Country Clubs: Stuck in the Rough

This week’s Business Week reported on the financial woes prevalent at private golf clubs. The current crisis many are experiencing is predominantly recession-related. More white-collar workers and executives have lost their jobs in this recession than in previous ones, and when you lose your job, paying thousands of dollars for a golf club membership falls way down the list of priorities.

But the sudden crisis is also happening because of a longer term trend: Private golf club memberships have been falling for the last 20 years. Business Week reports that 2.1 million golfers belong to private clubs these days, down 900,000 from the peak in the early 1990s. Belonging to a club just isn’t that important to many executives anymore. In a more competitive world, businesses don’t feel like footing the fees. Many executives are now women, and while plenty of women like to golf, on the margins, you’re less likely to see a woman entertaining her clients on the links.

But finally, most critically, while businessmen may have once viewed their clubs as weekend havens from the wife and kids, younger men no longer wish to spend the weekends away from their families. One of the most fascinating changes in how Americans spend their time over the past 40 years has been the increase in time that married fathers spend with their children. While the numbers are still low, they’ve pretty much tripled since the 1960s.

As these average hours creep up, it changes the culture. In a growing number of communities, a young father who spends his weekends on the g0lf course instead of, say, coaching his son’s Little League team, would be viewed as fairly pathetic. While this may spell tough times for country clubs, it’s a positive for family life, recession or not.

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