‘I say let’s try it’: How catering to female members has helped this golf club flourish

A recent women's event at Renaissance.

Courtesy of Renaissance Golf Club

It’s no secret that the pandemic was responsible for a golf boom unlike any we’d seen in recent years. But the surge in players across the board masked obscured another demographic reality that has been building for some time: the increase of female players.

Statistics show that even pre-pandemic, girls under 18 were golf’s fastest-growing demographic. And in 2020, female participation in the game increased by eight percent. Women now comprise a quarter of all golfers in the U.S. So it makes sense that catering to this fast-growing group would be a prudent decision for any club.

Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill, Mass., is doing just that.

Lana Packard took the helm as the club’s general manager in 2019 and oversaw a period of major growth, selling out in every membership category except family golf, which she says is also on the brink of wait-list status.

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What’s the key to the club’s magnetism? According to Packard, the pandemic certainly played a role, but she also attributes the club’s new emphasis on female-focused programming for driving not only new interest in memberships, but also massive increases in participation from the existing members.

“We had a lot of young members join,” Packard said recently by phone. “So that allowed us to do a little bit more from a programming perspective. I would consider Renaissance pretty cutting-edge. We’re a very young membership demographic with a young management team. We’re really passionate about what we do and are willing and open to trying new things.”

Some of those things include the willingness to think outside the box when executing on-site events, like incorporating a medical spa and vitamin shots into the itinerary at a ladies’ tournament.

“Just recently, we had 225 women here participating in an event,” Packard said. “Maybe a lot of clubs would say, ‘Well, we can’t do that. That’s not really a country-club standard.’ Well, I say let’s try it. Let’s give it a go. And it’s been successful.”

At Renaissance, there are no restrictions on play — the course is open to both men and women seven days a week. And Packard emphasizes the importance of equity between the annual men’s and ladies’ invitationals. The ladies event is held on a Friday and Saturday, a rarity at many private clubs.

“It’s very unusual for country clubs to shut down for two consecutive days, including a weekend day, for the ladies,” Packard said. “And that has sold out every year with 96 players.”

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Women’s Golf Day, which is observed internationally in June, has been a “smashing hit,” Packard said. She and her team go all out, hosting a one-day member-guest event with themes and a social component.

Other initiatives, like a focus on outdoor dining and kids camp, have also paid dividends.

“We had five kids every week, five or six years ago,” Packard said. “Now we have 30.”

Packard said she relishes the opportunity to be creative.

“I think we really understand our membership well and create this environment that they want to come back to every day, regardless of if they’re a non-golfer,” she said. “That’s fine. We have other things for the members to do.”

Packard recently moved on to a new position at the corporate level with Southworth, the development company that owns Renaissance. But her positive influence on the club’s operation and policies is there to stay.

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As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.