Manhattan A Manhattan man is trying to revive the private club industry.
Steve Graves says private, member-owned clubs are folding on almost a daily basis. As a result, business is booming at Creative Golf Marketing, the company he started in 1990 when he was the golf pro at Manhattan Country Club.
An early 1990s decision removing the federal tax exemption on dues paid by businesses to such clubs on behalf of employee-members hurt, and the declining economy has hurt more.
The challenges presented an opportunity that Graves developed. “Now I proudly own the largest membership marketing firm in the United States,” he noted.
Creative Golf Marketing has worked with more than 1,000 clubs across the country, and Graves also makes many speaking appearances. Recently, he spoke in Scotland to the Scottish Golf Union and Club Managers Association of Europe and in Canada at the Canadian Society of Club Managers.
Graves’ strategy for helping clubs evolve with the 21st century centers around a business plan that puts the responsibility to grow the club on its members.
That means marketing initiatives that diagram conversations to help explain that the club is a worthy investment. “It’s no different than your local church as the congregation is talking to others about their wonderful pastor and the message and the joy they have at their church,” Graves says.
Many clubs place too much focus on golf, and not enough attention to family-oriented activities. “The country club industry doesn’t need blue blood,” Graves says. “It needs new blood and it needs new young families.”
Another change from the old model for clubs is a trial membership. Traditionally, the industry never let its new members experience the club before paying the substantial membership fees.
One of Creative Golf’s clients offers a one-year trial with an option of paying $10,000 for membership after 60 days. If the person waits the full year, the fee is $20,000.
“Many years ago, the private club industry was something that people really strived and thrived wanting to be in,” Graves says. “I’m not seeing that as much anymore and so my company will be busy for many, many years to come.”