Climbing the Ladder

By | April 10th, 2018

Brian Baldwin, CCM, ECM, Assistant General Manager, Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J.

Brian Baldwin has embraced every opportunity that’s been presented to him since beginning to work in private clubs—and his successful response to each earned his appointment as the first Assistant General Manager in the history of Baltusrol Golf Club.

Not long after Brian Baldwin, CCM, scored his first job at a golf club as a prep cook, he started taking drink orders because he “had a personality.” Soon, he started waiting tables and changed his major from business to hospitality.

“I’m a high-energy guy, and I liked the teamwork, camaraderie and atmosphere of the kitchen,” says Baldwin.

In his current role as Assistant General Manager of Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. (he is the first in the club’s 122-year history to hold that title), Baldwin’s personality is on full display. “My leadership style is to be really personable,” Baldwin says. “I’m all about encouragement and teamwork and motivation. I believe that I have to be able and willing to do the same things that I direct my staff to do.”

Now, Baldwin’s inspirational level of service has led to “Rising Star” recognition through the 2017 Excellence in Club Management (ECM) Awards co-sponsored by the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business.

Ideas & Achievements Implemented at Baltusrol GC by Brian Baldwin

• Intimately involved in $10 million in capital improvement projects to the clubhouse, including adding a casual bar on the main floor, restoring the formal dining room and completing major improvements to the terrace, Tillinghast Room and more.
• Created a profile of what type of person Baltusrol is looking to hire, and expanded and changed the networking structure to reach individuals seeking employment.
• Instituted a diverse beverage program with unique cocktails and an extensive wine program, prompting the construction of an additional wine cellar to increase the wine list to 10,000 bottles.
• Revamped holiday events with decorations, higher quality entertainment, specialty menus and stronger engagement, resulting in a 20% increase in participation compared to previous years.

Many recent capital improvement projects at Baltusrol bear a strong imprint from Baldwin’s involvement, including a renovation of the Tillinghast Room.

At the end of a typical day, which consists of touching base with staff and members, checking event schedules and working through to-do lists, Baldwin greets dinner guests for about an hour and then opens what he estimates to be 10 to 25 bottles of wine for members each night. “On Friday and Saturday nights, people will call ahead and say what they want to spend, and ask me to pick something out,” Baldwin says. “I have a big passion for wine.”

Baldwin’s passion has translated to wine sales at Baltusrol increasing each year by $100,000 since he’s been on site, despite having the same number of members. In fact, changing the philosophy of the beverage program is what Baldwin believes to be his biggest achievement to date at Baltusrol.

“When I first got here, there was no craft beer and no signature cocktails,” Baldwin says. “We went from selling no craft beer to offering eight to twelve different varieties, with only two major brands represented.”

That boost for the beer category was achieved, Baldwin says, by encouraging staff to be engaged and knowledgeable about craft beer varieties, and having breweries help to offer seminars to foster a better understanding of the process. The club first offered three craft brews to gauge members’ tastes, and introduced four canned varieties on the golf course.

To create signature cocktails, Baldwin brought in a former colleague, who was ranked the best bartender in New Jersey in 2017, to train Baltusrol’s current bartenders and develop a cocktail program. The club now has six signature cocktails, with all ingredients made in-house. “We make our own syrups, we juice our own lemons, and we infuse everything,” Baldwin says. “It’s time-consuming, but we have to compete with [nearby New York City’s] Manhattan. If we’re not doing what they’re doing, members will just go there.”

In his nomination letter for Baldwin’s Rising Star recognition, General Manager/COO Kevin Vitale (at left) predicted that his Assistant GM “will continue to elevate his career and will someday be the GM of a Congressional, Baltusrol, or one of the top clubs in the country.”

Of course, such substantial beverage growth doesn’t just happen because the drinks are good. In addition to a quality product, Baldwin attributes the program’s success to the high level of service offered by his staff.

“I believe my love of the industry has rubbed off on the staff and managers to be more positive and engaging,” Baldwin says. “Service has really improved because the staff know that it’s what we’re about—engagement and friendliness. They see me being involved and always interacting with members or running food or clearing tables. It has changed how the wait staff works.”

Though Baldwin has had to put on hold his aspiration for coaching soccer part-time, he still gets his share of athletics—especially during Baltusrol’s 40 golf outings per year. When the property hosted the 2016 PGA Championship (“Extending the Legend at Baltusrol GC,” C&RB, September 2016), Baldwin developed a taste for high-stakes management. “Hosting tournaments is something I’m really engaged with,” Baldwin says. “I love the adrenaline of working those 16-hour days, getting up at 3 a.m. and not getting home until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. It breaks you out of your norms.”

Still, it’s the day-to-day operations where Baldwin shines, engaging with and motivating staff to work toward being one step ahead of the needs of members. “A lot of staff are here for a year or two, just passing through,” Baldwin says. “The challenge is how to get that 22-year-old college kid to buy into a club with a 122-year history.”

NewECMlogoA Celebration of Excellence

The Excellence in Club Management (ECM) Awards were established by the McMahon Group, Inc., the St. Louis-based consulting firm, in 1997 and have been co-sponsored by Club & Resort Business since 2006.

The annual awards are selected through nominations submitted on behalf of qualified candidates by other parties. Award recipients are selected solely on the basis of their achievements at the club they currently manage. A Selection Committee comprised of a peer group of leading club managers conducts the judging for the ECM Awards.

Awards in four categories are given each year:
The James H. Brewer Award, for a manager of a Country/Golf Club with 600 or more full-privilege members
The Mead Grady Award, for a manager of a Country/Golf Club with fewer than 600 full-privilege members
The Mel Rex Award, for a manager of a City, Athletic or Specialty (Non-Golf) Club
The “Rising Star” Award for an assistant club manager

A full listing of judges, in addition to information on past winners and on how to nominate candidates for future years’ awards, can be found at

In addition to in-depth articles in C&RB detailing the achievements of each ECM winner, individual ceremonies are held at their clubs. All winners were also honored at the 2017 Awards Dinner, which was held March 3 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and was sponsored by ClubCorp, Denehy Club Thinking Partners, ForeTees LLC, Preferred Club, and Yamaha Golf Car.

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