The Best of the Best

By | October 17th, 2013
Kevin Vitale, GM/COO of Baltusrol Golf Club and Chairman of the Selection Committee for the Excellence in Club Management Awards.

Kevin Vitale, GM/COO of Baltusrol Golf Club and Chairman of the Selection Committee for the Excellence in Club Management Awards.

A Q&A with Kevin Vitale, GM/COO of Baltusrol Golf Club and Chairman of the Selection Committee for the Excellence in Club Management Awards, about the process that leads to the industry’s most prestigious recognition.

Editor’s Note: The profile of Bob Jones of Desert Mountain Club in the October issue of C&RB is the final installment of a series highlighting the 2012 winners of the Excellence in Club Management® (ECM) Awards co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business. Previous profiles of 2012 winners appeared this year in the April (Michael Chase), May (Paul Skelton) and July (Eric Dietz and John Dorman) issues of C&RB.

With the nomination and judging process for the 2013 ECM Awards now underway, C&RB interviewed Kevin Vitale, CCM, to gain more insight into how the ECM Awards have come to be known as the preeminent recognition of exemplary performance in the club industry. Vitale, General Manager/Chief Operating Officer of Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., is serving as Chairman of the 2013 Selection Committee, which is comprised of leading General Managers and industry executives from throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The deadline for submitting nominations for the 2013 ECM Awards is December 6; more information on how to nominate a candidate can be found at

2013 Selection CommitteeChairman
Kevin Vitale
Baltusrol Golf Club
Springfield, N.J.Chairman Emeritus
Jay DiPietro
Boca West Country Club
Boca Raton, Fla.

Timothy Bakels
Colleton River Plantation Club
Bluffton, S.C.

David Chag
The Country Club
Brookline, Mass.

Robert Crifasi
New Orleans Country Club
New Orleans, La.

Elizabeth Di Chiara
The Canadian Society
of Club Managers
Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada

Brian Kroh
John’s Island Club
Vero Beach, Fla.

Richard Lareau
The Briar Club
Houston, Texas

Jeffrey McFadden
The Union League
of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pa.

Joseph Murphy
St. George’s Golf & Country Club
Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada

Kirk Reese
The Los Angeles Country Club
Los Angeles, Calif.

John Schultz
Carmel Country Club
Charlotte, N.C.

Susanne Wegrzyn
National Club Association
Washington, D.C.

John Wright
Norwood Hills Country Club
St. Louis, Mo.

Q: Kevin, what distinguishes the Excellence in Club Management Awards from other honors and recognition that managers in the club industry can achieve?

A: The separation of the Excellence in Club Management Awards from other industry awards is on several fronts. First, the nominations come from the clubs themselves. The application and information required is extensive, and selection of winners is solely by managers’ peers in the industry; McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business are not involved in the judging.

The winners are then recognized nationally at a special awards dinner held in conjunction with the Club Managers Association of America’s annual conference, where they have the opportunity to include their families, as well as Board members and staff from their clubs, as part of the awards ceremony. Presentations are also made at each individual winner’s club, and all winners are profiled in Club & Resort Business magazine.

Q: What have your peers in the industry who have earned ECM recognition over the years told you about its impact on their careers and how they manage their clubs after receiving the award?

A: The recognition is rewarding and confirms the managers’ accomplishments to their membership, peers and the club industry. I believe it is a satisfying experience to the managers, and they are very proud of the accomplishment. Having their families and clubs involved in the awards ceremonies is a dynamic and emotional experience.

Surprisingly, it does not change the impact on their careers or how they manage. To be an ECM winner, you need to be special and in the top 1% in the industry to begin with. The winners are highly regarded professionals who have made a major difference in the success of their clubs.

Q: What is involved for the nomination and final decision-making processes for the ECM awards?

A: Well, it is a process—as it should be. It starts with the club President nominating his or her General Manager. The nomination application is detailed and specific, and requires a great deal of work to accurately communicate the accomplishments during the manager’s tenure and the impact and results of those achievements. These are not “lifetime achievement” awards—they relate specifically to a manager’s performance at his or her current club.

Once the applications have been completed and submitted, the Committee starts its process. I have been fortunate to work with some of the top GMs in the country on the Committee. My first experience on the Committee was eye-opening, because the majority of applicants have had spectacular careers, making the judging of nominations very difficult.

Once the Committee has made its selections of the final candidates, the process can get stressful. The decision-making at this point is splitting hairs, and you understand what your vote means for the manager and the clubs involved. At the end of the process, the committee selects one manager for each of the four Awards categories, which are based on size and type of club. At that point, it is a rewarding feeling to know we have done our best to identify “the best of the best” from among so many impressive nominations.

Q: Why should club Presidents want to submit nominations for their General Managers?

A: For a couple of reasons: First, it allows the club to recognize and reward their manager for the job they have done at their club. Secondly, it gives the club national exposure on what makes their club so special for its members and the club industry.

Q: When the Committee is reviewing ECM nominations, what are the most common characteristics and accomplishments that seem to distinguish those who emerge as award winners?

A: Most often, the list of accomplishments is long and over a period of years. It identifies higher services, member value, capital improvements, team building, etc. The managers are proactive in nature, and are constantly trying to improve their club.

Q: Screening ECM nominations can be fairly involved and time-consuming—why do those on the Committee feel it’s important to devote time and effort to the process?

A: It is our industry, and what we do for a living. Club managers take a great deal of pride in what we do and are dedicated to excellence both in our own work and our industry. So it is extremely important that if we are going to select a manager who performs at such a high level and reward them with this award, we need to do our part in the selection process.

Q: The Awards also include “Rising Star” recognition for an Assistant Manager, from nominations submitted by General Managers. What’s the value of achieving this recognition for someone on your staff?

A: I think the “Rising Star” award is the most rewarding for the committee to select. It represents the future of the industry and clearly helps the award winner along their career path to become a GM one day. Assistant managers want to work at a club where they can learn and develop, and ultimately run their own club. Clubs that get involved in the “Rising Star” part of the ECM Awards understand that.

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