The two-campus property outside Washington, D.C. has seen a remarkable resurgence, thanks to its management team’s flawless execution of an all-out strategic push to achieve new levels of relevance and member service.
At the end of 2006, Patrick King, then the Deputy General Manager of Army Navy Country Club (ANCC) in Arlington, Va., took a Christmas holiday trip to New York City with his wife and scored tickets to the “Late Show with David Letterman.” While standing outside the Ed Sullivan Theater waiting to go into the show, King, like the others who would be in the audience that night, filled out a card that asked, among other things, what special talents he might have.
After the show began, Letterman went into the seats for its regular “Audience Show and Tell” segment. “Is there a Patrick King in the group this evening?” Letterman asked. King stood up and had an exchange with the host, during which he told him he was a country club manager, before then revealing what he’d do for “show and tell”: juggle a golf ball off a sand wedge before then bouncing it up and into a cup strapped on top of his head.
|AT A GLANCE
Army Navy Country Club
Arlington, Va., and Fairfax, Va.Founded: 1924
Clubhouse Sizes: 103,000 sq. ft. (Arlington); 28,000 sq. ft. (Fairfax)
Golf: 54 holes (27 at each location)
Annual Golf Rounds: 83,000
General Manager/COO: Patrick King, CCM, CCE
Director of Golf: Greg Scott, PGA
Golf Course Superintendents: Bob Wilbur (Arlington); Carmen Giannini (Fairfax)
Executive Chefs: Tim Recher, CEC, CWX (Arlington); Steve Ryder (Fairfax)
Directors of Clubhouse Operations: Andrew Welch (Arlington); Michael Palamara, CCM (Fairfax)
Director of Tennis: Joseph Wang, JD, MBA
Director of Fitness: John Porter, MS
Director of Aquatics: Wendy Wilson
Director of Membership, Communications and Marketing: Diana Wang, JD
Director of Facilities: David Dawson, PA
Chief Financial Officer: Don Nicholson, CPA
“Well now, that’s what you’re looking for in a country club manager,” Letterman joked. “Sure, you know all about fairway maintenance and pH balance in the pool—but can you do any tricks?”
Letterman then stepped back as King was given a chance to demonstrate his unique talent (which he’d mastered during downtime while trying to make it as a touring golf pro, before starting his club management career). Given one take on the taping for a national broadcast, King nailed it (see the clip on YouTube here).
“Man, is he going to be a hero at the club tonight,” Letterman crowed, as a slow-motion replay played of King’s impressive maneuver.
A Full Bag of Tricks
Over 10 years later, King, along with the rest of the ANCC management team, has reached permanent hero status among the club’s membership. In April 2012, King was promoted to be ANCC’s General Manager/COO, following the unexpected resignation of his predecessor for health reasons. He took the top job at a time when factors were combining to create a bit more pressure than just doing a golf trick on Letterman.
At the same time it was trying, like every club, to recover from the recession, ANCC was also in the midst of a major overhaul of its facilities when King was promoted. And in this club’s case, everything was being done on a massive scale that few other properties have to contend with.
Founded in 1924, ANCC is one of a handful of clubs with two distinct campuses, after acquiring the former Fairfax (Va.) Country Club, 14 miles from Arlington, in 1956. Combined, the two properties comprise 500 acres with 27 holes of golf at each location, and club operations also encompass 32 tennis courts, six swimming pools, a fitness facility, two full-service clubhouses, and multiple dining and special-event venues.
The club has long enjoyed a distinguished reputation, with a succession of U.S. Presidents and other prominent military and political figures counted among its membership through the years (contrary to a frequent perception, ANCC is not an “officers club” and offers civilian memberships as well as those for various categories of service status).
By 2012, total membership had grown to over 7,000, and running a club of that size required an in-season staff of over 550, a full-time staff of 350, and a 40-person Board of Governors. But inertia had set in during the recession, and now the club was in the midst of making up for lost time and absorbing a total of $115 million in capital projects, including $57.7 million for a new Arlington clubhouse (pictured on cover and above), as well as major renovations of golf courses on both campuses.
Given the opportunity to not only help to complete these initiatives, but fully leverage their impact, King stepped up to lead the club’s highly tenured and accomplished management team as it took ANCC to unprecedented levels of success and a new realm of relevance that now has it well-positioned for the future.
While membership totals have remained at around the same level, an influx of new families, and growth in several categories reflecting a more diverse range of membership options, has brought significant change to the club’s demographic mix, and to its usage patterns and overall volume. Since 2015, ANCC has brought in over 600 new members with an average age of 40 and who have an average of two children. This also added momentum to a trend that has seen the average age of the club’s total membership drop from 66 in 2001 to 53 currently.
