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September 2020

Standing Together

standing.jpgSouthworth Clubs Extend Sense Of Community To The Post-Covid World

By Steve Eubanks

The difficulty for multi-course operators with courses spread hither and yon has always been creating a sense of continuity, a common thread that transcends location and gives the members and guests a feeling of belonging no matter which property they visit. 

Who would have thought that, for one developer at least, a pandemic would become that bonding agent? 

Southworth, the Boston-based club development company with properties from New England to old Scotland, suburban D.C. to low-key Abaco Island, always had thematic consistencies at its clubs. Perfectly ripe apples in coolers on various tee boxes are a dead giveaway that you’re playing a Southworth course. There are other subtleties, like hand-mown tee boxes that are stripped and perfectly cornered, great setbacks between the course and the surrounding homes and conditioning and layout that is second to none. There are no mediocre courses under the Southworth name.

But beyond that, the communities didn’t have a lot in common. Why would they? The members of Renaissance on Boston’s historic North Shore might not have any desire to visit Aldie, Virginia, where Creighton Farms sits just west of Washington, D.C. And members from both places might have little in common with the folks who play Machrihanish Dunes in northwest Scotland, a village where Paul McCartney once bought a summer home at the end of a “long and winding road.”

They do get together in normal times. Before the days of travel restrictions and quarantines, folks from Willowbend on Cape Cod often escaped the New England winters by traveling to the Abaco Club, another Southworth club about a 20-minute drive from Marsh Harbour on idyllic Abaco Island in the Bahamas. And it was not unusual for members at Creighton Farms to spend a few days in Machrihanish during links tours of golf’s motherland.

“Throughout the Southworth network of clubs, we have members from different clubs who quite often get together and do some things,” said David DeSmith, director of marketing for Southworth Development. “So, despite our footprint being a fairly broad one, members from the different clubs get to know each other.”

But in a move no one could have expected, the coronavirus, a worldwide catastrophe that shut down leisure travel for most of 2020, actually brought the disparate members of Southworth clubs even closer together as they bonded through digital programming.

“Faced with the coronavirus, we wanted several things,” DeSmith said. “First, we wanted to provide a sense of community for people who have been isolated. And, number two, we wanted to provide ways for the different communities to stay connected as a Southworth family.

“When we took a look at the kinds of content our members might be interested in, we found that they wanted things for kids, because kids were stuck at home, workout routines that could be done at home instead of in the gym, and golf and tennis tips that could be worked on during a period when you might not be able to get out of the house.

“Those things were obvious. But we also wanted to go beyond the things that were more cultural and provided a benefit that the members might not find anywhere else. That led us to create an author series, digital events where we had authors engage with our members in an online video meeting. The authors would do a reading from their books and answer questions.

“We also did a night with David McLay Kidd, the golf course architect who designed our course in Scotland at Machrihanish Dunes and has done a lot of interesting design work all around the world. A lot of our members were interested in being part of a discussion with him because they had been to Machrihanish Dunes or they were interested in sharing their experiences and thoughts on course architecture.

“We had virtual wine-tasting events with several vineyards. A lot of our members are interested in learning about wine, so that made a lot of sense.

“We also wanted to create events that were fun for the members. So, we established online trivia where members from various clubs created their own teams.”

What DeSmith and his colleagues realized was that even as travel restrictions loosened up and stay-at-home orders receded, Southworth members wanted the digital connections to continue. The family atmosphere members found in these forums connected them with other Southworth members in ways that a once-every-couple-of-years trip never could. 

“Going forward, this is something that is an additional way to provide services to our members that is relevant, affordable and appreciated by everyone,” DeSmith said. “We were lucky at Southworth in that we have several different clubs and we have expertise that we can share. So, the golf pro at Creighton Farms can share a tip throughout the entire Southworth community or the chef at the Abaco Club might video a demonstration on how to make conch ceviche, which we can share with people who are stuck up in New England.  

“People love the fitness tips and those will certainly continue,” DeSmith said. “Even in places where gyms are open, people like the idea of getting up in the morning and going to our virtual experience and trying a fitness tip for that day. We’re also looking forward to continuing the online trivia. It brings everybody from all the clubs together in one.”
The success of these programs wasn’t a surprise. Cooped-up people yearn for human connections, even if they are virtual. But everyone was surprised by the bonds those events created as well as the demand for them to continue.
 
“This was something that we were forced into,” DeSmith said. “But it is something that will continue into the foreseeable future.”

 

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