“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.” – Mark Twain, as quoted by William L. Phelps in a book published 80 years ago titled, “Autobiography with Letters.”
I truly believe Mark Twain had it right. Long before Twain’s wisdom on the nature of aging, civilized humans as far back as Alexander the Great roamed the planet in search of age-defying secrets and solutions. Now, more than any previous generation, people are doing everything they can to try to remain forever young.
To be sure, there is no ‘fountain of youth’ in Florida or some mythical fantasy land where you ‘never’ grow old, but there is a place where men and women are seemingly living younger. That place is the ever-changing modern private golf and country club.
Places like Lake Toxaway Country Club in North Carolina, where general manager John Schoenbeck oversees a historic private club community overlooking the largest man-made lake in the heart of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, is such a place.
More than a century ago, Lake Toxaway Hotel (and its namesake lake) was considered one of the most luxurious places in the country and quickly became an exclusive escape for many of America’s privileged class after the five-star-caliber hotel opened in 1895. Among the famous turn-of-the-century regulars were Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, the Vanderbilt’s and Thomas Edison.
More than 100 years later, Lake Toxaway’s man-made ‘fountain of youth’ is positioned to be even more popular – and youthful -- once the private club begins construction in August on a multi-million, family-centric pool complex that connects to the famed lake. Picture a setting where families can pull up on their float boats, walk a few steps and enjoy pizzas made to order, craft cocktails poolside and children are equally as entertained swimming in the resort-style pool or hanging out in their private entertainment room.
This is just one striking example of how the country club today looks nothing like the clubs of yesterday. Indeed, where private clubs once were the bastions of mostly golf and card-playing men being boys a generation ago, today’s clubs have the look and feel of some of the trendiest restaurants, coolest nightclubs and family-friendly Four Diamond resorts where men, womenand children are cavorting together – all being kids again.
Yes, this isn’t your father’s or grandfather’s country club anymore. In many respects, it’s Neverland in North Carolina. We are seeing requests for clubs like this more and more at Kuo Diedrich Chi, as we are asked to envision and design the changing look and feel of 21st-century private clubs.
Part of my philosophical approach is to “declub” the club. Or simply put, it’s about embracing inclusive leisure places and spaces where modern-day members – not to mention the current generation of parents - can create experiences and memories for multiple generations that last a lifetime.
The dramatic shift in leisure-time lifestyles at private clubs is also pronounced inside Lake Toxaway’s newly renovated $7.1 million clubhouse. In working with John Schoenbeck, we imagined the newly created Firestone Bar & Grille to be symbolic of this new-age dining space.
Featuring an expansive indoor and outdoor bar, casual grill area and a sweeping covered dining porch with scenic lake and golf course views, we’ve already seen the success of the dining venue, which includes being named 2018 Golden Fork Club award as the most improved private club restaurant by Golf Inc. magazine.
More importantly, in only one year after it opened, the Firestone Bar & Grille, brought to life in part with award-winning interior designer, Traci Rhoads, is paying real dividends back to the club. In fact, Lake Toxaway experienced an unprecedented 60 percent increase in their a la carte food and beverage business.
“That kind of volume increase was more than we ever hoped,” Schoenbeck said to me in a follow-up conversation. “Everybody is just piling into the new area. We still get one to two requests for tables inside the older dining room, which was also completely revamped and tends to be a little quieter, but everybody else wants to be joining the party.”
Schoenbeck also told me that as a result of our design that doubled their outdoor seating, “It’s so beautiful up there. Everybody just wants to look at the mountains because it’s a great vibe with the craft beers, the cool specials, TVs in the bar and more.”
When I asked Schoenbeck what other GMs should consider as they embark on transformative club renovations, he said, “Clubs need to hang onto some of the traditions and golf is obviously still very important, but you’ve got to evolve and be a place where people want to hang out and have fun.”