Most impressively, where ANCC was a $13.5 million club in 2010, it has now more than doubled that figure, to $27 million-plus. Much of that growth has come in areas that reflect ANCC’s emergence as an even more well-rounded and year-round operation, with food-and-beverage revenues swelling from $3.3 million when the new Arlington clubhouse opened in late 2012 to over $7.7 million now.
There has also been significant growth in the tennis, aquatics and fitness programs, and the club has added the position of Junior Activities Manager to implement programs for its increased family orientation (this past fall it also opened a new Junior Activities Recreation Room for ages 9 to 13, equipped with table tennis, foosball, Xbox and other attractions).
All of this change and accomplishment has garnered a bevy of recognition for the club. The innovative energy-saving features and other operating efficiencies and environmentally friendly materials built into the Arlington clubhouse earned LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Silver Certification status for the building from the U.S. Green Building Council (“Military Precision,” C&RB, June 2016). The renovation of its tennis practice facility and outdoor courts that was part of the clubhouse project, combined with the cutting-edge aspects of ANCC’s tennis program (“Serving Up a Good Game,” C&RB, January 2015), led to Outstanding Facility and Green Facility recognition in 2014 from the United States Tennis Association. And in 2014, ANCC earned Platinum Club of America recognition for the first time, a status it has since retained while improving its ranking.
Amidst all of these plaudits, however, the most important thing to recognize, according to Capt. John C. Tuck, USNR (ret.), Chairman of ANCC’s Board of Governors, is the sea change in club culture that was brought about by the management team under King’s direction.
“For the first time in a long time, we have everything up and running again,” Capt. Tuck said at the end of 2017. “All of the change that we’ve brought about [in the past five years] has been a huge success, and we would not have survived without it.
“We’ve become a true year-round country club, and not just a place where a bunch of old guys play golf on Saturday,” Capt. Tuck adds. “There’s increased use of the club across the board, and much of that is due to the professional management we have at the top and throughout our departments.
“You look around the table [when ANCC department heads gather for a staff meeting] and you don’t see evidence of a lot of turnover,” Capt. Tuck says. “We have outstanding, experienced managers who have stayed here because they want to contribute significantly. They understand that, especially with all of the [capital] investments we’ve made, they must operate in their areas no differently than how any organization—with the exception of the federal government, unfortunately—must operate: Expenses can’t exceed revenues.”
In pursuit of that overriding directive, ANCC managers have demonstrated that they are equally adept at developing new revenue opportunities while also identifying and implementing initiatives to bring about new operating efficiencies.
For the club’s food-and-beverage operation, the clubhouse renovation literally opened doors to a full variety of new ways to make ANCC members, existing and new, see the club as their dining destination of choice—which is no small feat in the restaurant-rich Washington, D.C. corridor.
Through the clubhouse project, four new dining venues were designed and opened, each with distinctive themes, menus and operating standards. Concepts now offered include a fine-dining restaurant (the Sun Room), a quick-serve location (Stars & Stripes), and both a family-dining Grille and an adults-only Bar & Grille.
Innovations introduced around these new capabilities have included a kid’s buffet on Friday nights; the launch of “1924 Lager,” ANCC’s own signature craft beer; the purchase of a commercial-grade smoker to provide “house-smoked” product for the restaurants, as well as to use for member events such as outdoor barbecues; obtaining a dehydrator to cure meats in-house; and installing a three-deck pizza oven for artisan pies.
The new clubhouse design also created over 10,000 sq. ft. of outdoor dining space for both a la carte dining and special events, and the combination of outdoor patios, terraces and decks has proved to be immensely popular with club members. A “Rooftop Happy Hour” series of six themed events that is now held regularly throughout each summer regularly attracts over 250 members and their guests each time. In 2017, popular Taco and Burger Nites “On the Patio” were added for Wednesday and Friday evenings during the spring and fall. Demand for outdoor dining has proved to be so overwhelming since the new clubhouse opened, in fact, that in the spring of 2017 an additional space, with new furniture, tables, umbrellas and fire pits, was created.
All told, ANCC is now serving over 200,000 meals a year. While the various casual dining venues account for the lion’s share of the total, fine dining has retained its appeal as well, between nightly dinners, Sunday brunch and weekly prix-fixe menus that include a bottle of wine and have proved to be very popular in the clubhouse’s upgraded setting.
