The Forest Hills Country Club clubhouse and golf course this year hosted a sign-up event for young golfers from around the Rockford area. This summer, they’ll compete on eight teams.

Country Clubs Set New Course for Membership

In their quest to win new families, Forest Hills and Mauh-Nah-Tee-See are teaming up and opening themselves more to the public. Find out how they’re doing it.

The Forest Hills Country Club clubhouse and golf course this year hosted a sign-up event for young golfers from around the Rockford area. This summer, they’ll compete on eight teams.
The Forest Hills Country Club clubhouse and golf course this year hosted a sign-up event for young golfers from around the Rockford area. This summer, they’ll compete on eight teams.

The Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Club and Forest Hills Country Club have entered into a two-year alliance agreement that offers reciprocity to members of both clubs. The newly formed alliance provides significant benefits to club members, area golfers and the community, but each club will continue to operate as a separate entity.
Reciprocity allows members of both clubs to use the amenities of the other club, with no extra dues or fees. Members of both clubs enjoy their choice of two premiere golf courses, two driving ranges, two short-game practice areas, two pro shops, two Olympic-sized swimming pools, six tennis courts and a wide variety of dining options. In addition, members of both clubs can participate in the other’s organized social activities, including special golf outings, pool parties and holiday events.
“This collaboration will help to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars that will go straight into community programs,” says Ed Slattery, Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Club golf professional. The clubs anticipate accommodating as many as 30 playdays in 2015, a significant increase over previous years.
The alliance doubles the value of a membership and increases the overall club experience for members and their families. The agreement is not a merger, joint venture or partnership, and each club will continue to operate as a separate entity. In December 2016, the clubs will evaluate the alliance and make plans for the future.
“I think the biggest thing is that we’ll plan more activities and won’t duplicate efforts,” says David Thompson, golf pro at Forest Hills Country Club. “It’s a win-win for everyone. Golfers will get more outings, play more courses, and the clubs will see increased activity and revenue. I’ve only heard positive feedback. I see this as being a national trend, and other clubs have already contacted us to see how it’s working for us.”
Both clubs are financially stable, but their leadership realizes that, in order to grow, they need to appeal to more families, which means increasing the value of membership for those people. Both clubs are locally managed and have a history of working together.
While the alliance leaders don’t rule out the possibility of an expanded reciprocity arrangement in the future, they’re first committed to demonstrating how a two-way arrangement makes both clubs more successful. They’ve experimented with this idea in the past, by jointly hosting golf and couple’s events, as well as holiday celebrations. Members from both clubs celebrated New Year’s Eve with a formal dinner and dancing to The Men Of Our Times band at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See. This summer, Forest Hills will host members from both clubs for its annual Fourth of July celebration, complete with food, drink, games, rides and fireworks.
“It’s a better use of facilities and people get to do more golfing and other activities,” says Slattery. “It enriches the country club experience for everyone at no extra cost.”
Slattery has already seen more activity at the country club this spring than he has in many years. One indication is an increase in trial memberships that offer golf and club activities to newcomers at a reduced rate.
Thompson also has seen increased activity and expects even greater gains this summer, when school’s out and the weather is consistently warmer.
The first combined event this year will be a Shotgun Golf Tournament the first Wednesday in June at Forest Hills. The event will continue on the first Wednesday each month at alternating sites. The event will include playing 18 holes, a buffet meal and social time.
The recent recession, rising college tuition, lost jobs and reduced income have all affected people’s ability to afford some of the “extras” they once enjoyed. Parents and their children also are being pulled in many more directions, as they attend sporting events at home and around the country. With so many things competing for people’s time, interest and money, more people have questioned if a country club membership is in their best interest, says Thompson.
However, things are looking up and Thompson has big plans to draw more people into the enjoyable world of golf.
“Golf is changing, and we have to find ways to get and keep members,” he says. “We need to be more family-oriented and have creative ideas.”
Among his accomplishments, so far, is bringing the PGA Junior League Tournament to Rockford, hosting a monthly ladies’ golf clinic for members and their guests, and getting a golf simulator at Forest Hills, so he can teach in the winter and people can golf year-round.
The pressure to turn things around has golf pros working harder than ever.
“Golf pros are no longer just teachers,” says Thompson. “We’re in charge of membership, sit on committees and need to understand the lifeblood of the membership, so we can bring value to the golf course in creative ways. Getting women and children interested in golf is key. We’re excited to usher in a new generation of golfers in the Rockford community. Our new PGA Junior League golf program will allow juniors from clubs to compete with teams from the Rockford Park District.”
Thompson has a five-year plan for the program that should eventually help young people to get golf scholarships for college, he says. He started the program last year for kids ages 7 to 13, which includes youngsters from the Rockford Park District and all Rockford country clubs competing on eight teams in two divisions. This year’s signup was May 29 at Forest Hills and included a chef-prepared grilled dinner on the range.
“You don’t have to be a super golfer,” Thompson says. “Our whole goal is to introduce golf to kids who don’t play, make it fun for them, and hope they end up choosing golf as their main sport.”
Thompson was named to his position and started working at Forest Hills in January. He has big plans for Rockford.
“We haven’t touched the surface yet,” he says. “I have a five-year plan for our junior program that is awesome now, but in years to come, will be off the charts.”
All clubs face changing times, as equipment and course expenses rise, longtime members age and people have less disposable income and less time to golf.
The National Golf Foundation reports that more U.S. golf courses closed than opened in 2013, for the eighth straight year.
High school golf team participation peaked in the 1998-99 school year, but has been on the decline ever since. Girls’ participation is up, but has plateaued.
Corporations and companies don’t support memberships like they used to and dual-income families have less time to enjoy membership.
Slattery says the golfing boom of the 1990s resulted in many top-quality public courses opening and providing competition for private clubs. Once the decade was over, all clubs felt the economic pinch. But with new ideas and plans in place, numbers are improving.
“This is the first year I’ve seen really positive activity in the right direction,” says Slattery. “We need to focus on families, because people won’t join unless they see something for the whole family.”