From leading the recovery from an unprecedented storm to setting the course for long-range strategic success, Chris Wyles has earned Excellence in Club Management honors for ensuring that the Bald Peak Colony Club is well-prepared for its next 100 years.
When a freak microburst storm ripped through the Bald Peak Colony Club in Melvin Village, N.H., in March 2017, downing over 10,000 trees in its path, the pressure was on for the club’s General Manager/COO to direct an especially swift and effective response. Bald Peak, which occupies an historic and stunningly scenic property along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, is a highly seasonal operation with an active and dedicated membership that plans much of its summer activity around frequent and full use of the club—and there were now just six weeks before a new season was set to begin.
By all accounts, the recovery directed by Bald Peak’s GM/COO, Chris Wyles, CCM, CCE was in itself an award-winning performance. With the instrumental help of former Golf Course Superintendent Todd Pollini, who passed away in 2019, and current Superintendent Caleb Randolph, Wyles led what the club’s Controller/Assistant General Manager, Meighan Garnsey, CPA, describes as “a true team effort” that was marked by “[everyone coming] together with remarkable unity during the process.” The 2017 season opened without delay, while at the same time Wyles “worked extremely closely with our insurance agent and third-party adjuster,” Garnsey reports, “to confirm that all insurance coverages were maximized.”
But what also exemplifies why Wyles has been honored with the Excellence in Club Management Mead Grady Award is how he has always been able to keep Bald Peak’s long-term needs in view while dealing with any immediate crises at hand. Dealing with the storm damage did not stem the momentum for a full range of important capital projects that have helped to prepare the club for another successful century as it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2021.
These have ranged from the highly visible—such as a $1.2 million golf practice facility that provides spectacular views from the driving range (see photo, pg. 48), and extensive renovations to Bald Peak’s classic four-story, 40,000-sq. ft. clubhouse (see photo above)—to equally important behind-the-scenes improvements, such as a new $1.4 million building for staff housing needed to help attract and retain the seasonal employees who are critical to providing Bald Peak’s established level of service.
FILLING THE BIG SHOES
Opening the eyes of both members and staff with his effective and inventive approaches to management has been a hallmark of Chris Wyles’ time at Bald Peak since he became its new GM/COO in 2014. Though he brought an impressive resume with him, after eight years as GM/COO of Talbot Country Club in Easton, Md., and before that as Director of Club Operations for Rhode Island Country Club, Wyles still needed to overcome some early apprehension that came with his following Bald Peak’s popular long-time GM, Chris Coulter, who had been at the club for 19 years before moving to The Westmoor Club in Nantucket, Mass.
But it didn’t take long for “the new Chris” to not only provide assurance that Bald Peak would still be in good hands, but also to demonstrate that he had brought an abundance of new ideas (see box below) for enhancing the club’s appeal and reputation and solidifying its position for its next 100 years. In the process, Wyles also earned praise and recognition that showed why he deserved a standing of his own among club management’s elite.
Garnsey, for example, recalls being called by one member the day after Wyles made a detailed presentation to the entire membership for the golf practice facility project. The member asked what consulting firm had been used to develop the presentation, and Garnsey responded that Wyles had been primarily responsible for the content, along with herself and then-President Bill Glavin, Jr..
Perhaps most impressively of all, Donald Taylor, who has served as Bald Peak’s President since 2017, recalls that after another presentation about capital improvements that would require an assessment, attending members applauded, prompting him to later ask Wyles, “Did we just get a round of applause for an assessment?”
In Wyles’ view, though, the applause was confirmation that he and those he works with, both among the Bald Peak membership and staff, have always taken the right approach in “providing clear, honest communication with a defined result that is easy to imagine.” Just as importantly, he adds, all of those results have always been clearly oriented towards a single goal: Ensuring that Bald Peak “remains the most amazing club retreat experience in the Northeast.”
And achieving that goal doesn’t always require consultant-quality, applause-worthy, buttoned-down presentations. It also comes from a GM/COO who’s happy to jump in a golf cart with a sign in front of it that says “CSW’s Welcome Wagon” and drive throughout the vast Bald Peak property to hand out free ice cream to kids or “rum jumbie” drinks to of-age members and guests.
“It’s so easy to overthink what will be seen as providing value [to club members],” Wyles says. “Sometimes it’s the complimentary things that go the longest way in making people happy they’re here—especially in a place like [Bald Peak], which is more like a summer escape for adults and families than your typical neighborhood club.
“Achievements in our clubs are wonderful, but what makes us special is our ability to handle ‘the gifts,’ “ Wyles adds. ”If you buy into a member comment, good or bad, and see it as a ‘present,’ that’s the key to engaging members and making them feel that they matter and are uniquely cared for. And it’s also the key to having a true ‘service soul’ and being successful in our profession.”
Implemented at Bald Peak Colony Club
> Membership waitlist established in 2016 for the first time in the history of the club, which was founded in 1921.
> Bocce Night, set up on rarely used flat putting green, sold out quickly and generated requests to hold the event on a regular monthly basis.
> Popular “Wednesday Night Lights” program introduced that features cookouts and kids’ sports activities, including Slip N Slide Kickball, Beach Volleyball, Home Run Derby and full-team soccer games.
> “Big Break” Skills Challenge added to three-day Member-Guest golf tournament.
> “The Turn,” a popular new self-serve store on first floor of the Bald Peak clubhouse, offers quick-service items members can take to the golf course, beach, tennis courts or other parts of the property, along with dinners they can take to their homes and trinkets and other special Bald Peak items.
> Food-and-beverage revenue increased by 31% in five seasons.
> $1.4 million spent on new staff housing building.
> “Caribbean Cocktails and Cornhole” tournament on beach drew 64 teams representing members of all ages.
A 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 National Club Association became an additional sponsor in 2018.
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 www.clubmanageraward.com
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 2018 Awards Dinner, which was held February 25 at the Nashville (Tenn.) City Club and sponsored by Denehy Club Thinking Partners, ForeTees LLC, C. Mondavi & Family, Preferred Club, and Yamaha Golf Car.