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June 2021

An Old Service Is New Again At Army Navy Country Club

By: Steve Eubanks

In the first decades of country clubs in America, pre-Great Depression, when most of the golf pros in America were natives of Scotland and almost all the members showed up for dinner in tuxedos and ball gowns, club staff provided services that today’s operators cannot fathom. A member who needed a floral bouquet delivered around lunchtime called the club florist. Lickety-split, the club valet scurried to a nearby residence with fresh-cut flowers. Laundry services, gun repair, tailers, cobblers, professional cigar rollers: These were all non-golf-related revenue streams for golf clubs from 1900 to 1930.  

But when the economy tanked in 1929, most of those services vanished along with many of the clubs themselves. By the time the game boomed again post-World War II, florists, clothiers and tobacconists operated independently, so those services were no longer needed at clubs.

A pandemic brought some of them back.

At the Army Navy Country Club, which has multiple courses in different locations but has its main facility in Arlington, Virginia, a healthy par-4 away from the Pentagon, shutdowns in the region forced residents indoors and left the club with some hard choices. Like many operators, managers at Army Navy had to either lay off staff or create some non-golf revenue streams to keep people employed. 

“We tried to add value to the membership by setting up something we originally called The Marketplace,” said Army Navy Country Club general manager Patrick King. “It has soap and hand sanitizer and toilet paper and all those sorts of things that might be in short supply elsewhere.

“It was also a grocery store that included fresh protein items that we were getting at the club anyway. But really it began as a necessary member service during the pandemic.”
 
The clubhouse at Army Navy has two distinct wings with a large porte-cochere in the front. That valet area became like a pickup window. Members would pull up, call in for their order, and a staffer would deliver the groceries and staples to the car.

Slowly, as the lockdowns eased and things returned to some semblance of normalcy, the services from The Marketplace went the way of club cobblers and floral delivery services. But one additional service remained. 

“As we started opening back up and we couldn’t handle all of the items, we converted over to what we call the Butcher Shop,” King said. “It now includes your bigger protein items, from gourmet hamburgers to bone-in short ribs and quality steaks. These are all the items that you would order from a butcher shop.”

Butcher shops conjure quaint images, a throwback to the days of drug store soda fountains and doctors carrying hard black bags and making house calls. Calling your club and asking the butcher to prepare a trio of cutlets you can pick up on your way home is a service that adds far more value than the additional revenue stream it generates.

But the revenue is not inconsequential. As King said, “At our peak we had 2,000 items in the marketplace. It has been whittled down to 1,000 or 1,200. In addition to the butcher shop, we sell beer and wine. It’s added about $38,000 in additional revenue.” 

More than anything, it kept staff employed during a time when other revenue outlets were shuttered. “It was about trying to retain the staff we had during the shutdown and creating a job and conditions where people could stay employed,” King said. “We never fully shut down (operations), but our restrictions were worse in March 2021 than they were in March 2020.

“That put a premium on these pickup items. Creating an outlet like we did was very helpful for everyone.” 

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