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MaY 15, 2024

There’s a study by Harvard—one that’s been going on for more than 85 years—on what makes us truly happy in life. Over those years, the results have been consistent. And guess what? It turns out it’s not the number of zeros on a bank statement. It’s not driving a limited-edition supercar. And it’s not a trip on a super yacht to an exotic location. Not that those things aren’t nice! But in fact, it’s something much simpler. It’s relationships and human connection. These are what create genuine happiness and fulfillment in our lives. And not only that, they are scientifically proven to make us happier, but they also make us physically healthier and increase our longevity.

While we did not base our business on a Harvard study, it certainly does provide a proof point for how we operate our Southworth clubs. We’ve always cared about connections and relationships more than anything else, both within our team and with our members. It has been part of the company’s DNA since day one. But more recently, we realized the importance of this when it comes to creating vibrant club communities and that it was our differentiator in the market. We call it The Southworth Way.

Beginning with our very first club 30 years ago—Willowbend—we set out to create a distinctively different vibe than other clubs of the day. Our goal, to create an inclusive environment that is warm and welcoming to all, where members can be their true self without pretense. And that is what we did—we made it known there would be no tolerance for bad behavior toward other members and staff unofficially known as the “no a-holes rule.” In a few cases, it has become necessary to act for those who went over the line—we did (and continue to) remove violators of this moral code. In addition, we stripped away unnecessary and outdated rules that only served to get in the way of member enjoyment.

When the COVID pandemic shut down most of the world, it had an interesting (and unforeseen) effect on the private club world. People refocused on the important things in life—being close with family and friends, building deeper relationships, and diving into the things that bring you joy. This drove demand for sanctuaries where families could retreat from the stresses of everyday life and bring generations together for play and relaxation. Simultaneously, the pandemic created a resurgence in the game of golf—one of the few activities that could still be enjoyed by all ages and genders while socially distancing outdoors. What followed was explosive growth in our industry—and, by extension, the growth of our communities as families looked to enjoy time together away from the masses. As we scrambled to handle the unexpected increase in business this brought us, we also wanted to ensure that we kept the carefully cultivated vibe we worked so hard to create. It was then it became clear that we needed a “north star” that codified our expectations within our club environments. The goal was not to impose rules but to provide clear expectations and boundaries around our ideals. From that, The Southworth Way was born.

The Southworth Way is a code of conduct—unique among private clubs—that every member agrees to. It is about treating others with respect, exhibiting kindness, and basically being a good human. This is critical to our mission of creating communities that foster positive relationships, encourage togetherness and allow all—members and employees—to feel welcomed, recognized and valued—making for deeper, more satisfying, shared experiences. A researcher for the previously referenced Harvard study said of personal connections, “The best things in life aren’t things. Material things lend themselves to comparisons. But experiences either strengthen pre-existing relationships with people, or help us meet new people.”

The Southworth Way has grown to underpin everything we do, on both the corporate and club levels. What started out as a way to promote simple kindness has grown to become our leading brand pillar. We were the first in our industry to develop a code of conduct like this—and it is a pillar that we will never compromise. As Tommy Southworth, President of Southworth, says, “From our development strategies to our innovative operations and service, from our marketing to the values that we set and reinforce through our member selection (and member accountability), we are obsessively intentional about fostering positive human connection.”

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