Updated clubhouses key to golf's future?

By Sarah Peters
Published on

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Palm Beach Gardens isn't alone among the local communities ditching sub-par golf clubhouses to attract events.

Local golf experts say refreshing the clubhouses is a good aim, given the popularity of the sport in South Florida and, specifically, Palm Beach County. PGA National Managing Director Joel Paige said there's a reason the county is home to more than 140 golf courses. The quality of the experience is the main driver, along with weather, he said.

Sometimes people who aren't members or guests want to play at the members-only resort, but Paige can recommend them to the city course instead. PGA National also started a vacation rental home program about a year ago that allows people to become resort guests. The resort just got its 100th vacation home and expects to have another 300 to 400 in the next three or four years, he said.

Golfers, like any other customers, are looking for the best value and the nicest amenities -- including the clubhouse, Paige said.

"Palm Beach Gardens has a great golf course, and having an undersized clubhouse is just a handicap," he said. "They've got to finish the last piece of the puzzle."

The city's small, two-story clubhouse is 24 years old with limited food and beverage service and doesn't have space to host banquets after golf tournaments. For the three tournaments a year the course does host, the staff clears out an unairconditioned cart barn and sets up tables.

A new clubhouse with a pub and event space that can accommodate 200 people will be finished in June 2017, once the existing one is demolished in November. The city estimates the project will cost $4.6 million to design and build, according to documents. Projects Director Charlotte Presensky said the improved club will allow the course to attract golf tournaments and other events.

"It's also another facility for people to host that wedding or that 50th birthday party. If you don't belong to a private club, it's hard to find such facilities," she said.

North Palm Beach officials voted Thursday to appropriate $264,000 of reserves from the country club budget for Peacock and Lewis Architects to prepare a business plan and design for a re-imagined club. The village has a Jack Nicklaus Signature-design golf course, but its one-story club is showing its age. And a redevelopment consultant for West Palm Beach earlier this month said it's clear residents want a clubhouse to make that city's golf course a "a true gathering place."

Richard Singer, director of consulting for the Jupiter-based National Golf Foundation, said adequate gathering space at the course and practice facilities is a key element golfers expect.

"That helps to drive the golf business, especially in public golf," where charity tournaments are popular, he said.

Singer said the greatest growth potential is in the young-adult segment. A study the foundation did in 2015 found high levels of interest in golf among the so-called millennial generation, but it hasn't translated into playing. They don't know how to get started or where to go, he said. Many golf courses throughout the country don't have modern, welcoming clubs or Internet presences that allow people who don't want to call for a tee time whip out their smart phones to make an appointment, he said.

"Golf needs to do a better job of being more welcoming to younger adults," Singer said, suggesting more social events aimed at that demographic.

Presensky said the city golf course has seen an increase in every demographic, especially juniors, women and families. A kids' summer camp had a 60 percent increase in attendance this year. In the past year, there's been a 10 percent increase in rounds. Golfers will play more than 42,000 rounds this year, she said.

Singer said the number of people playing golf declined from a high of about 30 million in 2005 to 25 million in 2011. It's been stable ever since.

"The core participants who were always active in the sport seem to have remained," Singer said.

This article was written by Sarah Peters from The Palm Beach Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.