Join the Club! Comparing Six Popular North Shore Family Sports Clubs

For many, summer means long days spent courtside and poolside at the family “club.”

The North Shore offers a variety of sports clubs, but websites don’t always give the whole picture.  Here’s an insider’s view from members at Five Seasons in Northbrook, Life Time Fitness in Skokie, Tennaqua in Deerfield, and Old Willow Club in Glenview; along with insights for Midtown Athletic Club in Bannockburn and Valley Lo, in Glenview.

Club Supported Social Activities:
Five Seasons: Many gatherings such as Fish Fry and Margarita nights and holidays celebrated with bands, poolside DJ, or fireworks on the 4th of July.

Life Time Fitness: Less focus on social life, but they facilitate “clubs” such as running club, cycling club, and tri club.

Tennaqua: Special events and “club nights” throughout the year from casual dinners every Friday to themed galas such as the Barefoot Ball or Jimmy Buffett Night. Holidays are celebrated with family gatherings, including Easter Egg Hunts and Turkey Bowls.

Old Willow Club: Approximately 15 social events throughout the season including Adult Tennis Mixers, Parent/Child Tennis Mixers, the Adult Dinner Party, Family Night, 4th of July Barbecue, Teen Night, Poolside Pizza Party, Ladies Night Out, and more.

Valley Lo: Various social events are planned throughout the year, with summer featuring family-friendly nights such as Beach Bingo as well as dining on the Sandbar with lake/fountain views and a full bar service. Valley Lo also promotes social clubs such as the wine club, bridge club and book club.

Midtown: Along with offering group exercise/fitness classes and tennis, yoga, pilates and golf workshops, Midtown also features several events throughout the year, such as member parties, socials, luncheons, wine tastings and even fashion shows.

Activities for Kids:
FS: Popular day care providers with indoor outdoor and gym activities.  For a fee, skilled tennis instructors and an award-winning league. Often, families gather together at the poolside bar as the kids splash in the pool nearby.

LT: Comprehensive child care center with a 2 hour max per child/1.5 hrs per infant.   There is a small basketball court, climbing maze, a computer center, an art station and an outdoor playground area. Classes for kids include rock wall climbing, basketball lessons, karate lessons, swimming lessons, dance lessons (all for extra fee). Families love to gather by the pool.

T: A formal day camp for young kids. For older kids, swimming, diving, water polo and tennis. There are competitive match play and tournaments/aquatics meets to balance out the social “pick up” games made possible by open court time available to kids every day of the week.

OWC: The grounds were developed to facilitate family fun. Often members pack their coolers with food, share the community grills, and sit on the deck as kids frolic in the pool or play on the playground equipment. Older kids enjoy the basketball court and swim team.

VL: The National Award Winning Junior Sports Club program offers a wide range of activities and sports for children throughout the summer season, including water sports, boating, golf, tennis, paddle tennis and field sports, with an emphasis on developing sportsmanship and teamwork skills and a healthy lunch provided daily.

M: Kidtown is a daycare-styled program for kids as young as 2 months old which allows adult members to work-out and exercise while their children are actively engaged in innovative and entertaining games and activities. Midtown also offers summer camps, a Junior Instructional and Competition Tennis Program and swim classes, lessons and teams.

Grounds and Facilities:
FS: Grounds are not ornate, but well maintained. Locker rooms spacious with a steam room and a sauna, 8 showers, fully supplied with toiletries and towels.

LT: Well decorated with granite and cherry wood locker rooms. Renovations
last month included new carpet, refinished floors in gym and studios and tile in showers.

T: Great attention to the flowers around the tennis courts and manicured lawns. Tennis courts are resurfaced regularly, as well as the paddle courts and lodge. The daily raked sand volleyball court, and the member maintained fresh vegetable garden.

OWC: This year, $400,000 spent on improving the grounds, including hardscape and landscape and improvements to the snack bar. In the summer, the club features flowering baskets and pots everywhere and it is well-kept by landscaping services.

VL: Set on a pristine, 38-acre lake, Valley Lo features an executive level eighteen-hole golf course, tennis courts, outdoor bar, indoor pool, workout room, hot tub, sauna and several dining venues. This club is far from lacking in amenities: their newly renovated clubhouse displays a traditional New England style and offers a bride’s suite, conference room and outdoor terraces.

M: Along with both indoor and outdoor world-class tennis courts, Midtown also has a full-serviced spa, two pools, pilates/yoga studios, updated fitness equipment and a nutritious, delicious café available for its members.

Basic Fee Structure:
FS: An initial registration fee usually can be waived by negotiating. Monthly family fee covers unlimited classes, 3 hours of babysitting, both pools, long hours of the facility open.

LT: A monthly fee includes access to the facility and daycare. There are additional fees for some of the classes and activities.

T: There is a base price to join this member-owned club, and members add fee-based services and amenities (tennis lessons, meals, social activities, etc.) that are important to them at the pace at which matches their lifestyle.

OWC: A member-owned club, a bond is purchased and refunded upon resignation from the club. Also upon joining, there is an initiation fee. Annual dues include unlimited tennis, tennis teams, and use of club facilities. Additional lessons, teams and summer camps have fees.

VL: Unavailable

M: Unavailable

Decision Making:
FS: Since it is a chain, decisions are made by the club. However, they have a comment box and member feedback is valued and heeded.

LT:  Decisions are made by the company that owns Life Time but management responds to member concerns.

T: Member-run and owned, private equity club.  A 13-member Board of Directors is comprised of active members. Members make up the board of directors, organize socials and oversee the grill menu.

OWC: The club is run by a Board of Directors including a president, VP, treasurer, secretary, buildings and grounds, membership, swimming/pool, communications, social, snack bar, and tennis. They are elected to their positions by the members and serve 3-year terms.

VL: Unavailable

M: Because Midtown is a chain, decisions are primarily made by the clubs and their directors. There is, however, a comment box which is taken into close consideration amongst club officials.