Access Control: An Art and a Science That Club Operators Must Master


If club design was taught as a college class, the first lesson would be about access control. The value of membership hinges on reserving club attractions for members and paid guests. Nonetheless, many clubs are built with multiple entrances, wide and uncontrollable entry pathways, poorly shaped and ineffectively positioned control stations, and other possible breaches into member-only attractions.

Ideally, access-control functions would be invisible to members but serve as a visible trespassing deterrent to others. By following seven rules of gatekeeping, you can elevate the art of access control and enrich members' experiences.

  1. Create a spacious lobby before the point of control

    Every member will first walk through your doors as a nonmember. That moment will be your last chance to make a good first impression. The club lobby should be non-confrontational in layout and convey hospitality and style while suggesting greater things to come. Instead of placing the access control hardware 8 feet from your front door, create a generous lobby before the control point that exposes ancillary member and nonmember attractions.

  2. Create separate in-and-out paths around a single control point

    By subtly shaping the staffed reception station, you can guide user flow to and around the access control station. By narrowing the pathway (or creating a pinch point) at a staffed check-in section of this station, people who enter must pass within 5 feet of the gatekeeper. Pinch points bring all entering traffic within a friendly speaking distance of the club's access control staff.

  3. Never use turnstiles or gates for incoming member traffic

    A properly configured control station eliminates any need for mechanical gateway barriers and improves members' entry experience while it reaffirms and protects the value of the membership. Gates and turnstiles express a lack of trust and are inherently demeaning and unfriendly for members.

  4. Use a gate on the out-going pathway

    An attractive gate, swinging with the direction of out-bound traffic, prevents uncontrolled back flow into the club. Providing separate channels for inbound and outbound traffic allows reception staff to differentiate between arriving and departing members and focus their attentions accordingly.

  5. Organize control station functions for expedited admittance

    Most control stations end up being multi-functional member service desks. A workout-ready member doesn't want to be stuck at the club entrance behind someone who is signing up five kids for swim lessons. You can avoid this by strategically zoning the control station layout for separate functions. The part of the desk designated for access control must be adjacent to the circulation pinch point and allow for priority attention to member verification. Other potentially congestive functions should be positioned away from the gatekeeper function.

  6. Introduce user-friendly details at the control point

    As the first point of contact in the club, high-touch front desk details are critical to making and maintaining a superior member experience. Consider features such as a purse/bag rest for standing transactions; a place to sit, fill out forms and interact with member services staff; task lighting to supplement soft, low-level ambient lighting; multi-directional screening of work space clutter and computer backsides; and proper work surface heights and low-profile detailing of computer components.

  7. Create a separate reception/check-in center for kids

    Generally speaking, adults and other people's kids do not mix well, particularly at the access control desk. If possible, parents and children should be able to access children's destinations before reaching the main access control station. By doing so, children are pealed off early in the entry experience and registered independently into their own secure environment.

The club industry has unique gatekeeping needs. It cannot look to movie theaters, baseball stadiums or airports for guidance, except to understand that the value of a ticket quickly declines when any and all are admitted without one. By embracing both the art and science of access control, club owners can protect their bottom line and continue pleasing members with a personalized and welcoming red velvet rope entry experience.


Hervey Lavoie is president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an architecture, aquatic design and interior design firm. With 35 years of design experience, he has completed club design assignments in 42 states and six countries.

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