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Posted on Sun, May 26, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor area country clubs try to rebuild, grow membership after recession

By Lizzy Alfs


Members play a round of golf at the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club.

Courtney Sacco |

In its heyday, the Ann Arbor Country Club had about 350 members utilizing its pool and golf facilities in the Loch Alpine neighborhood of Webster Township.

Faced with a declining membership and worsening economic conditions, the club struggled to make mortgage payments and faced a bank-ordered sale of its facility in 2010 as membership dipped below the 120 required by the bank.

Since ownership of the semi-private club shifted to a West Virginia investment group in 2011, the new owners have made a number of capital improvements and lowered membership fees. The club now has about 230 members, with more than 50 percent of those swim-only memberships. The restaurant and golf course are now open to the public.

“Maintenance had been deferred 10 years,” explained Michael Weikle, a representative of the club’s new owners, A2C2 LLC. “We spent a lot of money fixing things and then putting money to keep it open. We felt it could be turned around.”


The new Max & Bella's On The Green restaurant at Ann Arbor Country Club in Webster Township.

Courtney Sacco |


The patio at the Ann Arbor Country Club's clubhouse in Webster Township.

Courtney Sacco |

Ann Arbor Country Club isn’t alone in its struggle to boost membership. Nationwide, hundreds of golf courses and country clubs closed during the recession while others changed membership structures and fees.

A National Golf Foundation report says 160 private and public golf courses closed in 2011. At the same time, about 40 percent of the nation’s 4,415 private clubs experienced a membership decline.

In the Ann Arbor area, a number of country clubs had to respond to the recession in order to remain viable.

In 2010, Ypsilanti Township’s Washtenaw Country Club, one of the oldest country clubs in Michigan, moved from being member-owned into private corporate ownership as a part of the Polo Fields Golf and Country Clubs. Washtenaw Country Club faced $1.9 million in debt when the Berger family, which developed the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club and the subdivision in Scio Township, took ownership.

“It has been a phenomenal learning experience,” said Diana Kuenzli, director of membership and marketing for Polo Fields. “Where most clubs are closing or scaling back, our ownership had a unique vision and said, ‘Let's expand.’ ”

The Berger family renovated the clubhouse and reopened the pool at the newly named The Polo Fields - Washtenaw, which is at 2955 Packard Road. Then they told members they could utilize both clubs while membership fees remained steady. Polo Fields also lowered its guest fees so members can bring more people to the club.

The member-owned and operated Georgetown Country Club on King George Boulevard in Ann Arbor changed its membership structure for a few years in an attempt to bring more people into the club. It offered pool-only and golf-only memberships, but has since reverted back to full memberships.

“We did try diversified marketing,” said Georgetown board member Don Kline.

“(There were) a good five, six years where it was a little dicey and the club wasn’t sure how to best proceed and best serve its members at the same time…(they) looked into possibly selling the golf course to a private party. Luckily, we didn’t have to do that,” he continued.

A 2013 family membership at Georgetown costs $1,425, according to marketing materials. Kline said that was the standard rate for years, until it dropped to $1,395 in 2011 and 2012.

Kline said the club starting experiencing a drop in membership in 2006, but started seeing gains in 2010. It’s poised to surpass its 2006 membership levels this summer.

Meanwhile, membership fees at the Ann Arbor Country Club have dropped 47 percent since 2008, when a full family membership cost $3,800 annually.

Aside from changing membership structures and dropping fees, country clubs made capital improvements and looked to other sources of revenue to try to remain sustainable.

Ann Arbor's private Barton Hills Country Club at 730 Country Club Road completed eco-friendly renovations in 2010, which involved installing a geothermal heating system and LED lighting. It also completed a $1 million renovation of its golf course in late 2012.

The Ann Arbor Country Club debuted a new public restaurant in January and it’s growing its events business. The club plans to host luaus, movie nights by the pool and a lobster boil this summer, which will be open to the public by reservation. (Read more)

Weikle said the new owners made efficiency upgrades at the club, such as updating its heating and cooling systems. The group also made golf course improvements and replaced the equipment.

