“PLAN FOR MANY PLEASURES AHEAD”
WHAT DOES RETIREMENT HOLD FOR GOLFERS IN GEN X AND YOUNGER? TRAVEL, ADVENTURE, VARIETY—AND LOTS OF GOLF
By Peter Finch – Golf Digest
“I’m not one of those guys who wants to work until he’s 67 or 68,” says John Fridner. The Chicago-based health-insurance sales executive, 55, plans to stop working within the next four to six years. Then he’s going to split his time between homes in Illinois and Florida, travel the world with his wife, Laura, and play a lot of golf.
Last year he took a big step toward that goal, buying a winter getaway home and joining the Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Springs, Fla. A lot of family members and friends have retired and stayed in Chicago or, if they’re nearing retirement, they haven’t decided where they’re heading. “I didn’t want to wait,” Fridner says. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to make a different decision today and start enjoying some of it while I’m still working.”
Fridner’s attitude isn’t unusual among well-off Gen Xers. Many Americans in their 50s and early 60s plan to work fewer years than their parents and grandparents did, and it’s not just the timing that’s different. They’re looking at their “golden years” through a wider lens. Healthier and more active than their parents were at retirement, they view it as the beginning of an adventure—not the end of the line.
Even the coronavirus hasn’t slowed the trend, financial advisers agree. In fact, it might have accelerated it for some. As virus fears surged in this year’s second quarter, Golf Life Navigators, a company that helps match golfers with Sun Belt clubs, saw a 20-percent increase in website traffic, says CEO Jason Becker.
For avid golfers, the game is at the core of any retirement plan. In a recent survey of Golf Digest readers, 82 percent of future retirees told us they hope to play more than 50 rounds a year when they’ve stopped working. Their No. 1 retirement ideal: having access to a course they love playing.
“I WANT A PLACE THAT THE KIDS AND GRANDKIDS WANT TO COME TO BECAUSE THERE IS A LOT TO DO WITH GRANDPA AND NOT JUST BE BORED SITTING AT MY HOUSE IN SOME NEIGHBORHOOD.”
But golf is only part of what they’re seeking. The next generation of retirees also wants to hit the gym, bike, swim, eat well, make new friends, learn new skills and travel. “Whatever community somebody’s going to, there has to be so much more than just golf,” says Robert Gerstemeier, a 49-year-old Cincinnati financial adviser. “There needs to be a book club, a community social aspect, a health club. All the well-run clubs are continually adding amenities and options to make it your social hub.”
This is a shift, and many believe it could have a profound effect on golf clubs and communities in the years ahead. Becker, who spends his days analyzing what prospective club members want most, says it can be eye-opening to a club to learn what people are really looking for. “Golf amenities aren’t the No. 1 motivation. It’s not the ‘signature hole’ anymore. It’s about socialization, wellness, fitness, lifestyle. Those are the things that are driving people to buy.”
Older Baby Boomers and their parents were often drawn to all-inclusive golf communities, where club membership is tied to your home ownership. But younger Boomers and Gen Xers are less interested in these arrangements, Becker says. “I would say 75 to 80 percent of people bought in gated golf communities in the early 2000s. Now we have data that shows 40 percent don’t want to, and it can be even more dramatic in certain markets.”
Why? Part of it is financial. Many of today’s soon-to-be retirees saw their parents’ golf-home values take a big hit in the 2008-’10 financial crisis, says Steve Graves, president of Creative Golf Marketing, which helps clubs find new members. The “refundable” initiation fees pitched by some of these communities turned out to be not exactly refundable. On top of that, younger retirees often chafe at their lack of control in a golf community, where the club typically sets the rules on paint colors, landscaping and more.
“I’M MUCH HEALTHIER AND WEALTHIER THAN MY PARENTS. I PLAN ON CONTINUING TO EXERCISE, TRAVEL, READ MORE, WATCH MORE MOVIES, ETC.”
If one of Gerstemeier’s clients wanted to buy a home in a private golf community, “the first thing I’d say is, ‘Explain to me who you’re going to sell this to in 15 years,’ ” he says. “Look at the demographics. The population of golfers 15 years younger than me is lot smaller than when I was that age. So if you’re going into a community that’s 100 percent focused on golf, and the only reason you’d buy a place is that it’s tied to the golf course, I’d be concerned with the viability of the community and the golf course 15 to 20 years into the future.”
Recognizing this, more clubs are letting members live outside their gates. Gerstemeier and his wife, Laura, recently became members at Imperial Golf Club in Naples, Fla., for example. They have a condo in a nearby neighborhood, separate from the golf club. Their neighborhood association offers access to the beach, tennis, restaurants, swimming and a fitness center. In addition to permitting nonresident members, the club offers multiple pricing plans, including a lower-cost associate membership that Gerstemeier chose. He can play 35 days in the winter and anytime from April to November. Because he’s still working and doesn’t live in Naples year-round, “it’s the perfect option for me.”
“I’D LIKE TO SEMI-RETIRE AT A MUCH EARLIER AGE, WITH LOTS OF TRAVEL, PLAYING MORE GOLF AND VOLUNTEERING.”
Clearly the one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for clubs anymore. Younger retirees and soon-to-be retirees are demanding flexibility, and they’re getting it. They want reciprocal privileges at other clubs so they can easily travel and play, says Jorie Johnson, a New Jersey-based financial adviser. And they’re taking advantage of “preview” memberships, which some clubs have begun offering to attract prospective members. These are not just weekend passes—in many cases, they’ll let you stay for weeks or even months, renting a member’s home.
Last year, Joe and Jacquie Harris, who live in Boca Raton, Fla., were seeking a summer getaway in a cooler spot. They’d heard the mountains of North Carolina are nice, so they rented a house and signed up for trial memberships at a pair of clubs in the Cashiers-Highlands area: Old Edwards and Cullasaja.
“I PLAN TO ‘RETIRE’ YOUNG, BUT WILL KEEP WORKING FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE WITH A MUCH LIGHTER SCHEDULE.”
“We’ve been offering these preview memberships since 2015, and we’ve found they’re our No. 1 way of prospecting for new members,” says Cullasaja general manager Chris Conner. “You can come in for a minimum of two weeks and pay the normal club dues for that time, and you can use all our facilities.”
The Harrises fell in love with Cullasaja. Besides the golf course, there’s kayaking, fishing, croquet, mountain hiking trails, a gleaming fitness center and more. Most of all, they were blown away by the friendliness of their fellow club members. The Harrises bought a home there in 2019 and spent the last year renovating it. “We’ve all noticed that when our parents sat around and did nothing in retirement, their quality of life was . . . different,” says Joe, who is 68 and semi-retired from the consulting business he founded. “Here the quality of life is just so great. The people are so friendly that you want to go out and do stuff with them every night.”
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