While the 2008 global financial crisis propelled bankruptcy lawyers and foreclosure agents, it pulled down business activity nearly everywhere else. Many chose to hunker down and weather the storm, while others saw opportunity.
Rather than trudge through the economic malaise with blinders on, management at Pine Lake Country Club in West Bloomfield Township took a different tack. “We lost 35 (golf) members and a few social members (in 2008-09), which was pretty equivalent to other clubs,” COO Jim Farhat says. “We went from a waiting list to get in to a waiting list to get out.”
Now the club, which traces its roots back to 1902, is growing again. But it hasn’t been easy. Golf rounds are down considerably across the industry, due to a loss of interest in the game and the length of time it takes to complete a round. Growing competition for entertainment dollars is another factor.
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For example, a decade ago, Pine Lake recorded 30,000 rounds a year. Today, that’s down to 22,000 annual rounds — with a related drop in food and beverage sales on the 18-hole course.
To stem the tide, Pine Lake is getting a makeover. “Our members didn’t want to stand pat; rather, they wanted to take advantage of the recession and redo the club so that when the economy came back, we would be ready for growth,” Farhat says.
Over the past three years, the club has added more events and amenities, jettisoned stuffy furniture and dated furnishings in favor of a contemporary layout that encourages conversation and relaxation, and opened the property up to neighboring Pine Lake, including a new waterside deck that can accommodate 250.
“Our lobby was underutilized — frankly, (it) was rarely used,” says Lisa Petrella, a club member and principal of Petrella Designs, an interior design firm in Birmingham that oversaw much of the clubhouse renovation, “so we set up more of a lounge setting, and people are hanging out and ordering drinks (from the lobby). That doesn’t happen at a lot of clubs.”
Pine Lake also relaxed its dress policy, offered more programs for children (many of whom are accompanied by nannies), freshened up the locker rooms, added a large exercise room, and introduced a membership program where prospects can try the club out for 90 days.
Under the plan, a prospective member agrees to make a $5,000 down payment and pay three months’ worth of dues. In return, they have full access to the club. If they decide to leave after the trial period, they receive their down payment back, less $1,000. Farhat says the program has drawn more than 30 new members over two years.
“The days of playing golf, drinking a gin and tonic afterward, and playing cards is largely a thing of the past,” Farhat says. “We changed. It used to be $65,000 to join (the club); now it’s $25,000. That, along with all of the improvements we’ve made, has set us up for a lot of growth.” db