When The Club at Old Hawthorne opened in May of 2007, it felt like the right time for a new country club in mid-Missouri. Columbia Country Club had no space to expand its facilities. Country Club of Missouri on the city’s southwest side had just passed the 35-year mark. For the first 15 months, that feeling proved right; membership grew steadily, and the club appeared on track for success.
But then the bottom dropped out. When the 2008 financial crisis hit in August and September, millions lost pensions and homes, and even the least affected citizens were forced to tighten their belts. Luxury items such as golf equipment and club memberships were among the first things squeezed out of many household budgets. For almost two years, membership growth at Old Hawthorne slowed to a crawl.
However, in the four years since the crash, the economy has slowly made its way out of the doldrums, bringing the club with it. In the past 12 months alone, Old Hawthorne has added 70 members, or about 15 percent of its total membership base. So how is Columbia’s newest country club getting people to sign up?
Hotspot for growth
Most obviously, the economy has been slowly creeping toward full recovery, putting more money in people’s pockets. But Travis McCubbin, the club’s general manager, says that’s only part of the equation. He attributes only about 25 percent of the new membership boom to the improving economy, with the other 75 percent being a result of more people moving to the eastern edge of the city, where the club is located. This trend is poised to continue as well. In April of this year, Pat Zenner, Columbia development services manager, told the Columbia Missourian that the area is a hotspot for growth because of its strong existing infrastructure.
But behind Old Hawthorne’s growth is more than these structural factors. The club has gone out of its way to provide some of the best facilities in the region, including a more than 7,000-yard golf course with zoysia grass fairways and extensive practice facilities featuring a driving range that’s been recognized as one of the top 50 in the country by the Golf Range Association of America. The club’s golf resources are so strong that both the University of Missouri’s men’s and women’s golf teams call it home.
In fact, the Tigers have enjoyed their new home so much that they’ve decided to add to it. Following an $8.3 million gift from the Walsworth family in January of this year, MU has broken ground on a new team clubhouse that will include locker rooms, coaches’ offices and indoor hitting areas with state-of-the-art swing analysis technologies. Old Hawthorne members will be able to use the facility as well but only when accompanied by one of the club’s golf pros.
“It’s really a win-win for us,” McCubbin says.
Appealing to the masses
Although golf is the major draw for many private clubs, Old Hawthorne isn’t neglecting the social and recreational sides of its business. The club’s main building was originally a 6,000-square-foot replica of President Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, but has since been expanded to around 30,000 square feet. Club management is also looking into adding tennis courts and a competition pool to go alongside its recreational pool. McCubbin says these efforts go to the heart of the club’s strategies: “Nowadays, you can’t appeal to just one kind of person, so we try to be attractive to everyone,” he says.
Another of the ways Old Hawthorne has fueled its renewed growth is by offering a variety of membership options to appeal to people who might not otherwise consider a private club. In addition to the traditional golf and social memberships seen at most clubs, Hawthorne has added options such as the nonresident and national memberships, which allow frequent visitors to Columbia such as traveling businesspeople or parents of college students to make use of club facilities when they are in town for a discounted fee. To pull in the younger crowd, the club also offers legacy memberships for children of current members and a limited number of student memberships. For legacy members, initial fees and monthly dues are reduced and then slowly increase over many years until reaching full price. “We’re trying to build a generational club,” McCubbin says.
The club’s event services have also seen healthy growth, which McCubbin attributes to the retreat-like atmosphere Old Hawthorne has been able to cultivate, despite being just a little more than 10 minutes from The District and the heart of Columbia. Hosting a “healthy mix” of social and business events, the club has just hired its first catering manager to help with the increased volume.
At just more than 6 years old, Old Hawthorne has faced down some tough economic challenges, but the club is still building up to its ultimate goal. “We’re not ripping things up and replacing them; we’re still adding them,” McCubbin says. “We’re trying to provide world-class facilities with a down-home feel.”