Culture Wars – Are they coming to your club?

It’s old news that our society is divided. We’re divided economically, culturally, socially, racially and politically. To many, such diversity is a good thing, especially if we can peacefully coexist. If those who belong to private clubs, often many of whom are community leaders can show such a harmonious atmosphere at their clubs, maybe society as a whole can benefit by example.

Among the things I’ve learned in 40 years in the golf industry is that clubs have their own unique cultures and there is often division and conflict within those cultures. Today’s clubs are encountering a variety of challenges that are likely to cause rifts between the various member groups that need to be anticipated, planned for and addressed in a timely manner.

First and foremost, club memberships are (always) evolving. Older members move or pass on and the next generation seeks to put their imprint on the club, often to the dismay of the remaining older crowd. In many cases, especially in the COVID/Post COVID era, clubs are attracting younger families who see the club as a safe haven for their family recreation. This can often conflict with the club’s traditions and require the installation of facilities like fitness centers and enhanced practice areas and family activities like drive-in movies, fireworks and Pizza nights. The younger generation also resists overbearing rules like dress codes, prohibiting cell phones or music and not allowing use of the golf course for other activities like running, walking, mountain biking and dog walking.

Club membership is changing and a variety of different activities may be required to stay relevant.

Among the most relevant of cultural changes is likely to be diversity. Just recently, the National Club Association (NCA) established the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, charged with developing programs and guidelines for clubs to follow in areas heretofore considered a weak spot in the private club industry. Areas discussed in our first meeting, held earlier in January, 2021 included the promotion of cultural and racial diversity and gender equity in membership, management and staff hiring and images and symbols (names and logos).

A survey conducted by NCA staff revealed that the vast majority of clubs (78%) do not have DEI included in the club’s mission for members and 80% fail to include for employees. Even more clubs (90% and 94%) do not have DEI committees for members or employees. The fact that NCA has established a DEI committee is good news. Private clubs have long been known for exclusionary policies or insensitive symbols and it’s safe to say that one good thing that happened in 2020 was an increased awareness of the the problem resulting from the social unrest we’ve experienced of late.

Though I wholeheartedly support a private club’s RIGHT to exclusionary policies, just because they can is no reason to do so. Inclusion is good business. For sure, today’s clubs are largely more progressive than 40 years ago, when most private clubs were exclusive based on religion, race and often nationality. Most today have some level of integration, though few clubs actually “look like America”. If private clubs seek to attract the next generation of members, diversity will be a must. Accordingly, it’s good business for the private club advocacy organization (NCA) to lead the way in promoting DEI at its member clubs and beyond.