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Sample country club life at discounted price

ST. PETERSBURG

The annual northern migration of snowbirds makes for a slow summer season for many Pinellas County businesses, and country clubs are no exception.

While unfilled tee times and half-empty restaurants, along with a stagnant economy, create headaches for club managers, they can mean opportunity for local residents.

Several area country clubs offer discounted summer memberships, allowing those who couldn't normally afford the high price tag to get a taste of the country club lifestyle.

St. Petersburg Country Club offers a family golf membership from May 1 through Oct. 31 for $165 per month plus a $165 initiation fee, which includes use of the golf course, tennis courts and swimming pool. They also offer individual rates and less expensive swim and tennis memberships. "It's good for people looking for something to do with their kids for summer or those who don't want to put out the hefty price tag for full membership," said Christy Dollins, the membership marketing director for the club.

"The summer membership is a value because you receive many of the regular privileges at a substantially lower cost."

The club has offered the summer memberships for several years. Dollins said many members head North for the summer and the open tee times create an opportunity to market the club.

"It's really good exposure," she said, adding that about 30 percent of the summer members eventually convert to full membership.

Several other Pinellas County clubs also offer summer memberships including Isla Del Sol Country Club and Seminole Lake Country Club.

Frank Butler, the managing director for the Florida chapter of the Club Manager's Association of America, said summer memberships are specific to Sun Belt clubs. "It's a way of maintaining membership and preserving jobs," he said.

Like many industries, the downturn in the economy has affected country clubs.

"Membership is a challenging issue before us because of the economy," Butler said. "Stronger clubs will do better, and by that I don't necessarily mean those with more money, but those that are well-managed."

Kathi Diggs, the chief operating officer for the CMAA, agrees. "Clubs have to change. They have to progress and think outside of the box," she said.

As a way of maintaining and building membership, many clubs are working to become more family oriented. "That's the biggest trend right now," Diggs said.

In addition to summer memberships, the St. Petersburg Country Club offers summer youth camps for members and recently opened a fitness center.

Dollins, the membership director, said their efforts have paid off.

"We've got members flooding in here," she said.

Michael Maharrey can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or mmaharrey@sptimes.com.

Sample country club life at discounted price 04/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 2:13pm]
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