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July 2017

The Wild‭,‬ Wild‭ ‬West

thewildwildwest.jpg‭By Kyle Darbyson

Even with an unrivaled PGA Tour pedigree and steady membership numbers, PGA West stakeholders have seen the writing on the wall and are making major investments in non-golf amenities

John Cochrane isn’t psychic, but as the general manager of PGA West Private, he has a pretty good idea what the future of private club golf looks like. “It’s never going to go away completely, but I see golf playing less and less of a role in the coming years.”

The days of dad heading to the club to play golf all morning, then cards all afternoon before joining mom and the kids for dinner are gone forever. “To be successful today, we’re going to need to appeal not just to families, but to multiple generations of families.” It’s a vision clear enough that the club is investing millions to build a bold 4-acre facility packed with amenities ranging from lap pools to dog parks.

PGA West Private already offers an enviable lifestyle for its 1,400 members. On top of tennis, fitness classes and spa facilities, the club boasts a near embarrassment of golf options. “Our members have access to three fully private courses and three semi-private courses,” Cochrane explains. The annual appearance as part of the rotunda of courses hosting the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge meant the pristine facility received plenty of publicity, too.

Even with all that on its side, PGA West still saw its numbers start to slip. “Nothing to make us hit the panic button, but certainly enough for us to take notice,” Cochrane notes. Perhaps more distressing were the reasons club officials were hearing for this increase in retired memberships. “A lot of members told us they were leaving to spend more time with their grandkids,” he recalls.

To reverse this trend, the team at PGA West knew it needed to expand offerings to appeal to all ages. “We asked ourselves what we could do to keep our older members and their families here, but also what could we do to attract a younger demographic.”

Officials knew a larger gym or relaxed dress code wouldn’t be enough. “Our thinking was, ‘If we want to stay relevant, we need to think big.’” It led PGA West to conceive a grand, standalone sports club.

Planners zeroed in on a collection of underutilized grass courts at PGA West’s tennis center. The plot abutted the existing fitness center. “It’s the perfect place to build a facility like this,” says Cochrane.

The club consulted with experts from other successful clubs, fitness centers and resorts to ascertain what amenities would move the needle. Cautious not to alienate the existing member base, surveys were also sent out. “We’re a second club to a lot of people, so we heard from them about things that they liked from their clubs back home.”

In the end, the new facility will offer a diverse menu of amenities, ranging from traditional to downright extraordinary. When it opens next year, members will have access to a new lap pool, additional tennis courts, pickleball courts (see “Quite the Pickle”), a dog park, a new putting course, a restaurant and an open-air bar. “We’re even building a drive-in theatre where members can drive up in their golf carts and take in a movie.”

Existing members will gain access to the club as part of their memberships, and a new category will allow new members to join this sports club for $10,000. Cochrane and his associates are confident once these prospects come out and see what this facility offers, many will migrate up. “I can see them forging friendships with full golf members on the putting course or at dinner and wanting to take that next step.”

The first market PGA West will target is the hundreds of homes in the immediate vicinity, but Cochrane sees the appeal of the club expanding its reach. “We can go after people in San Diego, Los Angeles and even farther up the coast. There’s just nothing else like this anywhere out here.”

The club is privately owned by the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, a unique situation that proves extremely beneficial. “They totally bought in to the vision we presented.” Cochrane says. The deep-pocketed investors encouraged PGA West to go the extra mile. “It was a strange situation where we’d show them part of the plan and they’d tell us to go even bigger.”

With ground broken and buzz already building in the Palm Springs area, Cochrane says the new facility will usher in a new era at PGA West. “We’ve always been about creating exceptional experiences for our members and our employees,” he notes. “Adding to that experience with amenities like these is the future of this industry.”

Kyle Darbyson is a Vancouver-based freelance writer.

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