A recent article from CityLab posed what is surely the most important question of our time: Why won’t millennials join country clubs? According to writer Kelsey Lawrence, country clubs are failing to gain a foothold among a younger demographic for a variety of reasons, not limited to their well-deserved reputations for racial and religious discrimination, exorbitant membership fees, “old-fashioned dress codes and rules about cell-phone use,” and the fact that country clubs have largely centered their social activities around one of the most boring yet expensive sports in the world: golf.
To combat their increasing irrelevance and shed their Caddyshack legacy, country clubs are attempting to adapt to a more broke and more tolerant generation, offering trial memberships for young professionals, doing away with initiation fees altogether, and offering activities off the putting green. Writes Lawrence:
To draw Millennials, many clubs feature more non-golf amenities—especially health and wellness options like gyms, personal trainers, and yoga classes. Tradition Golf Club in La Quinta, California, reported that its fitness center had hosted “guest lecturers on a variety of health topics as well as [being] the kickoff point for biking groups, and planned area hikes.”
But as Lawrence notes, they’re still competing with “new urban clubs” like The Wing, Soho House, and the Assemblage that are not only concentrated in city centers like most of millennial life, but also treat work as their cornerstone, rather than leisure. And that, more than anywhere else, is where country clubs are failing.
Contrary to the stereotypes, millennials tend to be workaholics. According to an online survey of 5,600 workers conducted by Project: Time Off, almost half of millennials identify as “work martyrs”—workers who are not only overly dedicated to their jobs but feel so indispensable that they’re wracked by guilt every time they take off. The survey found that “millennials are the most likely generation to forfeit time off, even though they earn the least amount of vacation days.” Email, Slack, and a variety of other technologies that define modern workplaces has only fueled that workaholicism—now work no longer ends, because it can be taken everywhere.
The rising popularity of urban clubs like the Wing proves that some millennials are willing to shell out a decent amount of cash for a community—as long as that community comes with career-enhancing perks. Look no further than the descriptions for the most popular members only co-working spaces. Soho House aims “to assemble communities of members that have something in common: namely, a creative soul. The majority of our members work in traditional creative industries, with the film, fashion, advertising, music, art and media sectors, among others, heavily represented.” The Assemblage is a coworking, co-living and community space that bills itself as “collaboration for the future of humanity.” And the Wing’s front page declares in millennial pink that they’re a “work and community space for women.” WeWork, one of the most ambitious “community-based” startups, didn’t even bother disguising what that sense of community is predicated on in a fancy name.
These spaces blur the boundaries of work and life, turning leisure time into an opportunity for networking. And as much as millennials, myself included, talk a big game about wanting more balance between work and life, the increasing popularity of these spaces suggest we can never completely step away from work. Country clubs and the bucolic images of uninterrupted recreation that they evoke are the antithesis to the “work hard, play hard” ethos that urban clubs traffic in. If they want to survive, they should consider draining the pool and erecting an open floor plan office in its place.