National Club Association’s president and CEO discusses the future of private clubs

By |  October 11, 2023 0 Comments

Golfdom: Joe, we’re excited to get you in the magazine. First off, can you tell us about yourself?

Joe Trauger

Joe Trauger

Joe Trauger: I’m the president and CEO of the National Club Association (NCA), which represents private clubs. That would include country, golf, city, yacht, athletic and hunt clubs. I spent three years as NCA’s vice president of government relations, representing and advocating for the private club community on Capitol Hill. Previously, I spent about 10 years working on Capitol Hill for a Senator and a few Congressmen. I’ve been in my current role for a little over a year, and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to lead the organization.

Golfdom: Generally speaking, how would you say 2023 has treated your members?

Trauger: In a word, I would say solid. The feedback we’re getting is that clubs continue to see very strong memberships and very strong engagement. If you look industry-wide, a lot of clubs are full with waiting lists. I think it’s safe to say we’re in unprecedented times in terms of memberships and waitlists. It really was a positive upside of the pandemic — people realized they were looking for more local engagement, to be a part of a community, to go someplace to meet with friends.

Golfdom: How do you foresee things moving forward in 2024?

Trauger: It depends on how things play out with the economy. We keep an eye on the hospitality and leisure sectors of the economy. We check in regularly with the chief economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to get a feel for what’s happening. Interest rates, housing costs, inflation, all of those things get wrapped up in how the economy performs. Right now, the economists feel pretty sure about where we are in terms of avoiding a potential recession — which everyone has been talking about for the last two years. That risk is diminished, although it can never be zero.

Golfdom: In a recent conversation with a recruiter, I was told to expect a lot of movement among high-level superintendents this winter, as demand is at an all-time high. Does this sound like anything you’ve heard?

Trauger: At least in the local D.C. market, there has been some movement. I have a good relationship with the superintendent at Mount Vernon CC (in Alexandria, Va.), and we talk fairly regularly. In that context, we talk about the difficulty of finding an assistant. We’ve seen some fall-off of individuals enrolled in universities being educated in turf management. I think we’re seeing that not only in the role of grounds and superintendents but management as a whole. As a result of the pandemic, I think people looked at how work interplays with their personal time and the things they like to do. One of the difficult things the industry wrestles with is hours. There are fewer people willing to get up at 3 a.m. and go to work at 4 a.m. You have to think of creative ways to address that. I think that goes not only for superintendents, but club managers and head professionals.

Golfdom: How about the long-term health of your association? Where do you see it going in 5 years, 10 years? How will the average American feel about being a member of a club?

Trauger: I think we’re seeing expansion in the private club market with new clubs opening, whether it’s city clubs, country clubs, yacht or other clubs. We’ve gone through cycles where, during the Tiger era in the late ’90s and early aughts, we had this terrific expansion and a high interest in golf and private club membership. Then, we had a retraction during the Great Recession. In the conversations I’ve had, folks are more engaged in the new projects and new clubs that are built and clubs have shifted to a focus on the whole family, not just Dad on the course. There’s a sense that it’s much more durable. It’s not housing-focused. It’s focused on the club and bringing the member value. You have new generations coming through, like millennials, that are really starting to pick up interest in private clubs. I think any membership director will tell you the biggest population of inquiries they get now is among the millennial crowd. And you have a group of Gen Z who have grown up in the club environment and they’re very accustomed to the lifestyle.

Golfdom: I bet you have all sorts of studies on millennials and Gen Z and what it will take to make them stay interested as your next generations of clients.

Trauger: One of the things we’ve done as an association — I’m thankful for my board’s guidance on it — is look at diversity and inclusion. I think one of the things that is really important to millennials is a sense of inclusion. The private club community has a reputation for being exclusive or exclusionary. So, we try to point out that you can have exclusiveness and still be inclusive. We’re trying to explain the mindset that we’re being inclusive in an exclusive environment. It sounds contradictory, but as you think through it, it makes sense.

This article is tagged with and posted in From the Magazine

About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 25-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at

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