Deeds and WeedsAugust 2, 2009

Wheeling and Dealing in Richmond

Read many of the stories about private golf clubs these days, and you would think they were a dying breed. Then you read an article like this, from Thursday's edition of the Richmond, Va., business publication Richmond BizSense, and you realize maybe the only thing about golf clubs that's dying is the old way of doing business.

The story gives a positive overview of a number of clubs in the Richmond and northern Virginia area that have managed to maintain -- and in some cases even increase -- their memberships through a variety of creative and flexible marketing programs. Among the deals: a waiver of initiation fees in exchange for a two-year commitment to membership; two memberships for the price of one initiation fee; and membership in two different clubs for the price of one initiation fee.

Stonehenge G&CC, which normally charges a $4,000 initiation fee, recently started a "Refer a Friend" program. Two individuals or two families can join at the same time and split the $4,000 initiation fee. Mike Cooke, Stonehenge's membership director, said the program has helped keep the club's membership at 490, just 30 shy of capacity.

"I don't think we're ever going back to 20 or 25 years ago, when people would stand in line to get into clubs because we had something that was very difficult to access," said Michael Persinger, the membership and marketing director at Meadowbrook CC, another of the clubs profiled in the article. "The competition is stiffer for the golfing dollar, the pool dollar and the tennis dollar."

--G.R.