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September 28, 2013

DODD: Elks Club fighting for its future

— I spent time this past week with the Elks Club Golf Pro and the Vice-President of the Board Matt Williams. We discussed some of the rumors being spread throughout our community and the facts about the state of affairs at the Jeffersonville Elks Club.

The problem is fairly straightforward. Membership has dropped to around 400 total members (200 golf members). It was more than 600 (400 golf members) in 2007. The current membership is senior in age and young people are not joining.

The problem for the Elks is not unique to their club. While the high-end private clubs are doing OK, it’s the more traditional, older, less-prestigious ones that that are struggling. Williams reminded me that the Elks Club is also a service organization at its heart, and every service organization I have talked with over the last decade is in a similar situation.

The problem for the Elks is rising debt and shrinking income. It is a cash-flow problem. The only way out is for growth. There is a plan being implemented to satisfy that need.

As Matt Williams explained, “We have done a very poor job of changing with the times.”

He also discussed the image of the past as being a snooty, private club and the reality of today.

“We are a blue-collar country club,” he said. “At best, we are suburban rednecks.”

The first step was to lure a new golf pro earlier this year. Zach Johnson is a local guy who graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., with a degree in business administration and professional golf management. Along the way, he has been an assistant club pro at such prestigious clubs as Pinehurst and Valhalla. Local golfers might know him from his days at Hidden Creek Golf Course.

The Elks committee plan included Johnson as the new pro.

“Yeah, we went after Zach.” Williams enthusiastically explained.

Johnson is 34 years old.

“He’s our target age for new members,” Williams said.

It is also now possible for nonmembers to play the course. Elks members get prime tee times, but after 2 p.m. on weekends, anybody can book a tee time for $30 with a cart. Weekday tee times before 2 p.m. are $40 with cart. The public can book any time on Mondays.

While this was not a popular idea with all the members, Williams stated a basic problem for the Elks: “We don’t have enough members to fill up the golf course.” 

Membership fees vary from less than $400 for youth members (18 and under) golf membership to $1,000 for an individual in the young adult group between 19 and 38. A full golf association membership is $1,350 per year for a single golfer and $1,700 annually for a family. There are monthly payment plans available and some discounts for full fee payment before January.

Williams also notes that the Elks Club fees include a full Elks service membership. He hopes to do even more charitable work in the future under that service organization charter. Full memberships offer access to all amenities to include the pool, clubhouse and bar/restaurant.

This past summer, a youth golf camp was a success but Williams knows it’s simply more full-time members that will insure a solid future.

“Anybody can join. All it takes is to fill out an application and give us a check. We want everybody to feel welcome here,” he said.

Other plans are in the works to hold a Bingo night to satisfy immediate cash flow needs. The only obstacle for now is to find the suitable location. Williams feels that a successful bingo operation will not only provide quick cash flow for present bills, but also allow to eventually pay down the long-term debt.

He did address a rumor that has been circulating that the city of Jeffersonville would take over the golf course. He admits that might have been a remedy offered by one of the Elks members in a moment of frustration, but no such deal has been offered or sought after between the city and the club. Williams was candid about rumors and the current financial issues affecting the Elks Club.

“Negative rumors almost always have some element of truth,” he said.

There have also been some disagreements as to the current solution for those problems. Williams acknowledges those roadblocks by stating, “Decisions made by committee are inherently dysfunctional.”

I certainly agree that my stereotype of the Elks was formed many decades ago when those perceptions were probably true. While I agree that Jeffersonville has to change and grow with the times, I want so badly for some things to survive as part of our heritage, and the Elks Club certainly is on that list.

Whether it is saved by opening the club to all people as a public facility or a combination of private and public, Jeffersonville would certainly suffer a loss with the demise of the Elks Lodge and Country Club.

While not calling the situation critical, Williams and Johnson certainly would term the current situation as serious and could get even worse in the near future without some reorganization or successful short-term strategies. For more information, you can review their website — jeffelksclub.com

It was clear from my meeting with Johnson and Williams there are Elks who will never go down without a fight. The club was founded in 1897 and it is a part of Jeffersonville’s heritage or as Williams stated, “We are celebrating a legacy to get to where we are.”

However for there to be a future, there must be a sort of a changing of the guard and some changing of minds. In golf terms, you might say they owe it to their founding “Fore” fathers.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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