CLUBHOUSES – How much is the right amount?

Recently, Golf Property Analysts was retained in an interesting case where a dispute arose about the need for and size of a clubhouse to be constructed at a club that had been using a temporary facility since its inception. Given the seemingly never-ending discussion in the club industry about the size and finishes in clubhouses, I thought I’d explore the issue.

For many years, large and ornate clubhouses have been blamed for the economic failure of numerous clubs. In what have been challenging times for the club and golf industries, it stands to reason that the overhead of a clubhouse that’s too big or too elaborate can be economically devastating. How much clubhouse is needed?

To understand this, I reached out to my longtime friend and master clubhouse architect (now retired) Barry Coyle for his thoughts on planning clubhouse spaces.
Clubs, like the rest of society have evolved. There are certainly some guidelines about the amount of space needed in ballrooms, bar/grille areas and dining rooms. For instance, those clubs that regularly host functions might require a capacity of 300, or more in the ballroom. With a guideline of 12 to 15 SF per person, a 300-capacity room would need 3,600 to 4,500 SF of space. A bar/grille area is typically planned at 20-25 SF per person, so an area requiring the ability to handle 80 people might need from 1,600 to 2,000 SF. Pro shops are typically in the 800 to 3,000 SF range and golf carts (if stored in the clubhouse) require about 60-70 SF per golf cart. Kitchen spaces would require about 30-35% of the banquet/dining areas.

At many older clubs, women’s locker facilities were often an afterthought and squeezed into tight spaces in out of the way locations. No longer. Now clubhouses are designed with equal sized locker facilities as clubs seek to become more gender neutral than in the past. A club with 300 men’s and 300 women’s lockers will require full height locker space totaling 6,000 to 7,000 SF plus space for attendant, wet and lounge areas.

Depending on the club, the region of the country and the culture of the membership, there are now often large outdoor (porch) spaces that are generally more economical to build and aren’t heated or air conditioned as people seek to be outdoors as much as possible. Most clubs also now cater to families and millennials with areas for fitness, technology and child minding.
Coyle emphasized that efficiently planning the “back of the house” areas containing kitchens, loading and other areas unseen by most members have become ever more important as space efficiency becomes more of a focus and that many older clubs with multiple kitchens are attempting to consolidate these areas with strategic service placement. In many cases clubs will construct multiple buildings with specific structures serving swimming, tennis, fitness, kids activities or a combination of those.
Storage is also a primary concern, especially as many clubs have multi-function rooms that serve multiple purposes and use different furniture and equipment. These flexible rooms need to be easily convertible and expandable.

Clubhouses aren’t cheap. The average private club clubhouse costs from $300 to $400 per SF to build and some of the more elaborate can cost as much as $700 per SF. In certain cases, Coyle says that tearing down the old and building a new clubhouse can be more cost-effective than renovating the old one.
It’s important to understand your members and their expectations. Regional cultures and climate are part of this and being sensible is critical. Having a desirable clubhouse is expected by members and prospective members and doesn’t necessarily add value to the club. However, having an unattractive clubhouse can most certainly diminish the value of the club from the perspective of membership development (expectations).

So far, we’ve only addressed the functional space needs of the modern private club. In the competitive environment of the modern club industry, there’s always the challenge of membership development. Depending on the market (both geographical and cultural) of any club, all members have expectations of something they can be comfortable in, invite their friends to and possibly hold special functions like weddings and Bar-Mitzvahs. This can often result in over-spending to satisfy egos, sometimes contributing to the demise of a club. However, to remain competitive, every club has to understand what it needs to attract and keep members and thrive into the future. This is different for almost every club.

As it relates to the value of the club, the tax assessor will often presume that a new, modern and large clubhouse adds to the value of the club, sometimes in an amount equal to the cost. This is rarely the case since other than competing for membership development and retention, the added cost of a new or renovated clubhouse rarely contributes an amount anywhere near the cost.
How much space does your clubhouse need? Coyle says that more golf centric clubs can comfortably use clubhouses with 10,000 to 12,000 SF of finished interior space while country clubs with more activities should be looking in the range of 18,000 to 25,000 SF of interior space, depending on the need for ballroom/function facilities and use of outdoor spaces. According to Coyle, those much larger clubs with say, 1,000 members might need up to 35,000 SF. Generally, the days of the 50,000+ SF clubhouse appear to be gone in most instances. Again, the competitive environment may impact these guidelines but common sense should guide the way.