As land value increases and inflation raises operating costs, many country clubs are at a crossroads—and for some, the solution is to spend more to make more.
That's where management corporations like Invited step in to identify key markets where there is still enough interest in the country club lifestyle to justify what Invited Vice President of Marketing Bonnie Scoggins calls "premiumization."
"In simple terms, premier clubs are more expensive to operate and more expensive to be a part of, with a higher quality experience all around," Scoggins said.
Invited manages 180 clubs across the U.S., including West Lake Country Club and all locations of The Hills Country Club.
Along with this trend of renovations, country club membership fees and monthly dues have risen nearly 25% since 2020 and over 72% since 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What residents should know
In 2022, Westlake Country Club, formerly Lost Creek Country Club, began a multimillion dollar renovation project to transform the golf course, clubhouse, pool and racket sports facilities.
"The real estate around really changed since the club was built. People are moving in from all over the country and putting more value into the homes. So we know we've got the audience that wants a higher-end club experience," Scoggins said.
Prior to the renovations, WCC General Manager Chip Gist said the initiation fee was $5,000 in 2019. Now, the fee is $85,000, and Scoggins anticipates that could increase to $100,000 once the project is completed in 2024.
The Hills Country Club, another Invited club with multiple locations in the Lakeway area, also underwent major additions to the golf course, aquatics center and fitness center in the past five years. Initiation fees there raised from $45,000 in 2019 to $85,000 now.
Other clubs, such as Barton Creek Country Club and Great Hills Country Club, have spent millions on improvement projects in recent years, though current membership fees could not be confirmed immediately.
While many areas of the hospitality industry took a hit during the pandemic, country clubs experienced renewed interest.
"People wanted to play sports where they could still socially distance. ... Golf courses all of a sudden became full, almost overnight, and it hasn't really stopped since," Gist said.
With an increase in demand and limited land to create new golf courses in Austin, Gist said providing more exclusive experiences is necessary to avoid overcrowded tees.
"We used to be a volume house, and we are not anymore. The trend is that we are lowering the counts of our membership," Gist said.
Quote of note
"Inflation has made everything from fertilizer to avocados become more expensive. ... That's probably the biggest challenge for the industry: trying to balance costs," Scoggins said.