A Club for the Ages –  Young and Old

Traditions Stay While New Amenities Take Hold

By Jay Gonzales

When a country club has a 75-year history like Tucson Country Club, updating the club’s offerings while respecting its traditions is paramount.

It should be no surprise that the anchor to Tucson Country Club’s amenities is the historic William Bell golf course that remains one of the top venues in the region. It remains such an attraction that the club has partnered with the University of Arizona to make it the home course for the school’s traditionally powerful men’s and women’s golf programs.

But the changing landscape of country club membership means Tucson Country Club must be on its toes with its amenities as new interests arise – anyone for pickleball? – and as the membership becomes more diverse in age groups.

A club needs to attract new members – some might suggest younger members – while keeping the so-called “old guard” satisfied that the reasons they joined, some of them decades ago, are still a big part of why they remain members.

Nationally, there is believed to be a “youth movement” toward country clubs even though some data suggests otherwise.

“We ran an analysis not long ago, and our average age actually has gone up a little bit,” said Ryan Davis, who has been at Tucson Country for six years and was named GM in 2021. “That’s somewhat contradictory to saying we have this youth movement and all these younger families are joining. But what has happened is people are either living longer or they’re loving the club and not leaving.”

The strategy is to honor the traditions of the 75-year-old club with its legacy members and family ties while addressing the needs of a new breed of member who wants the new stuff, like pickleball courts, a golf course that is up to date for today’s long hitters, and an opportunity to satisfy their fitness needs.

“I like to be out here and just talk to our folks and see what’s driving them and what are the issues that we have,” said Chet Nowak, current president of the club’s board of directors. “How can we grow our club? How can we attract younger folks to the club?”

For starters, the golf course will undergo a $3.5 million renovation next year, in part for the UArizona golf teams and in part to update the course in line with the courses being built today. It’s a traditional, parkland-style golf course unlike the dozens of desert layouts that have been built around Tucson since the mid-1980s. The course will close next summer for the planned renovations.

There’s room to maneuver within the footprint of the golf course. The changes will keep intact the overall William Bell design with tweaks like new tee boxes, sand traps being moved around and other similar changes.

Outside of golf, there are 10 tennis courts and now four pickleball courts for the exploding interest in a sport that has actually been around since 1965. There remain adult and youth tennis programs that have been a part of the country club for decades.

There are also plans for an expanded fitness center, again to address the demands of potential new members looking for a club that provides healthy options.

There have been some upgrades to the aquatics center that includes a lap pool, a family pool with a water slide, a splash pad and a snack bar that operates during the swimming season.

The club offers events throughout the year, including a grand Fourth of July fireworks show. Family can enjoy a number of kids activities and services such as “sitter service” and a junior summer camp.

And then there’s the staple of the high-end restaurant and bar as a gathering place for members because many join Tucson Country Club for the social aspect of being among friends and   family.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy this place many, many, many years with lots of great memories,” said Boyd Drachman, whose grandfather, Tucson business legend Roy Drachman was a founding member at the club. “You really do develop a base of friends from here. It’s a great place to come to socialize. I grew up here playing tennis. I didn’t really play any golf to speak of until after my college years.”

It’s a constant conversation, Davis said, to have a feel for the amenities, activities and events that will keep the membership engaged and attract new members at the same time.

“That’s the key for us when you have such a diverse demographic,” Davis said. “You have to find ways to engage all of the different segments of your membership.”

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