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Country Club Scene Making a Comeback in Metro Detroit

When the Birmingham Athletic Club brought in a consultant to consider a massive, club-wide renovation, the first question that expert asked was why the upscale, family-friendly club had its main member dining room facing the parking lot.

So when the 13-month renovation got underway in May 2018, the BAC pointedly moved the eating space to the back of the building, where it now overlooks the more impressive pools, tennis courts and 9-hole miniature golf course. The club also made other big changes, including adding a two-story, 8,000-square-foot summer clubhouse known as the Shark Tank, where members can grab a quick bite, a drink or drop off their kids for day camp. The more casual space cut back on the BAC’s “white tablecloth” feel, encouraging more of its younger members and families to eat there, said General Manager Paul Spencer. 

The changes seem to have made a difference. Not only has dining revenue at the BAC seen a double-digit increase, but membership is going up, too, Spencer said. The club has added 37 members over where it was a year ago and is seeing a rise in younger members who are looking for more health, fitness and social options. 

It's "a cool, casual club and we’re excited for what’s to come. All across metro Detroit, the swanky social scene is seeing a revival of sorts these days, with well-known country clubs, yacht clubs and golf clubs investing millions of dollars into their dated facilities. They're part of a national trend in this strong economy to gain a younger and wider array of members, said Henry Wallmeyer, president and CEO of The National Club Association in Washington, D.C., a trade group that advocates for the private club industry.

Private clubs were the original Facebook, where people came together to meet others, share stories and do things with friends. Successful clubs understand that the old model of strict dress codes and limited activities is outdated. With the various competition out there with different options for what people could be doing for recreation, clubs are looking to find ways to be the third place for families behind home and work/school. This is becoming more successful by relaxing dress codes, allowing electronics and adding more casual areas for work and play.

A resort in the neighborhood

This spring, the Wabeek Country Club in Bloomfield Township changed hands and new owners led by investor Joe Barbat are investing in renovations to areas including the pool, banquet hall, dining room, fitness area and locker rooms. The goal is to create more of a resort feel than a traditional country club as they look to attract the club member of the future. Future generations want the contemporary modern feel one would experience in Miami or LA.

The economy is strong, and it’s a perfect opportunity for us to attract the modern day professional that wants to enjoy the club life and network socially in an atmosphere with like-minded and affluent members.

Members want more

The Detroit Club added 10 hotel rooms, took out a bowling alley to add a new fitness room and spa and redid its third floor to create a cigar lounge. In recent months, it has also updated the furniture in its main-floor area to be less formal.

Waterfront clubs in Detroit are also seeing the benefits of improvements. 

This fall, the Bayview Yacht Club in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood of Detroit is starting a renovation estimated at around $3.7 million that will include improvements to the 1928 clubhouse and more views and connection to the Detroit River, said Natalie Coticchio, communications coordinator.

The Detroit Yacht Club has made $500,000 in changes this year to attract and retain members, including updating its member restaurant, adding a pool deck expansion of approximately 1,200 square feet and installing a new wood pergola at the outdoor pool entrance, said Collette Osuna, director of sales and marketing for the Detroit-based club.

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