Family scene at area country clubs

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Lisa Roach was never good at sitting on the sidelines. So, when her husband, Mark, announced that he wanted to play more golf, the mother of two young boys joined him.
“I did not want to be a golf widow—plain and simple. So I picked up a pair of clubs that I’d played with 10 years earlier and said, ‘I’m playing golf,’” Roach recalls. She began playing once a week in a ladies league. Now, when she can, Roach plays several times a week at Shaker Ridge Country Club in Loudonville, where the Roach family has belonged for the last decade.
Both her sons, now 16 and 17, learned to play golf there. Training and practicing on the club’s course earned their oldest a spot on the Shaker High School golf team. The boys also attended Shaker Ridge’s summer camp for most of their younger years.
The age of the average club member continues to drop, from 60 in 1990 to 55 today, according to the National Club Association in Washington, D.C. Country clubs are responding with more family-friendly activities. And, as more of these clubs cater to families, they are shaking off an image that once painted them as reserved for the rich, upper class.
“It’s a really good family-oriented place to be,” Lisa Roach says of the Capital Region’s country club scene. “The atmosphere is actually quite suitable for children.”
Charlene Fitzgerald’s membership at Pinehaven Country Club in Guilderland helped her nurture a close relationship with her grandson, now 17.
“You can only go to the movies so many times. At the club, after we golf together, my grandson takes to the pool. It really, truly helped our relationship because it’s something we can do together,” Fitzgerald says. An avid golfer, she introduced her son to the sport when he was in high school. Now, she and her grandson, who comes from Pennsylvania to spend part of the summers with his grandparents, play in Pinehaven’s parent-child golf tournaments.
To attract more families, clubs now offer events that feature bouncy-bounces, popcorn and cotton candy, and poolside games. There also are charity golf tournaments—often appealing to the less-skilled golfer—junior golf tournaments, book clubs and movie nights. The clubs offer a broader range of age and membership categories, have adjusted dining hours and tee times to accommodate busy schedules, and are creating more family and social events.
“Country clubs offer families an ideal environment to use the facilities and course at their convenience,” says Scott Warren, Professional Golf Association (PGA) professional at Pinehaven. For example, Warren says, members might be able to squeeze in only an hour of course time, so they play four or five holes while the rest of the family sits at the pool. Later, they might grab lunch or dinner together.
Like other area country clubs, Loudonville’s Shaker Ridge is seeing an uptick in family memberships. It’s common to have several generations of a family as members, and the club now offers 20 different types of memberships, ranging from $2,000 to $5,900 a year, to fit both needs and budget. The list of activities continues to grow: Couples play in golf leagues on Fridays, then move to the bar and restaurant for an evening of trivia or live entertainment. Thursdays cater to children, with magic acts, painting and other activities. Sunday afternoons are family-driven on the golf course, with a less structured atmosphere for players.
Many clubs sponsor Halloween parties, family fun days, swim clubs, junior golf clinics, tennis programs and summer camps for children. These activities help change a family’s perception that country clubs are out of reach for them financially.
After the economy plummeted in 2008, people began making more decisions on spending. This shift in spending led to more creativity on the part of country clubs, says Bill Sarver, general manager at Shaker Ridge.
“People think country clubs are pretentious and they can’t afford them.  It’s not true. That’s a huge stereotype,” Sarver says.
Country clubs also are a great resource for social contact. Charlene Fitzgerald, the golfing grandmother who is president of the 13-member Capital District Golf Club Association, met her husband, Jack, on the first hole at Pinehaven 35 years ago. They were married a year later.
Lisa Roach’s sons attended camp at Shaker Ridge for several consecutive summers when they were younger. Both her sons were well socialized growing up, but Roach watched as the camps transformed children who had difficulties fitting in with others.
“It’s good for kids who aren’t gregarious or don’t have outlets to meet others their age. It’s an avenue for them to meet and hang out with other kids,” she says.
With the warm weather approaching and a brutal winter in the rear-view mirror, memberships at area country clubs are picking up. Some are offering special rates to try out the facilities. For example, single members can join Colonie Golf & Country Club in Voorheesville for $99 for 30 days, giving them unlimited golf, tennis and dining room access during that time. Clubs also offer special memberships for professionals who work in the Capital Region but travel home on the weekends, and special rates for students.
“There’s a category for everyone,” says Sarver, the general manager at Shaker Ridge. “For many clubs these days, it’s about serving families and having fun.”
 

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