Plaid Pants Out, Younger Hipper Country Clubs In

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    NEWSLETTERS

    You hear the words "country club" and you might think of the 1980s comedy film Caddyshack.  The image of the old school club, where old men in plaid pants make the rules, is hard for the younger set to shake -- especially fans of the movie.

    But, as country clubs have fallen on harder times, more have been forced to change as they try to attract younger members in order to survive.

    "I never in my wildest dreams thought I was going to become a country club person," said Torrey Landry, who joined Brookhaven Country Club in Dallas at age 35. 

    The club Landry joined is a far cry from the days of 1950's golf decor, with hunt club prints on the walls and ladies with white hair playing cards.  The casual clubhouse at Brookhaven looks more like the posh lounge of a big city hotel.  Swanky, urban and hip. Not stuffy.

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    Country clubs have fallen on harder times, and many have been forced to change as they try to attract younger members in order to survive.

    "Dress codes at almost all of our clubs are dramatically different.  You know, people's jeans cost as much as some people's suits, so we want a casual welcoming atmosphere here," said Jaime Walters, executive vice-president of sales with ClubCorp, Brookhaven's parent company.

    The old images are fading at many clubs as they fight to stay alive in changing times.  In a tough economy, country club memberships have been a hard sell -- especially to younger members with families and other more pressing bills to pay. 

    "Lifestyles have changed, and that's the reality of what the issues are today is changing to fit those lifestyles," said Scot Duke, a business consultant who blogs about the golf club business.

    Duke said clubs that don't find ways to attract younger members now will face big struggles and some may be forced to shut their doors. 

    But, as clubs look to update their image, they often find themselves in a Catch 22.  They need money to reonvate and attract younger members, but money for those renovations can be hard to come by without that influx of new members.  Charging exisiting members for major improvements is often unpopular and risks driving existing members away.

    Duke said some clubs will need to take risks and find other ways to finance the changes.

    "That's going to be one of the big challenges for country clubs is finding that outside funding to where they can afford to make that move toward the future," Duke said.

    In addition to renovations, many clubs are cutting membership prices for younger members.  At Brookhaven, members under 40 pay less, and the club does not charge any upfront joining fees that might discourage young families from joining, especially ones who face the possibility of an out-of-town job transfer in the future.

    Still, without joining fees, there is some risk for the clubs that members with fewer ties may be more likely to leave if they find a better deal elsewhere.

    In addition to cutting membership costs, some clubs are throwing in a laundry list of ammenties to attract the young working crowd. From on-site babysitting, to fitness facilities, to wi-fi access, to affordable family dining deals.

    But even as the image updates, some traditions die hard.  Like the plaid pants.

    "There are some guys who try to compete on how outrageous they can look, but other than that it's not Caddyshack at all," said Landry.