For play, for dining, for making connections — join the club

Above: The pool is a popular place at Wakonda Club, offering member families swim lessons and a respite from summer heat. Photography: Haverlee Photography

By Steve Dinnen

It’s a great springtime day, so shouldn’t you be on a golf course? And why aren’t the kids at the swimming pool?

You can easily make this happen at a country club. They have top-notch golf and Olympic-sized swimming pools, and even throw in tennis and some fine dining for people interested in enjoying the finer things in life.

Des Moines has long been blessed with three quality country clubs—Des Moines Golf and Country Club (founded in 1897), Hyperion Field Club (1900) and Wakonda Club (1922). As the city has expanded, so has the country club scene, and there now are at least eight members-only clubs in the metropolitan area (see below). They’re known for the high level of golf they offer; Des Moines Golf and Wakonda are each hosting nationally known tournaments in coming weeks, for instance.

But there’s more: The pools, tennis courts and fitness centers are meant to boost the appeal to the entire family. Clubs make a special effort to engage youngsters, offering them lessons in golf, swimming and tennis. Glen Oaks Country Club will even get junior golfers ready with a summer golf camp. Then they can march off to some match play against teams from other clubs. Amanda Wiebers, director of membership at Wakonda, says there are competitions all summer long for teams of junior golfers, swimmers and tennis players among clubs around town.

Beyond athletics, there are Easter egg hunts, fireworks shows and kids’ nights at the movies. Adults have their share of entertainment, with fashion shows, wine tastings and dinner dances. And of course they get to sample some great food, either in formal dining rooms or at poolside snack bars.

Somewhere in this mix of sports and entertainment lies an important reason for joining a country club: connections. What works better when it comes to getting to know a new or potential client, or maintaining a relationship—Skyping from a cluttered office, or lunching on a shaded terrace overlooking a well-groomed golf course?

Many clubs offer open enrollment. Des Moines Golf and Wakonda, however, are by invitation only. To get your foot in their door, you’ll first have to befriend someone who already is a member and can be your sponsor.

Of course, there is a cost for all of this, both to join and to stay. Joining and monthly fees typically vary depending on whether you want full or social membership (which excludes golf) and your age. Des Moines Golf, for instance, charges every golf member the same—$24,000. Younger members have a longer period to time to complete payments, and their monthly dues are less. Wakonda offers a junior golf membership that carries a joining fee of just half the $10,000 someone over 40 would pay.

Wakonda also has a dining-only membership. Des Moines Golf has a special rate for clergy, and Hyperion has one for out-of-towners.

If economics is your driver, consider where you’d be if you had to pay for all of this entertainment on your own, says Matt Matthias, general manager of Echo Valley County Club in Norwalk. “You’re a lot better off joining somewhere like here than building your own,” he says. And somebody else will even sift the leaves out of the pool every morning.

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