Singular Purpose

Westwood CC’s GM/COO, Tony D’Errico, CCM, CCE, is the 2013 recipient of the James D. Brewer Award (for country/golf clubs with 600 or more full-privilege members), as part of the Excellence in Club Management Awards co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and C&RB.
Westwood CC’s GM/COO, Tony D’Errico, CCM, CCE, is the 2013 recipient of the James D. Brewer Award (for country/golf clubs with 600 or more full-privilege members), as part of the Excellence in Club Management Awards co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and C&RB.

Strong synergies among an experienced management team have led to steady success for Westwood CC—and earned Excellence in Club Management recognition for its long-time leader, GM/COO Tony D’Errico, CCM, CCE.

In 1999, when Tony D’Errico, CCM, CCE, was about to become the new General Manager/COO of Westwood Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., the club’s President at the time told him he would need to do two things to succeed in the job: 1) get immersed in the Jewish culture, to fully understand how the club experience must fit with its traditions and lifestyle, and 2) take Westwood “to the next level” in terms of quality, prestige and member satisfaction.

Although D’Errico was an Italian from Long Island, he didn’t find the first requirement daunting—he had been thoroughly exposed to a variety of cultures growing up in New York’s melting pot, and he knew he shared the same passions for faith, family and charitable endeavors that are important guiding principles to the Westwood membership.

Achievements at Westwood CC Under Tony D’Errico’s Leadership

  • “Outreach programs” were created to help attract beginners and returning participants to golf, tennis, swimming and fitness. The first version of a “Get Golf Ready” program in a private club, a “Play at Golf” carnival, and a “Nine Holes & Lunch” program for women have all helped to build golf rounds without adding memberships; growth in ladies’ play has been threefold.
After several expansions, Westwood’s iconic 60,000-sq. ft. clubhouse now offers a variety of unique vistas—including a new patio (above), opened in the spring of 2013, that quickly became a popular spot for after-golf drinks because of its orientation (it is naturally shaded in the afternoon), location (between access to both the men’s and women’s locker rooms) and view (facing the 18th green).
After several expansions, Westwood’s iconic 60,000-sq. ft. clubhouse now offers a variety of unique vistas—including a new patio (above), opened in the spring of 2013, that quickly became a popular spot for after-golf drinks because of its orientation (it is naturally shaded in the afternoon), location (between access to both the men’s and women’s locker rooms) and view (facing the 18th green).
  • “40 Under 40” membership recruitment initiative, targeting younger members with 50% dues reduction that would be shared by existing members in that category, brought in nearly 50 new members and reduced club’s average age by two years, to under 60.

As he took closer stock of the situation he was coming into at Westwood, D’Errico began to see the second requirement as less and less formidable, too. “The club was fine—it had a strong membership with a wait list, it had good ‘bones’ throughout its facilities structure, and the staff was filled with very capable and experienced people in every department,” he says. “Everything had just become a bit stalled when it came to taking the next steps.”

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To help get things moving again, D’Errico had no shortage of ideas for new programs and events at Westwood. But for any of them to succeed, he knew they would have to be implemented through a team-based approach executed around four basic management principles:
1) Establish clear goals.
2) Allocate needed resources efficiently.
3) Hold people accountable.
4) Recognize performance.

Fifteen years later, there is ample evidence of how this approach has indeed taken Westwood CC to new heights—not only in terms of member-satisfaction levels (high-90 percentiles, compared with peer groups) and financial performance (no annual deficits, operating or capital, during D’Errico’s tenure, and no current debt), but also by rising to a #29 ranking among Platinum Clubs of America (the only Jewish country club in the top 40).

And for D’Errico, those results have led to personal recognition as the 2013 recipient of the James D. Brewer Award (for country/golf clubs with 600 or more full-privilege members), as part of the Excellence in Club Management (ECM) Awards co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business.

To D’Errico, however, his ECM recognition merely verified his initial feeling, upon arriving at Westwood, that the pieces were already in place for rising to new levels of achievement. “For our facilities, it was a matter of catching up on deferred maintenance, and then creating and following a more defined plan,” he says. “We now have a professional designer on retainer, and design fees in the operating budget, to use as needed.” Westwood has also completed a new master plan and begun to implement phases that will continue to enhance its iconic clubhouse and grounds.

Ideas Implemented Successfully at Westwood CC Under Tony D’Errico’s Direction

  • “Strolling Supper,” introduced as a casual-dining concept for the first Sunday of each month, features multiple food stations (as opposed to one big buffet), allows families to use the club on Sunday nights with casual attire (jeans allowed) at a low price point, and now draws average attendance of 350.
  • An event-based program, “An Evening in the Dining Room,” re-introduced formal dining on a monthly basis on Saturday evenings, for a limited-seating, four-course (with choices) presentation for members and guests. The evenings have sold out consistently for two years (at 100 people, with a waiting list) and have contributed to increased member satisfaction levels and improved perceptions of food quality.
Westwood’s poolside dining area was developed not only to provide special appeal for younger members with children, but also to help maintain other members’ satisfaction levels with other venues.
Westwood’s poolside dining area was developed not only to provide special appeal for younger members with children, but also to help maintain other members’ satisfaction levels with other venues.
  • Poolside dining for lunch and dinner, targeted to younger members with children, was successfully introduced to not only add a new dining option but also help address the need to maintain older members’ satisfaction levels with other venues.
  • Professional designer is kept on retainer, and design fees included in operating budget, to ensure consistent attention to ongoing clubhouse and grounds enhancements.

As for staff support, D’Errico says it was clear from the start that the talented and experienced group he inherited “always had it in them—there was just a lack of synergy that was holding back being able to get things done as a team.”

Establishing accountabilities, and then taking notice of achievement, were the keys to getting everyone working toward common goals as they were established, D’Errico adds. “Everyone wants to be held accountable,” he believes. “And they will respond when you notice what they do, good or bad, as long as it’s always done in a professional, respectful and constructive way.”

As part of conveying that respect, D’Errico has always stressed the importance of work-life balance—and of setting the right example for how it can be achieved. He credits experiences from early in his career—such as the “F&B boot camp” he went through when working for the TGIF restaurant chain, and start-ups of development clubs in Florida and North Carolina—for providing valuable lessons on how to perform under intensive fire. But as he has progressed through his career, he has also become determined to demonstrate that just as much, if not more, can be accomplished without requiring personal sacrifices that can eventually undermine even the most brilliant business strategies.

“I insist on five-day workweeks for everyone, including myself,” D’Errico says. “I trust that when I’m not here, those who are will be able to handle everything.

“This is a tough business, and we expect a lot of those who work in it,” he adds. “But there’s no badge of honor in working people to death. We need to avoid having anyone who’s coming into the club industry see it as anything but the most vibrant and exciting arm of hospitality.”