News & Politics

Waitlists at DC-Area Private Pools Are Absolutely Bonkers

Some waitlists have thousands of names or expected wait times of more than a decade.

Photograph by Big Cheese Photo/Getty Images Plus.

When Arlington consultant Elizabeth (not her real name) moved from DC to the suburbs a year and a half ago, she decided it was time for her family to join a private pool. As a kid, she belonged to a swim team at a club, and she hopes her children can create similar happy memories. To make that happen, Elizabeth joined waitlists at three Arlington pools: Arlington Forest Club, Dominion Hills Pool, and Overlee. At the beginning of last summer, she got an update about her family’s position on one of the lists, and how many people had—or in this case, hadn’t—gotten off it that year.

Elizabeth did some disheartening math: If the number of people getting off the list remained stagnant year to year, her kids, currently ages two and three, could be out of the house before they got into a pool. “Whenever we tell people we recently moved to Arlington, one of the first questions people say is, ‘how many waitlists are you on for pools?’” she says. “Everybody’s in the same struggle, so now it’s just sort of a joke among young parents in Arlington.”

It may be a running joke, but the reality isn’t so funny for those hoping to join private pools in the DC area. Some waitlists have thousands of names, with expected wait times of more than a decade. In fact, membership is such a hot commodity that you can find people selling “pool bonds”—memberships where the holder has pool ownership—on Facebook Marketplace. “It’s almost like finding a needle in a haystack when you find a place that doesn’t have a huge waitlist,” says Arlington mom Nicole (also not her real name).

Nicole become so frustrated looking at pool memberships for her family last summer that she and her friends considered a creative solution: Finding a short term lease for an apartment complex with a pool, and then splitting the cost so their families could all access the amenity. It didn’t come to that—the price wasn’t worth it, and Nicole was able to find a needle in the haystack pool outside of Arlington—but the process left her jaded. 

One of her frustrations? The non-refundable fees some pools ask for—not even to access the facilities, but simply to get on the waitlist. Fee amounts range from annoying to absurd: Sleepy Hollow Bath & Racquet Club in Falls Church and Dunn Loring Swim Club in Vienna require a non-refundable $50, while Tuckahoe Recreation Club in McLean asks for a $500 deposit and a $35 application fee. According to Tuckahoe’s website, neither the deposit nor the fee are refundable for its waitlist, which is three to four years long. A few weeks ago, Nicole was asked to pay an annual fee to remain on one pool’s waitlist, which turned out to be her dealbreaker. “To be honest, I rolled my eyes and said, ‘I’m not doing this,’” she says. “I’m only willing to jump through so many hoops.” 

Emily Kaplan, Senior Vice President at Edelman Public Relations, put herself on the waitlist for Glenwood Pool in November 2020, a month after she and her husband closed on their Silver Spring house. Both a friend and their realtor had mentioned the pool’s lengthy waitlist. The couple paid $50 to get on the list; when they checked in a year later, they discovered they were still about 100 spots away from taking a dip. Kaplan is willing to wait it out because the pool’s proximity to her home means they’ll get good use out of it—once they’re in, of course. “When we signed up for the list, they didn’t give us a number, and it’s not like we get an email every six months or every year that’s like, ‘here’s where you’re at on the waiting list,’” Kaplan says. “So I wish that they were just a little bit more transparent about that.”

PG Pool currently has more than 2,000 people on its waitlist. Photograph by Jonah LeCompte.

Some pools are making an effort to increase transparency. Currently, the list at PG Pool in Mt. Rainier is 2,262 people long, and the folks who got off the list this year joined it in 2014. The pool publishes an up-to-date waitlist online where people can check their current standing. A board member shares that this year, they contacted everyone on the waitlist to ensure they still wanted to remain on it. They found that some families had moved or joined other pools without taking themselves off—not surprising when the top 100 people currently on the list have been there for nearly ten years. Now, people must re-opt into the list each year to retain their spot. 

Chesterbrook Swim & Tennis Club in McLean takes a different approach, requiring people to completely reapply each year. (You know the saying: new year, new you, new pool waitlist.) The pool releases a specific date and time in January when hopefuls can submit their names on a first come, first serve basis. Werner Watschke, Chesterbrook’s membership director, sent out a survey to those who did not make it off the waitlist, asking if the club should move to a permanent waitlist. According to Watschke, most respondents said that the system should remain the same: Some were already on lists at other clubs with multi-year waits, and Chesterbrook’s system provided hope they would be able to get into a pool while their kids could still enjoy the experience. 

Chesterbrook Swim & Tennis Club in McLean. Photograph courtesy of locations.

Arlington Forest Club, which currently has an eight-to-10-year wait for full membership if you’re in the priority area and 12-to-14-year wait for those in the non-priority area, has tried to understand how current members are using the facility. Former membership manager Jan Skelton says the club has a significant number of State Department families who may be abroad for a few summers at a time. When pool leadership knows who is leaving the area, they are able to offer “summer rental memberships” to people on the waitlist, so they can use the pool while members are gone. 

With pool demand far greater than supply, that sort of quasi-altruism is rare. Elizabeth, the consultant on three waitlists, says she knows of a family selling their house and moving overseas—but retaining their membership at a local pool. After all, if they decide to return, it’s a long process to get back to lounging poolside.

“I don’t blame them,” says Elizabeth. “But it’s like, we could be using it now!

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.