Slimming down and bulking up

Like a lot of families and businesses in this steep recession, Ashland Tennis & Fitness Club has conducted an intense review of its finances and decided on some new earning strategies, including membership fee hikes and painful cost-cutting — starting with making the director half-time.

The 22-year-old club, which has indoor courts, a swimming pool and weight room, got on an austerity track and became member-owned three years ago. But now it judges its old financial model as "simply not sustainable," especially with a tripling of costs in that period, said board president Jane Van Dyke.

Many of the 550 members have been pitching in with volunteer help, running the front desk and saving the club $800 a month, and energy-saving lighting has reduced utility bills, Van Dyke said. Membership hikes of 8 percent to 9 percent, along with spending cuts, will create $5,000 a month to get them out of the red.

"Our financial committee went through everything on a line-item basis for six weeks and found any spending we didn't have to be doing and where we could raise more revenue, and this plan will make us not only stable and sustainable but able to thrive," she said.

The board voted that on Oct. 1, the manager will be half-time. Kory Rogers will be the new manager and tennis director and will jump-start programs to increase income.

Monthly membership fees will go from $78 to $85 for single tennis, $147 to $159 for family tennis, $92 to $99 for single full facility and $167 to $179 for family full facility. Fee schedules for members younger than 35 will stay the same. All members will pay by credit card or electronic fund transfer, said board vice president Charlie Hamilton.

Often praising the family feel and camaraderie of the club, members said dues for such clubs in big cities are much higher than here.

"It's all right with me, the fee hikes," said Gary Farnham. "I'm not going to go anywhere else and there is nowhere else to go for what we get here. We moved here for Shakespeare, the chamber music and the mountains, but when we found this club, this is where we spend most of our free time."

The club has added many new classes in recent years and not adjusted fees, Farnham added, "so we've been wanting the fees raised."

Member Ron Iverson, a rower who just won gold medals in the 70-plus singles and doubles in Victoria, British Columbia, said he and his wife build strength in the club's pilates, weights and yoga class. He's OK with the new fees because "it's kind of a family here. You see a lot of people you've known a long time and there's a lot of volunteering. We close down and clean the whole building every year over Labor Day, all as volunteers."

The club's red ink is caused by the down economy but also by the out-of-view location, at the end of Jefferson Street by the south freeway interchange, said Farnham, adding that he's been told by people who have lived in Ashland many years that they never heard of it — or thought it was a tennis-only club.

In fact, it has a four-lane pool and a weight room with enough equipment that you don't have to wait for any particular spot, said Hamilton, noting that the financial changes are "mostly in cost-cutting, with a small revenue bump."

Farnham's wife, Coralie, said she and her husband both lost 30 pounds early in their 10 years with the club.

"I'm sorry fees have to go up, but they haven't gone up in a long time," she said.

"We're still so much cheaper than Portland or San Francisco clubs," said Gary Farnham. "We've gotten spoiled."

A member for 22 years, David Hodges said, "This club is a gift to the community, an extraordinary thing and it's been a huge bargain for a long time."

The club's newsletter notes an upcoming fundraiser gala and asks for donations of art. It says the new tennis director Rogers, a native of Olympia, Wash., has a long professional career in fitness and tennis — and that members recently staged a benefit wine tasting and athletic competitions for Sexual Assault Response Team.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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