Golf course, gym strike deal toward future country club model

The The 260-acre Independence Golf Course. (Photo by Michael Schwartz)

The 260-acre Independence Golf Club course. Photo by Michael Schwartz.

In a bid to further hone its business model as a so-called public country club, a local golf course has struck a deal with an area fitness chain.

Independence Golf Club and ACAC recently finalized terms to offer a joint membership package that will allow users access to the 260-acre golf course, its club house, restaurants and other amenities, along with the fitness facilities, tennis courts and swimming pools at ACAC’s Midlothian location four miles away and its gym at West Broad Village.

Giff Breed, who with his brother Alan purchased the public course two years ago for $3 million and have put millions more dollars’ worth of work into the property, said the deal is the next step in their plan to try to redefine the country club.

“The ACAC partnership excites us because I feel like we’re pioneering the new model of a country club and entertainment venue,” Breed said. “It’s going to define the way country clubs operate in the future.”

ACAC's Midlothian facility at 11621 Robious Road.

ACAC’s Midlothian facility at 11621 Robious Road.

Joyce Steed, general manager of ACAC’s Midlothian location, said the company was intrigued by Breed’s effort at Independence and described the deal as an experiment worth trying.

“We’re going to start small but hopefully grow it over time into something really meaningful,” Steed said. “I don’t know that many fitness clubs have done this or how many golf clubs have done this, so we don’t even know what to expect.”

ACAC is a chain of seven gyms that was founded in Charlottesville in 1984. It has 12,000 members in Midlothian and about 7,000 at Short Pump, Steed said.

Breed’s hunch is that people will be willing to pay to get the golf, tennis and fitness facilities that any country club would have, without the typical country club restrictions like food and drink minimums, initiation fees or the need to be recommended by a current member to join.

He said the golf club and country club industry is grappling with finding the right model to stay viable and relevant in the age of the Millennial. It’s a generation, he said, that wants only to pay for the services they use, which is counter to some traditional clubs. So those who only want a club for the golf or tennis facilities only pay for that.

Individual membership for the Independence/ACAC combo will run $305 a month for golf, tennis, fitness and swimming.

“Most country clubs, you’re either single or you have a family (membership),” he said. “Ours is where you can break it up to the person so there’s no wasted money. It has to be a la carte.”

Giff Breed

Giff Breed

But there is still one part of the country club lifestyle that Breed is working to replicate.

“The challenge is really delivering on the social piece of it,” he said. “Private clubs have the advantage of being more social.”

He said many country club members pay the premium in order to have the built-in social scene – a trend he is trying to compete with by adding activities like a summer concert series, dance groups, and art and cooking programs. Its restaurants have been upgraded, and its pro shop has been converted into a broader retail store.

“I don’t think we’ve unlocked the code totally, but we’re at least trying things that are consistent, I believe, with where these venues are going to end up.”

Nearly two years into his ownership of Independence, Breed said his grand plan is still a work in progress. The initial steps were upgrades to the course and the facilities, which are largely completed. He also envisions creating a boutique hotel onsite, along with commercial space.

“We’re still trying to get there. You always think you can do it faster than you can really do it,” he said. “We got the golf course where we want it, got the restaurant, the shop. Those are the big pillars.

“I’m feeling guardedly optimistic.”

The The 260-acre Independence Golf Course. (Photo by Michael Schwartz)

The 260-acre Independence Golf Club course. Photo by Michael Schwartz.

In a bid to further hone its business model as a so-called public country club, a local golf course has struck a deal with an area fitness chain.

Independence Golf Club and ACAC recently finalized terms to offer a joint membership package that will allow users access to the 260-acre golf course, its club house, restaurants and other amenities, along with the fitness facilities, tennis courts and swimming pools at ACAC’s Midlothian location four miles away and its gym at West Broad Village.

Giff Breed, who with his brother Alan purchased the public course two years ago for $3 million and have put millions more dollars’ worth of work into the property, said the deal is the next step in their plan to try to redefine the country club.

