Remember the good old days when a country club membership was right up there with the other Five Cs? While the other Four Cs (car, cash, condo, credit card) are still very much alive, nobody really cares about country clubs these days.
In fact, a recent news report revealed that country clubs are struggling to recruit younger members, and risk falling into obscurity.
Now, let's set aside the argument that less and less young people think walking around in Lacoste polo tees is cool and focus on the actual facilities offered by a country club.
In the past, a country club was a one-stop-shop for everything you could ever want to do in your spare time. Members would spend most of their free time at the club using the sporting facilities like pools, tennis courts and golf courses, eat their meals at the club restaurants and then play billiards or have a beer at the bar. Their entire social circles were derived from their clubs, so it's easy to see why they were willing to pay such a hefty price.
While clubs have started offering promotions on their membership fees in order to attract new members, they're ignoring the fact that many of the benefits they offer are simply obsolete. Short of reinventing themselves, they're going to face an inevitable decline if they don't start offering something new.
Here are 5 benefits of country clubs, and why young people these days prefer to get them elsewhere.
1. NETWORKING WITH LIKE-MINDED BUSINESS AND SOCIAL CONNECTIONS
I have parents of friends whose entire social lives revolve around the country clubs and town clubs they've been members of for decades. They are at their clubs several times a week, and each time they arrive they get excited about seeing all their friends again. In fact, those parents who are members of clubs seem to have more active social lives than those who don't.
That's understandable because a couple of decades ago, it was a lot harder to socialise and make friends than it is today. People didn't have the internet, so it was harder to find activities related to their interests or organise and participate in parties and events.
These days, thanks to the Internet, it's super easy to meet new people — and I'm not talking about Tinder. It seems like there's some block party or festival every other week. No matter how obscure or creepy your hobbies are, there's probably a group somewhere out there that brings together like-minded individuals. For example, if you like to run, there are numerous free and paid running groups that meet in the CBD after work.
Business connections are also less difficult to come by, with lots of big networking events advertised on platforms like Eventbrite and Meetup.
2. SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT FACILITIES
One of the biggest draws of country clubs used to be sports facilities. Country and town clubs usually have the bare minimum of swimming pools, tennis courts, squash courts and a gym. Country clubs have the added draw of golf courses, which is where many older businessmen spend all their free time.
Clubs also usually employ professional coaches to help members improve in their sports. If you had classmates from well-to-do families with country club memberships, it's likely they were very good swimmers and also decent tennis or golf players, thanks to the coaching they received as kids.
The problem for these clubs is that fewer young people are actually still interested in the types of sports they offer. These days, young Singaporeans are more interested in sports and activities like MMA, yoga and SUP. They want to mingle with other young professionals at flashy gyms in the CBD in between hot yoga classes. There are just too many sports competing for people's attention these days. Even if you never learn how to play golf, it's no big deal. You can just sign up for ClassPass or KFIT and try everything under the sun.
3. RESTAURANTS, CAFES AND BARS
For many country club members, life revolves around the F&B establishments at their clubs. Some tai tais go to the club every day, starting out with breakfast and ending at dinner.
It's easy to see why the prospect of eating at the same restaurants every day is just not that appealing to younger people these days.
There are zillions of restaurants all over Singapore now, with new ones continuing to pop up like mushrooms. Affluent young Singaporeans have no shortage of atas restaurants to choose from, so why eat at the club? Plus, the younger crowd these days live for instagrammable food and backdrops not found in country clubs.
4. ONE-STOP-SHOP FOR ALL YOUR LEISURE NEEDS
One of the draws of a country club used to be that it was a one-stop-shop for all your leisure needs. Whether you wanted to take a dip in the pool, enjoy a golf game, attend a party or have dinner, you could always head to the club. It was convenient, safe and gave people a sense of belonging.
Millennials, on the other hand, crave variety. It could be due to all that information overload thanks to the internet, but the thought of spending all your free time in one place just isn't that attractive anymore.
People want to check out a new neighbourhood every weekend, dine in a different restaurant every day of the week, stay at staycations and spend their vacations exploring new overseas destinations.
Many young people are actually very willing to spend big money on their lifestyles. They just don't want to spend it all in one place. That's why services like The Entertainer can survive since they cater to people's need to always be going to new places and trying new food or activities.
5. A COUNTRY CLUB WAS A STATUS SYMBOL
The above reasons contribute to the sad fact that country clubs are finding it hard to establish themselves as a symbol of status.
This is not to say that millennials aren't concerned about showing off their status anymore. They just seek other ways to do it. It could be having an Instagrammable acai bowl, receiving an expensive push gift from a spouse, getting their hands on thousand-dollar hype sneakers, or going on a beautiful honeymoon to Santorini.
It's the age of "pics or it didn't happen," and country clubs aren't catching up. It seems like the whole idea of a country club-a gated community to satisfy all the needs of its members-is obsolete. It's difficult to see how these establishments can remain relevant. Like the dinosaurs, it could be time for them to bid the world farewell.
This article was first published in MoneySmart.