The Polo Fields is boosting its banquet and events business, and it offers Sunday brunch to the public. It also has golf outings for non-members.

“Rather than passing on the costs of doing business to our membership, we look to alternative revenue streams,” Kuenzli said. “We believe that reinvesting into the club by constantly improving it and doing updates pays off in the end because you still can attract new members.”

Many country clubs across the country are also looking at a new target demographic: families with young children.

Corey Gerhart, general manager and chief operating officer at Barton Hills, said the club is trying to ensure it offers something for every member of the family. The club now has 150 kids in its junior programs and is encouraging kids and young adults to play golf and tennis.

"We are definitely attracting young families," he said.

"We're still in the same business, we've just had to bring a couple aspects in it to stay viable and interesting for our members," he added.

The member-owned private Travis Pointe Country Club, at 2829 Travis Pointe Road between Ann Arbor and Saline, markets a number of social activities targeted at children, including its summer day camp for kids. It hosts social events like movie nights, arts and crafts, teen dances, and a family carnival, according to its website.

Kline said the majority of members at Georgetown Country Club are families and it’s a big selling point for the club. There are barbecues during the summer, a playset near the pool, beach volleyball and tether-ball. The club is preparing to launch a new website and is getting involved on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.

Weikle said there were 39 pool memberships at the Ann Arbor Country Club when the new owners took over, and that’s now up to 130. Ann Arbor Country Club is targeting young families with its renovated pool area.

“Golf has at least stopped declining, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “A lot of courses have gone out and this club survived. I really feel it’s all in place, we just have to get people in to show them.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Wed, May 29, 2013 : 2:27 a.m.

BHCC has no one but themselves to blame for declining membership. They kicked me out just because I deliberately smashed my driver over my cart after slicing into the water on #12 for the fourth consecutive round. You'd think at those prices, a guy could blow off a little steam without the other members getting all huffy about decorum.

Jay Thomas

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 1:22 a.m.

It is a problem of oversupply and not the recession. Washtenaw county only has three hundred thousand people and they kept building these clubs. Letting UofM take over the golf course on Geddes in Superior Twp didn't help either.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 10:48 p.m.

my kids use to swim at Ann Arbor CC years was nice then.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

To Long Time Resident: It's not about envy and jealousy of people with money. Lots of people have money and choose not to join exclusive Country Clubs. It's what the Clubs are about, not the membership dues or fees, that makes the decision. Many people who could afford these Clubs have a different set of values and choose not to join. Envy and jealousy don't enter into the equation.

E Claire

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

they just want to keep all the JRWs out


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 11:30 p.m.

I'd agree other than for Barton, which is still pretty exclusive. I hear things were so bad at one point that the members had to resort to washing their own balls.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 9:35 p.m.

Sorry, but I had to crack up reading your comment. Several of these places are more like neighborhood pools than the country club of yesterday . "Values" don't have much to do with it -- more like a decent place for the kids to swim, with way better hours than the local pools. None are "exclusive" beyond the entry fee, which in my day were along the lines of $30k, and you had to be white to join. Those places must still exist, but they're not on this list.

Long Time Resident

Mon, May 27, 2013 : 7:40 a.m.

Jealousy and envy are not positive feelings.....lighten up people! Country Club members pay with THEIR money not yours....OOPS..... I forgot, it is all Barack's $$$$$$ and he decides how much we get to keep......

Jay Thomas

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 12:54 a.m.

@JRW: Many people don't golf. Way to generalize there.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 10:53 p.m.

i guess it's all about knowing what u can afford and going with it.there are several public courses in the area that i live in (not Detroit) and they are busy as can be during the golf season. Frankly i don't see why anyone wants to waste their time golfing but that's just MY opinion.there are more important issues to discuss than that.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

Dear LTR, it's not about envy and jealousy. Many people could easily afford membership fees into exclusive country Clubs but choose not to join elitist groups of any kind. It's about values and principles, not dollars.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

If that is true, which it isn't, congress decides, but if we were to go with your silly idea, then Barak decided you get to keep more than Ronnie let you keep. More than Ike let you keep, more then Dick let you keep, more than Lyndon let you keep. George let you keep a little more, but then he ran up the credit card more than most of the above while you kept a scant bit more.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 3:57 a.m.

