By Steve Eubanks
As the industry continues to evolve, East West Partners is shifting its course management philosophy by finding new ways to make golf fit within today’s modern club
The “partners” at East West Partners are known for creating and operating some of the highest-end resorts in the land, starting with Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and extending today to places like Snowmass in Colorado and the Alpine Club on the California side of Lake Tahoe. Lesser known is the fact that East West Partners Club Management, headquartered on the “east” side, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has been managing clubs for third parties since the early 1990s.
During that time, the company has modified its philosophy as the club industry has changed. “We don’t own any golf courses anymore,” explains company president Charles Nottingham. “We manage golf courses and we consult for golf courses, but we also manage all kinds of other amenities associated with real estate, like equestrian centers, yacht clubs, spas, hotels… If it’s associated with real estate, we could be involved in managing the operation of the amenities.”
As golf goes, Nottingham has seen the business change because of how the golfer’s attitude has evolved. “The customer no longer believes that golf is the No. 1 priority in a club membership,” he says. “People still play golf, but it used to be that golf was the primary driver [for club membership] because one or more members of the family played golf two or three times a week. That’s no longer the case. Members can’t take five or six hours out of a day every week to play golf. So, they’re looking at other reasons to join a club.”
Social activities have become the major driver for membership sales, so much so that every club East West Partners manages has a full-time, year-round activities director.
“That (activities director) doesn’t do golf because the golf pro takes care of that; doesn’t do tennis because the tennis professional does that,” Nottingham notes. “Now during the summer, they include golf and tennis in their programming. If it’s a club in the mountains, they might do overnights; they might do fishing, boating—whatever other recreational opportunities are associated with the club and the property, the activities director designs and manages those. We also have kids’ clubs at all our facilities. If you’re coming to the gym, for example, you can drop the child off at kids’ club, where there are activities while you engage in whatever you’re doing at the club.”
Golf fits into this new paradigm, but not as the crown jewel of any particular club or property. “We’re working right now with the club to redesign their driving range and add a short course around the perimeter of the practice facilities,” Nottingham says. “A lot of people are looking at that sort of addition. I’ve seen golf course communities that were originally designed with 27 holes but [the owners] have repurposed nine of those holes into a short course.
According to Nottingham, it’s all part of the effort to make the game less intimidating everywhere. “There are some really good golfers out there who want nothing but the most challenging course you can have, but our best members aren’t the best players. They enjoy the game, but want to make golf as family friendly and sociable as possible. We’re working to achieve those same goals. That’s the future of the game.”
Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.