“The ACAC partnership excites us because I feel like we’re pioneering the new model of a country club and entertainment venue,” Breed said. “It’s going to define the way country clubs operate in the future.”

ACAC's Midlothian facility at 11621 Robious Road.

ACAC’s Midlothian facility at 11621 Robious Road.

Joyce Steed, general manager of ACAC’s Midlothian location, said the company was intrigued by Breed’s effort at Independence and described the deal as an experiment worth trying.

“We’re going to start small but hopefully grow it over time into something really meaningful,” Steed said. “I don’t know that many fitness clubs have done this or how many golf clubs have done this, so we don’t even know what to expect.”

ACAC is a chain of seven gyms that was founded in Charlottesville in 1984. It has 12,000 members in Midlothian and about 7,000 at Short Pump, Steed said.

Breed’s hunch is that people will be willing to pay to get the golf, tennis and fitness facilities that any country club would have, without the typical country club restrictions like food and drink minimums, initiation fees or the need to be recommended by a current member to join.

He said the golf club and country club industry is grappling with finding the right model to stay viable and relevant in the age of the Millennial. It’s a generation, he said, that wants only to pay for the services they use, which is counter to some traditional clubs. So those who only want a club for the golf or tennis facilities only pay for that.

Individual membership for the Independence/ACAC combo will run $305 a month for golf, tennis, fitness and swimming.

“Most country clubs, you’re either single or you have a family (membership),” he said. “Ours is where you can break it up to the person so there’s no wasted money. It has to be a la carte.”

Giff Breed

Giff Breed

But there is still one part of the country club lifestyle that Breed is working to replicate.

“The challenge is really delivering on the social piece of it,” he said. “Private clubs have the advantage of being more social.”

He said many country club members pay the premium in order to have the built-in social scene – a trend he is trying to compete with by adding activities like a summer concert series, dance groups, and art and cooking programs. Its restaurants have been upgraded, and its pro shop has been converted into a broader retail store.

“I don’t think we’ve unlocked the code totally, but we’re at least trying things that are consistent, I believe, with where these venues are going to end up.”

Nearly two years into his ownership of Independence, Breed said his grand plan is still a work in progress. The initial steps were upgrades to the course and the facilities, which are largely completed. He also envisions creating a boutique hotel onsite, along with commercial space.

“We’re still trying to get there. You always think you can do it faster than you can really do it,” he said. “We got the golf course where we want it, got the restaurant, the shop. Those are the big pillars.

“I’m feeling guardedly optimistic.”

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Danny DeBoer
Danny DeBoer
6 years ago

Would love to see the business model. I am a bit skeptical, but I do hope they are successful. Do not believe it is a future model for private clubs.

BK Katherman
BK Katherman
6 years ago

Great idea for both Independence and ACAC. Both have great facilities and this gives people the opportunity to enjoy or learn to paly golf on an outstanding course.

Chris Miller
Chris Miller
6 years ago

Anyone know of they have explored ‘big hole’ days or leagues? Seems to me the industry suffers more from ‘leisure time’ available to its patrons than an interest. With less time to play in most people’s lives, speeding up the game introduces new players or casual players to the game. Allowing for more social players to feel competitive earlier in learning curve- it’s a trend/move that has saved courses across the USA. Even soccer golf and multi-uses for same ‘nine’ have led to renewed interest with company outings, friends-events, and team-building events from HR departments. Perhaps not right for this… Read more »

Jordan Utley
Jordan Utley
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris Miller

Hey Chris — Independence offers regulation-sized cups as well as 8″ cups (2 flags) on our par 3 course every day to encourage all levels of golfers the opportunity to enjoy the game of golf. We also have a 9-hole FootGolf course at IGC as well. Having these options is critical and allows us to expand our player base and get the beginners introduced to the game in a fun, social way.

Jeremy Parchesky
Jeremy Parchesky
6 years ago

I find it interesting they’ve framed this partnership as an opportunity “to be relevant in the age of the millennial”, but still don’t provide an opportunity for Junior Executive Memberships or the like. Maybe more access for a generation of young golfers could help growth of the game and bring a more social atmosphere to local clubs.