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Going For The Green: The Changing Dynamics Of Country Clubs

Bracha Arnold
January 16, 2024
Going For The Green: The Changing Dynamics Of Country Clubs

Country clubs are changing with the times, moving away from the once-exclusive image of business dealings on the golf course. A more inclusive concept is taking root – and attracting a growing number of young members. 

We took a closer look at the location intelligence metrics of country clubs throughout the country to understand how they are shifting and what might be driving these changes. 

Putting Along: Country Club Foot Traffic Growth

Golf and tennis, two country club stalwarts, surged in popularity over the COVID-19 pandemic, and that increase has sustained itselfmore people than ever are playing the games. Looking at year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) visits to country clubs suggests that these establishments are reaping the benefits of the interest in both sports. Visits were elevated compared to the same period in 2019 for all but two months analyzed. 

June, when the U.S. Open was held, saw the most impressive Yo4Y visit growth of 28.7%. The championship, the most-watched golf tournament since 2019, was held in the Los Angeles Country Club, and likely contributed to a spike in visits to golf clubs, either for U.S. Open-related events or a U.S. Open-inspired desire to golf. The year ended on a high note, with December visits to country clubs up by 12.1% Yo4Y – a solid indication that interest in membership clubs remains strong. 

Par For the Generational Course

Millennials, a consumer cohort that has historically shown little interest in joining country clubs, seem to be changing course and may be driving some of the visit growth. This population is increasingly seeking spaces to socialize and network – and in response, many golf clubs are shifting their offerings to appeal to a younger demographic. Location intelligence indicates that the strategy is working.

Examining country club demographics across the country – in Long Island, New York; Austin, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Minneapolis, Minnesota – suggests a shift in membership makeup. Some of these areas have seen an influx of millennials in recent years, which likely expanded the pool of younger potential country club members. But the trade areas of many of the country clubs’ also skewed younger in 2023 than they did in 2019 – meaning that these clubs are attracting visitors from neighborhoods with lower median ages compared to the neighborhoods feeding visits to country clubs in 2019. 

Some clubs, like the Capital City Country Club in Atlanta, Georgia, saw relatively small drops in median age – from 41.2 in 2019 to 40.2 in 2023. But other clubs saw much more pronounced drops – the Hazeltine National Golf Club near Minneapolis, Minnesota saw its median age drop by 7.8 years between 2019 and 2023. The Country Club Of The South in Atlanta, Georgia, also saw a Yo4Y drop in median age – from 38.0 to 31.8.

Get That Green: Median Household Income Shifts

Country clubs tend to have a steep financial barrier to entry, with costs including annual membership dues, initiation fees, and expenses for food and beverages. And perhaps unsurprisingly, most country club members boast a median household income (HHI) well above the nationwide median. And although younger demographics generally have to have less income than their older counterparts, the drop in median age across many country clubs does not seem to be having a major impact on the affluence of these clubs’ visitor bases. 

Some clubs that experienced Yo4Y drops in the median HHI of visitors – Great Hills Country Club in Austin, Texas, for example – did see the median HHI of its visitors drop slightly. But for the most part, the median HHI of visitors to country clubs remained stable Yo4Y, and some, like the Edina Country Club in Minnesota, saw the median HHI grow Yo4Y. This suggests that the decline in median age within membership clubs may be driven by a desire for socializing and new experiences rather than a shift towards increased financial accessibility for a broader range of members.

Tee Time Is Anytime

The shift in the demographics of country club visitors, marked by the rising number of younger members, is a trend that may solidify further. Clubs in tune with this demographic – young professionals and millennials – can consider what is important to this cohort to continue attracting the younger generation.

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