Friday, June 14, 2019

Community Assets: How the influence of Private Clubs Transcends the Links

By Henry Wallmeyer

As any member of a private club already knows, private clubs are playing an important part in promoting the game of golf through creative programming, family-oriented activities and special programs aimed at getting youths and younger adults onto the fairways. Private clubs are a key part of the reason that golf is once again thriving.

Henry Wallmeyer
What’s less well-known is the important economic, environmental and social role that clubs play in our communities. Private club aren’t the stereotypical staid (some may say dusty) fortresses where the upper crust gather to avoid the rest of us. No, today’s private club is a dynamic environment where members gather to play, socialize and hang out with families and friends. At the same time, these clubs are making a difference in their communities.

Perhaps the most obvious benefits clubs offer the community are economic. In cities and towns across the United States private clubs are economic engines, employing millions of residents and injecting $21 billion into the economy every year. Significantly, club jobs tend to pay better than comparable positions locally, and often, those jobs are the springboard to lifelong careers, not just in the golf industry but in the hospitality industry as well. It’s no surprise to people who work in the club industry that employee retention is much higher at private clubs than in jobs in other industries.

Clubs are also woven into the fabric of the community. Members tend to be local municipal and business leaders and, as such, clubs often play an important role in the community. That’s why it’s so common to see fundraisers like golf tournaments, gala dinner events and dances hosted at clubs. Club members tend to be active philanthropists, and their clubs typically are happy to support the causes that are important to members.

Another way that clubs are particularly beneficial is the extent to which they serve as public stewards of our lands, providing open green space that reduces urban sprawl (or suburban sprawl, for that matter). It may be tempting to think of private clubs as closed communities that only benefit members, but in fact they provide large open spaces with trees, animals, ponds and creeks. Many communities are already bursting at the seams with scores of single and multifamily residences, traffic congestion and dense development and could benefit from more green space and tranquil settings.

This extends to the industry’s passion for promoting sustainability. Environmental sustainability is important to many Americans, and private clubs are at the forefront of helping communities become greener. The very nature of golf revolves around green practices, and many private clubs make significant investments in promoting sustainability in golf. In fact, one study showed that nearly three out of every four private clubs use sustainable practices, including water conservation, energy efficiency initiatives and setting aside large areas of land to remain undeveloped.

Anyone who loves to play golf relishes having the opportunity to be out in nature for hours at a time, surrounded by green grass, lush trees and wildlife. These are all vitally important elements of the game we love.

But it’s not just about what clubs provide to communities; equally important is what they don’t do. Namely, they don’t overburden local financial and municipal resources like residential and commercial development often do. You only need to look to examples of clubs being replaced by residential development to understand the increased burden imposed by other types of development. When this happens, local schools can be overwhelmed by an influx of new students, which requires the addition of new teachers, administrative support and materials for hundreds of new students. Of course, education is just one factor. Other types of development place additional burdens on police, fire and other crucial public services that are less of an issue with clubs.

To put it bluntly, many communities across the United States are too densly developed. It’s not just about the financial burden this places on our communities. The overabundance of busy streets, large developments and loud neighborhoods also create an assault on our senses. Clubs can provide a tranquil escape that extends beyond the club itself by providing open green space.

It’s understandable that many people don’t understand the important role that private clubs play in their communities. After all, if you aren’t a member of your local club you have no way of knowing and understanding its inner workings. However, while clubs are private, that doesn’t mean that they are isolated. Clubs play an important role in the economic, social and environmental vitality of the communities in which they are located. While the local benefits provided by clubs are often hidden from plain view, they are numerous and vitally important.

Henry Wallmeyer is the president and CEO of the National Club Association. 

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