Never been a fan of "Country Clubs" exclusively for the wealthy. And I certainly don't care about how they are doing financially. If a handful of rich folks want to have a gated golf course, that's their business. Nothing about "Country Club" is interesting on any level.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 12:33 a.m.

Lower your prices.


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 11:46 p.m.

poor rich ppl :(

E Claire

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

poor hardworking people who make good money. how dare they


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1:51 a.m.

Better watch it caleb, alot of these rich people pay for your lifestyle. Without them you'll have to get a job.

Honest Abe

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

I'm not trying to be negative, but to be honest - I'm not to worried nor concerned about how the "country Clubs' are doing. What's next? An article on a failing Yacht club? Perhaps an equestrian club is really feeling a fiscal hurting! Sorry, but nobody is going to feel for these types of businesses suffering. These poor babies.

E Claire

Tue, May 28, 2013 : 3:56 p.m.

Sure, who cares if the waitstaff, clerical staff, all the average people who work at these places, lose their jobs.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1:47 a.m.

Not sure that anyone was worried - it's just a story. I think the country clubs are an interesting way to look at the economy -- does it mean that things are getting better when their numbers are better? And it's an example of a business that changes according to the economy. And lastly, these places actually employ people, no?


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 11:46 p.m.

totally agree.

Lemmy Caution

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 9:18 p.m.

Between the cheap family memberships at the YMCA, with its excellent equipment and free childcare (while parents are in gym), and the munificent Ann Arbor pools, I'm honestly not quite sure what my family is missing. Having time to walk 9 holes of golf is really for the elite. And using the golfcart, well that doesn't seem like exercise at all. I guess if you have to ask, it's really not for you. I suppose in the old days of MAD MEN families, we professional-dads could've met the guys at the country club for a few cocktails while Betty and the help cared for the kids. But now we dads are home sharing parenting duties (and becoming fuller, more exhausted, humans for it), keeping up with the speed-up economy (emails come at all hours; it's insane), and trying not to drive "buzzed" and ruin our kids' futures and force our kids to slide way down on America's rough class stratification ladder. But I sure do love a well-mixed Sazerac in a genteel setting. Next lifetime, maybe.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

A "more genteel future"? Quick, my fan - I'm about to get the vapors.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

Hey Lemmy, Perhaps spending less time on your uber time-consuming electronic devices might be a solution for spending more "parenting" time with your kids. Buy a membership at the club & take the little kiddies out for a swim or a round of golf or a set of tennis. Bring Betty too! They'll love ya for it besides meeting new friends who just might help them climb up that social class ladder. Your more genteel future just might be assured.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1:19 a.m.

Ahh, the typical hoping-to-come-off-as-"erudite" (Sazerace comment) AA politically-correct ("stratification ladder") male. There you are "sharing the duties"! Thanks so much for enlightening us! Was going to congratulate you until I remembered that Americans used to know how to "share" duties as parents in a much more effective way. Also seems he doth protest too much: a bit of chip-on-the-shoulder re: the "country club" lifestyle? Besides for that, what the heck would be wrong with having "Betty"?? I bet she could even manage without the "help", and the you, she and the kids would be happier for it! p.s. you can always turn off the computer if the email "come in at all hours"--bet the kids would love you for that, too!

Tom Joad

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 8:12 p.m.

Money formerly earmarked for country club membership gives way to putting junior in an $800-1000/month bedroom in one of the city's premier luxury student lairs.

Lemmy Caution

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 9:29 p.m.

Yes but that would be at a shared suite price, not a solo apartment. Country clubs are all about exclusivity, of course. It used to be a "genteel" way to keep out the racial riff-raff--Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, etc. Now the only permitted designated Other to keep out is, well, those who can't afford it. So it becomes a question: how many commoners do you let into your exclusive club before it's not, well, exclusive anymore? Ahh, a good question over a mint julep after the back nine.

the artist

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

Rogell GC which used to be Redford GC in Detroit was sold by the city to a church. They sold it this spring to become a cemetery! And it was a Donald Ross design!

