westborough Country Club Location:St. Louis, Missouri

Overview: Built in 1948, this landlocked facility has no space for a traditional range. Thus, they offer a 50×80 foot netted practice area. However, that has not deterred the membership from spending more time practicing as of late. “Everyone would like to have a full-blown practice range, but it is not feasible here,” says Jimmy Bals, PGA head professional at Westborough. “A lot of members still use our practice area, more all the time. Practice on the course is pretty relevant here, too.”

Facility: The Stanwich Club Location: Greenwich, Connecticut

Overview: The Stanwich Club has embraced this trend and encourages it by promoting ideas such as family practice time on the range. “Members are always on the range, plus we have quality balls and no mats, so people enjoy their practice sessions,” says Michael Summa, the facility’s PGA director of golf. “A recently-updated landing area, with enlarged and improved target greens, was added as a result of members’ increasing passion for practice.”

Facility:Highlands Country Club Location:Highlands, North Carolina

Overview: When the golf course was built in 1928, players used to practice on the ninth hole until the range was added years later. “Each year our range gets more use than the year before,” says Ken Mattis, the Highlands’ PGA head professional. “Whether members work or are retired, there are more demands on their time now. Our range is a social environment where men and women enjoy their practice sessions, and we look for this pattern to continue.”