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Behind the Scenes

Fire Destroys Clubhouse but Not Club Spirit

You could see and smell the smoke in the air last night as I left work, but I didn't know until I got home and switched on the local news that it was coming from a fire at an historic country club a few miles away from our offices in Overland Park, KS.

It reportedly took firefighters more than six hours to contain the fire at Milburn Country Club, and in that time the clubhouse—including the fitness center and golf pro shop—were badly damaged by the flames and water.

Milburn Country Club has been a part of the greater Kansas City community since it opened in 1917. Sadly, this wasn't the first time its clubhouse caught fire. The clubhouse that was engulfed by last night's fire was built in 1933 to replace the original clubhouse, which had burned down the previous year.

Today, the club's Facebook wall has dozens of posts from people expressing their shock and sorrow at the situation, many of them reminiscing about the place where they first learned to serve a tennis ball, made a friend for life on the golf course, took their children to swim every summer or even got married.

While so many members and friends of the club are thinking about good times they've had there in the past, the club's executive staff members are already thinking toward the future.

"Milburn is more than just bricks and mortar,” John Martin, the club's treasurer, told a local TV station reporter. “All of our members and staff will go forward and rebuild the club.”

Of course, country clubs like Milburn tend to be as much about socializing as a place to keep fit, especially compared to the average health club, but reading all those comments made me think about what I'd miss if the club I belong to were to close. The group cycle instructor who never fails to make me smile through even the toughest sprints and climbs. The party the manager throws every summer to kick off pool season. Meeting up to gossip with friends on neighboring treadmills. And simply the fact that, no matter how worn out and sore, I always leave there feeling better than when I went in.

I've only been with Club Industry for a few months now, but in that time, the one thing I've heard industry consultants say again and again is that to have a successful health club, you must provide your members with more than just a place to work out. You have to give them a good experience. Making sure that they always feel great walking out the doors of your club is the best way to make sure they come back.

It doesn't matter whether you run a small independent club or are a franchisee of a large national chain—think about the experience members and guests have at your club. What are you doing to make your club more than just bricks and mortar so that those members and guests would miss your club if it was gone?

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