Moving into the new clubhouse also gave banquet revenues at ANCC a huge shot in the arm, boosting them from $1.5 million a year to over $4 million annually. In 2017, the club hosted over 40 weddings and a total of over 2,500 other events, ranging from intimate, 10-person private events to plated dinners for more than 300 people. The views of the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington Monument and other attractions that are now offered from the new clubhouse’s rooftop terraces have established ANCC’s Arlington facility as one of the D.C. metro area’s premier event venues.
Getting Golf On a Roll
While ANCC has seen F&B and other amenities and operating areas get on a strong new roll, it hasn’t neglected its golf tradition, which includes many rounds by Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama, as well as design touches provided through the years by notable names such as Richard Mandell and Robert Trent Jones.
Golf activity between the two campuses is now at just under 85,000 rounds a year, compared to the 105,000 that Director of Golf Greg Scott saw when he first came to ANCC at the start of the millennium. But Scott has been encouraged by the response to recent initiatives that he says have sent new player development “through the roof,” after creating a special position within the golf staff to help remove the fear and intimidation factor with more fun-oriented instruction. Inhibitions have been broken down even further by a “Happy Hour on the Range” offering that has, not surprisingly, also been warmly accepted.
And as you might expect when working with a General Manager who is so adept with a golf club, Scott and his staff have had full support for starting new programs such as “Twilight Golf,” which has been held for the past three years on a twice-monthly basis in the evenings, alternating between the two campuses. For a package price that includes a golf cart, nine holes of play, on-course beverage service and a post-golf social gathering that includes casual F&B selections, ANCC has been drawing more than 60 people to the twilight events on a regular basis, with the appeal proving to be especially strong among casual golfers who like how it offers an enjoyable way to meet new members.
From ANCC’s still-very-robust ranks of more accomplished golfers, the club got high marks after changing its annual Member/Guest tournament to a Ryder Cup format, with 96 teams competing over three days for play that used all 54 holes of golf at both properties.
Even with the significant operating efficiencies that were originally built into the new Arlington clubhouse—through features that include high-efficiency boilers, frictionless water chillers, a computer-controlled mechanical plant and technology designed to generate peak energy savings by monitoring supply and demand and pulling power from the grid when rates are most favorable—ANCC’s operations staff, led by Director of Facilities David Dawson, remains constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to bring additional efficiencies to the expense line. And with such a massive physical plant spread out over two campuses, Dawson says, it’s not hard to keep finding more projects that can pay off.
The recent installation of LED lighting at ANCC’s indoor tennis complex, for example, has yielded annual savings of $35,000.
Constant attention to both sides of the ledger is especially critical, Capt. Tuck notes, because ANCC’s mission statement includes the charge of providing country club facilities at “moderate expense” to “those citizens, military and civilian, who are bound together by the fraternal and patriotic spirit of serving the best interests and efficiency of the National Defense.” As part of this stated mission, ANCC’s leadership continually benchmarks its dues against those of comparable clubs, to stay a specified percentage lower.
“Patrick King and his management team take this mission very seriously,” Capt. Tuck says. “Having less dues revenue available to cover operating costs than similar clubs means it is extremely important to run the club like a business, and this is something [the staff] has managed very successfully.” Even with its explosive growth since the opening of the Arlington clubhouse, for example, ANCC’s food-and-beverage department at that location is still generating an annual profit, even without minimums.
And carrying out that mission is never done with any thought of cutting corners that could affect service. ANCC even took a new step toward ensuring that could not be an issue in 2015, when it launched a “chit rating” system that asks members to rate food and service quality using a five-point scale that’s shown on the tickets they sign. The system has proved to be immensely successful in measuring member satisfaction at the point of service, King reports, while also reinforcing important cultural attributes for the staff. To date, scores have averaged 4.8 out of 5, and any variances prompt immediate and full follow-up.
Overall, a recently completed membership survey showed that fully 91% of ANCC members were either satisfied or very satisfied with the club and its amenities and operation. “Selecting Patrick King [to be GM/COO in 2012] was the best decision we could have made, given what the staff has achieved since then,” says Capt. Tuck, who worked with two four-star generals in coordinating a national search for the position. “We are lucky to have him lead a team of professionals who do so much to make our membership experience uniquely exceptional.”
Don’t even think of suggesting to anyone on that team, however, that all they’ve helped the club to accomplish in the last five years means that things are now “good enough.” Under King’s leadership, the operating mantra that has taken hold is “‘Good Enough’ Never Is.” Just imagine if he’d felt it was while on Letterman.