Fitness, Recreation Can Pay Off at Bottom Line

Membership in a fitness club may translate into more than fitness for its members. In some cases it means job security.

"I know of several guys [whose membership] led to new positions," says Dan Hayes, general manager of the Cincinnati Athletic Club, an all-men's fitness club downtown. "Even with the economy and downsizing, they didn't have any trouble finding work."

Executives also have mined the membership for new talent, he observes.

"There's something to be said about someone who at 4 or 5 in the morning comes down to get a workout in before work," Hayes says. "It seems like CEOs and presidents are looking for that quality [in their hires.]"

Connections made here also make for valuable camaraderie and idea-sharing, although not actual dealmaking, honoring an unwritten rule not to conduct business at the club, Hayes adds.

The club, which has been in existence since 1853, has included four U.S. presidents among its members. It features weight training facilities, a pool, saunas, a steam room, cardio rooms, a golf driving range, lounge, restaurant and bar.

Recreation, like fitness, can pay off in unexpected ways. Water-sports fans can indulge their interests at the Watertown Yacht Club in Dayton, Kentucky, for instance, while doing the company business at the same time. Its marina features a pool and a fitness and health room that executives visit around work hours, in the mornings, afternoons or evenings, notes Tim Timberman, managing partner and harbormaster of the yacht club.

The club, which runs two restaurants, also accommodates boaters, water- and jet-skiers.

You might say that membership at Traditions Golf Club has done for Vince Klee II what Tiger Woods has done for golf.

It's fed his love for the game, gotten him out of the office and paved the way to many great friendships, business alliances and powerful deals. Klee, the president of DD Vending in Lawrenceburg, knows that a successful business is powered by relationships. "People love to do business with people they like to be around," he observes.

Time on the links provides those golden icebreaking and relationship-building opportunities.

"It's really nice when you can take a customer or a potential customer out and have four hours of their attention," says Klee. "Usually at their office, they're only going to give you 15 minutes, and maybe you won't get those full 15 minutes.

"You can get such a great rapport going with a customer when you're walking (the course) or driving a golf cart," Klee adds. "You can really get to know them a lot better, on a personal level."

Golf, in particular, can lift the veil on a person's character, notes Marian McGill, director of membership sales for the Kentucky Traditions Golf Club in Hebron.

"You can learn a lot about (people) when you play golf with them "” you can learn about their honesty, conversational skills, frustration tolerance level, their performance under pressure and their competitive nature," says McGill, who says she plans to take any potential son-in-law of hers out for a round of golf.

Learning details like if a player keeps score honestly, respects the etiquette of the game, is fun to play with and is a good sport or not, can provide helpful clues when considering potential customers, business partners, colleagues and friends.

Beyond business networking, golf and country club memberships allow executives to find friends who can relate to their work lifestyles, comments Dennis Troy, regional manager for Premier Golf, a golf properties management company which operates Crooked Tree Golf Course in Mason and other courses in the region.

"Most of these people are of a reasonably similar economic strata," and obviously share a recreational need, he says. "A lot of the advantage to (membership) is social, for their families to get together also."

Country clubs have been catering more to families in the past five years or so, says George Rees, chief operating officer of Wetherington Golf and Country Club in West Chester. The club, with 480 members, features thriving swim, tennis and golf leagues for its youth, ladies and executive members.

The trend for full-family involvement in country clubs recognizes how precious family time is for busy executives, adds Kentucky Traditions' McGill.

And at Wetherington, "we're four times busier" with the club's growing emphasis on families, Rees confirms.

Wetherington also emphasizes its two clubhouses and amenities as "a great place to conduct your business, whether it be on the golf course or in meetings and seminars" hosted at the club, says Rees.

About four years ago, Wetherington designed event packages for its members to use as aids to their businesses. A typical event includes a business breakfast, followed by golf and then lunch.

"It used to be more early evenings, with golf followed by cocktails and dinner, but people are more active now," Rees says of the changing trend in business golf outings.

Another changing trend is toward shorter rounds, with nine holes of golf overtaking the popularity of 18-hole rounds, the various golf managers note. Eighteen holes take up to four and a half hours to play, while nine holes, at two hours or less, are more attractive to busy executives and couples.

Six-hole tournaments and courses are beginning to crop up, too, to make for a more manageable 90-minute commitment on the golf course, Rees says.

Those new to golf or other country club activities can be assured access to professional instruction as part of their membership. According to Klee and others, inexperience shouldn't be a deterrent for potential members.

Paying for memberships is mostly the member's responsibility, since tax deductions for clubs were done away with some years ago for corporations. Still, McGill estimates that one-fourth to one-third of overall club memberships are corporate-sponsored, provided to certain employees as benefits.

Klee recommends membership as a way for executives to foster their personal and business relationships and "get out of the office a little bit."

"Four hours is a long time to be away, but in the fast-paced world it is today, it's something people need," Klee says. "If you're someone who's in the office from 7 a.m. to 7 at night, what can your relationships with customers or in your personal life be like?"