Kenneth Hart

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

Great article that illustrates some of the challenges in the private club market since 2008. A shift in services to a more family-centric operation is a vital direction as well as developing more youth programs - the article is spot on!

Lizzy Alfs

Mon, May 27, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

Thank you, @Kenneth! I appreciate it.


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 3:56 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Country Club might attract more business if they had tasteful signage at its entry points on Joy Road and Huron River Drive. I suspect more people would play there if they knew where it was. There isn't even a sign on the clubhouse. The term Country Club also connotes a private club unavailable to the public. Might be time for a name change to attract the public.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

I have driven by that area a lot and thanks for the heads up, I too did not know either.

Lizzy Alfs

Mon, May 27, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

@CaldoDeGallina: The new owners did say the location was the biggest challenge because people don't know the club is there. I think you're right about the signage.


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

"after recession" ...what?


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Indeed, Soothslayer. When we've been in Great Depression II for over a decade, any talk of a recession is in a way good news. As recessions are better than Great Depressions, the status of "recession" would be a major improvement and welcomed state.... However, like unemployment stats (that use very out-dated measuring assumptions/methods), most reported economic measures do not even begin to tell the whole story.


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

According to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research (the official arbiter of U.S. recessions) the recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Facts are pesky things.

Basic Bob

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 10:09 p.m.

Loads of people getting better jobs, houses for sale (not foreclosure), new houses being built, more new cars on the road than we have seen in years. Smells like recovery to me. And the best part... without credit cards!


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

Exactly! Just when did the recession end? Did I miss that memo?


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

I got lost one day trying to get thru Barton Hills. Ended up coming face to face with the Barton Hills Country Club. OMG. That thing is huge. No wonder they do not want anyone beyond that gated community. No one can afford those things. Glad to see they are going by the way of the dinosaur. Open it up cheaply to the public and maybe you might survive. Although the AAPS BOE might have other ideas?


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 1 p.m.

Yes, but after they see the Great Gatsby they will change their minds right quick after seeing how the wealthy use their money to get off the hook from facing the music. This movie simply put is how the wealthy people really live. Blame it on someone else. Barton Hills? Glad I don't live there.

Ellis Freatman

Mon, May 27, 2013 : 2:32 a.m.

Barton is full with a waiting list. Thankfully they don't need advice from you.

Rick Stevens

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

'...that gated community...' Ah, I don't think Barton Hills is gated (I don't live there). But I do know they have responsibility for the roads, upkeep, etc. and don't like speeders. I believe the roads belong to them and they'd prefer not to have non residents drive through. I would imagine you'd want the same thing if the roads were yours, not public.

Ron Burgandy

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

"Country clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wasters of prime real estate! Dead people? They dont need buried nowadays. Ecology, right? Ask Wang. Hell tell you. We just bought property behind the Great Wall. On the good side!" - Al Czervik

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

I am reminded of an old B.C. comic strip. One of the cave men is hitting a golf ball and one of the cave women is watching. The exchange went something like this.... Cave woman: "let me get this straight, the less you hit the ball the better your doing?" Cave man: "thats right" ------reflective pause---- Cave woman: then whats the point of doing it at all?


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

I remember that strip quite well, Craig. I think I cut it out and mailed it to my youngest brother, who was (and is) an avid golfer. And I have used the dialogue in that strip more than once to lightheartedly make fun of other golfers. Your recollection of the dialogue is pretty close, though you omitted the last frame of the comic. According to this link, , the exact story is: In a 1991 [B.C.] strip, the Cute Broad faces Peter with a philosophical conundrum: Cute Broad: "Now let me get this straight, the less you hit the ball the better it is." Peter: "That's right." Cute Broad: "Then why do it at all?" In the last panel, as the moon hangs overhead, Peter, still on the course, mumbles: "Then why do it at all?"

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member."

Chip Reed

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

Groucho Marx


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

Nicholas....Is that a W C Fields quote ?


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

I hope all works out for them. I like Leslie one of the best rated city owned course in the state. with the changes in the back nine. I think it will go national.. they already have a 4.5 star rating. prices are reasonable.