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A NEW COUNTRY-CLUB SET

Matt Bisset and his children, Madison, Jack and Avery, eat dinner at the tiki hut at the St. Petersburg Country Club. The bar and dining area is one of the ways the club is reaching out to attract younger families. More country clubs are focusing on the entire family, not just golfing dads.
Luis Santana/tbt*

Matt Bisset and his children, Madison, Jack and Avery, eat dinner at the tiki hut at the St. Petersburg Country Club. The bar and dining area is one of the ways the club is reaching out to attract younger families. More country clubs are focusing on the entire family, not just golfing dads. Luis Santana/tbt*

Pressed to boost declining membership, more and more private country clubs are looking beyond the tee box for ways to attract new people.

St. Petersburg Country Club built a tiki hut for tailgating parties and added a fitness center with electronic access.

East Lake Woodlands Country Club organized a cooking class for kids and, last weekend, hosted Oktoberfest.

Both have discount memberships for young executives and families.

"Young people are our future,'' said Anne Gibaldi, East Lake's membership director. "Older members are still our bread and butter, but we need a constant pipeline of younger families.''

Like many private clubs, East Lake recently started promoting a membership for people younger than 41. The golf and tennis package costs $258 a month, which includes playing privileges at Countryside Country Club. Normally, that same membership would cost $415 a month.

To sweeten deals even more, many clubs are waiving the initiative fee, which can cost several thousand dollars. Long the domain of older men, clubs now focus on the family.

"If dad wants to spend the day at the club, it's got to be a part of a deal,'' said Lee Hoke, a University of Tampa economics professor and golf-course consultant. "He'll play nine holes in the morning, then go to the pool (with the kids) and mom goes to play nine holes.''

In the past three years, St. Petersburg Country Club has grown from about 450 to 850 members, largely by recruiting younger members. It has a six-month summer membership for singles and families and a discounted junior membership for 21- to 34-year-olds. To cater to the new crowd, the club added the tiki bar and fitness center and upgraded the pool area. Sundown golf sessions and Friday night tennis parties, which run until 1 a.m., fill the club during normally slow times.

"We want to get (the club) ingrained in their lifestyle,'' said Phil Powell, president of the board who helped spearhead the efforts. "We're competing for that dollar.''

While older members might not like young people and kids invading their turf — at a fraction of what they've been paying — most understand that a club's survival depends on it. "Older members have been surprisingly accepting of this,'' Powell said. "I don't think anyone appreciates the dues difference, but we realize that it also spreads out the overall burden.''

Kristie and Jason Alvis were among about 30 couples and families who have taken advantage of young executive memberships at Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club, which cost about $260 a month. The Alvises live on a golf course in Pasco County but wanted a full-service club for themselves and their two daughters, ages 3 and 7.

They do Friday night scrambles and attend monthly wine-tasting dinners. Kristie joined the women's golf league on Thursdays, and the girls enjoy the Kids Zone.

The family goes twice a week, if not more. Instead of dinner out, they hit the club.

"We did think about the cost and whether we would get our money out of it,'' she said. "But we're using it enough that we think that it's worth it.''

Want a deal?

Most private country clubs have membership information on their Web sites, or call the club's membership director for details.

A NEW COUNTRY-CLUB SET 10/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 6:04pm]

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