The Club Handbook Is A Status Symbol

In The Age Of Downloads It Remains A Printed Memento

by Dale Petrie

There’s a debate that is continuing, even in an era during which the environment is a focus across the globe. It’s a debate that occurs each year in the halls of country clubs, yacht clubs and other austere bodies.

The use of electronic databases has grown just so fast. Only a decade ago, we would thumb our way through the Yellow Pages. Now, we can find any business, its phone number and its location on Google, Google Maps, and even Waze. We can order a pizza either on Google Maps or, with a tap on our smart phone, have that pizza delivered by DoorDash. The era of paper is gone when it comes to databases and reference materials.

Just look at Wikipedia. The web’s encyclopedia has long replaced the voluminous Encyclopedia Britannica in our residences. We’ve made room for our own books, that we now read on our tablets. But our favourite books live on our public shelving. And that’s where we find the Club Handbook. And, unlike the outdated Britannica which has found the Library Fair or recycling bin, the club handbook tends to make the cut and remain on the open shelf.

Why is it that when a member looks up another member at their club, they want a hard copy rather than typing into a search bar? Why is it that the Club Yearbook or Members’ Handbook, as it may be called, is still being printed in comparison to other materials and databases? Here’s why…

It’s not that the members don’t want their details on a club’s private website. So often, private people are just that when it comes to being a part of a database. But club handbooks or yearbooks appear to buck that tradition. Rarely, do we hear or see a member ask not to be included. More so, members want to see the handbook, look themselves and their friends and family in its pages, feel it, turn the pages, and, we believe, show it off.

I thought of this a few summers ago when I made a trip to see friends in Nantucket. I went into their pantry to grab a food item for my host. The pantry was half pantry, half office and was a large room off the kitchen almost separating the formal dining room from the kitchen. It had a lovely wet bar and built-in shelving. On the shelves were books, manuals, and the last 20 years, in perfect order, of the Nantucket Yacht Club’s handbook. I thought, can the membership change that drastically from year to year? Ah, no. It’s a symbol. It’s a desire to be part of a famous club. It’s belonging. And here’s the proof.

As I frequently receive invites to members’ homes, I notice that the handbook of their local yacht or country club is usually in a prominent spot in the home. The corners of the books’ covers are rarely dog-eared, and the pages are not faded from thumbing through. The book is for reference clearly, but it’s also a status symbol. Inside the front cover a disclaimer usually appears that the information within cannot be used for marketing or mass use, but for private member use only. The disclaimer is not a necessity for members who have the book – they rarely use it. Rather, the book’s use is to be there as a symbol of the membership, an icon of belonging to a group, a tool to show that there is a life outside the home. An electronic database of members just doesn’t have that social power.

Adding To The Allure, But Also Adding To The Revenues

It’s becoming a more common theme, one which we believed started here in Europe, but one that has moved across the globe to add a relish or topping to the annual club handbook. It’s the history or year-by-year log of a club, or a memento in book form of an anniversary of the club, basically since its founding. The book, often for sale in the administrative offices, allows members to take home another piece of club history, outlining not only the history of the club, but also the past winners of the golf, tennis, sailing, and all the other sports. It’s a smaller version of the Champions Board in the main clubhouse, right there for the member’s coffee table.

But this added history also provides a coffee-table talking point. For those brief, awkward moments when perhaps the cocktails at a cocktail party haven’t quite taken affect, the club handbook or the club’s history recounted serves as a conversation piece.

We’ve been asked several times as a consultancy whether clubs should do the environmentally “right thing” – cease from printing the club handbook and put the entire database, by-laws, standing committees and such on line. But, to many, the book is not only a reference manual and encyclopedia of their club, it’s proof for others to see, view and note that they are indeed members of the private members club. And, invariably, each time we have advised the cessation of printing hard-covered club handbooks, the cries from the membership have been overwhelming to bring it back.

Corporate Versus Member-Owned Clubs and Handbooks

In our work, it’s interesting to find that corporate-owned clubs have a different experience. Although the desire to have a printed club handbook is present, the membership’s desire to have the handbook is not nearly as strong. The mentality of an equity member, one who holds some skin in the game, through a bond or certificate of ownership of a club, is one of pride. The mentality of a member of a corporate club might be more geared toward usage – a more value-based viewpoint of their club.

But then again, there is never a “one-rule-fits-all” trait when club life meets marketing needs. And this is proven through residential clubs. Those clubs can be either corporate owned, usually owned by a developer in the early stages of club life as the gated community is constructed, or member-owned, usually once the developer has completed the build out of the community and has handed over the reigns (and the costs) to the home owners. We find, through our work, that in this instance, the demand for a hard-printed member handbook, or register as pictured here, is high. It’s a community roll, if you will. It’s a who’s who of the community, and who’s an home owner – as denoted by the words register or community handbook. This form of club handbook comingles the club with the residential community, outlining perhaps both the club’s by-laws with the home owners’ guidelines to perhaps even a common area or property owners’ rulebook.

Even with Tesla showing the world that electric cars are the future, and bank payments occurring in seconds through Venmo, Paypal or ACH debits, the club handbook might stand the test of time. It’s stature in society and around coffee tables

Dale Petrie is an associate consultant with, one of the leading management consultancies to private members clubs and the club industry. Petrie, a London resident, is a graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris and is a frequent visitor to private members clubs, both as a guest of members, and in his capacity as an adviser. He is also a member of several clubs on both sides of the Atlantic. Petrie is a regular contributor to Heard On The Court, which is Beyond The Baselines’ monthly, industry-leading newsletter.

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