After the coronavirus outbreak forced the Charlottesville, Va. club to curtail and significantly alter its operations, Club Manager Brandon Johnson, the 2019 “Rising Star” recipient through the Excellence in Club Management Awards, has led a measured response to provide welcomed service and comfort for members and staff.
When the coronavirus outbreak forced Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va. to lock down much of its sprawling, historic, 280-acre property for the first time since World War II (even though many of its older buildings didn’t have any locks), CEO/General Manager, Joe Krenn, CCM, CCE, didn’t have to look very far down his bench to find the “lockdown defender” he needed to send in for that part of the club’s response.
Krenn pointed to Club Manager Brandon Johnson and told him to take charge of all of the day-to-day operational logistics needed to bring the property in compliance with mandates for curtailed operations, including communicating with staff and arranging for alternative member services, so Krenn and Farmington CFO Julie Brown, CPA, could focus on working with the club’s Board on longer-range response and recovery strategies.
Krenn drew the same confidence in giving those directives from what led him to successfully nominate Johnson for the 2019 Rising Star Award through the Excellence in Club Management Awards sponsored by the McMahon Group, Club + Resort Business and the National Club Association (“Expansive Group,” C+RB, February 2020).
“I didn’t have any worries about the operational side [of the shutdown],” Krenn says. “I knew I could just give that to Brandon and he would run with it. He’s been making tactical decisions on his own for us for some time now. He’s seen as a leader, and I had full trust in his ability to handle and navigate us through [the club’s closing], even during a time of unprecedented stress.”Johnson, who became Club Manager in 2017 and has a total of 12 years of experience in various roles at Farmington, quickly marshaled the food-and-beverage and culinary teams to provide alternative curbside service for the club’s more than 1,100 resident members, including to-go Easter meals for 100 that included centerpieces arranged through a local florist and a social-distance wave from the Easter bunny as pickups were made (Johnson has himself donned the bunny costume in previous years, but exercised executive privilege in assigning that duty to someone else this time).
Farmington’s food truck, one of the first introduced in the club industry when it debuted in 2015, also proved its versatility in a new way, as it became the hub for safely providing breakfast and lunch service for both golfers and tennis players as long as they were allowed to continue to come to the property.
Johnson also willingly, and effectively, took the lead for less-pleasant tasks, such as communicating with staff as the club developed plans for pay reductions and furloughs that would have to be instituted as the reduction in operations was extended. “There was certainly no playbook for this,” Johnson says. “But there was some guidance on crisis communications that we had in place that I could draw from, and we also put together a task force of department heads and senior staff to help strategize through the unknown.
“There has definitely been a lot about this that hasn’t been comfortable for anyone to deal with,” Johnson said in mid-April. “But we’ve been fortunate in that we had a strong team in place that has always been nimble and good at making decisions on the fly, and that we’ve worked for a club and Board that’s let us be innovative and try new things. Working through this has fostered a lot of healthy debate, and a lot of creative new ideas have come out of how we’ve responded—like our digital newsletters with videos and special ‘celebrity appearances’ that we’ve used to communicate consistently with the membership and that have had very strong viewership.”
As a small-city club with close ties to the University of Virginia, Farmington stood to take especially painful hits from the loss of events around graduation and other traditional gatherings. But Johnson anticipates that some “silver linings and positives” will eventually emerge from what the club has experienced this year.
“Our membership has been extremely supportive about what we’ve done and what we’ve asked of them, and I think they will see us a safe haven and trusted source of stability that they’ll be quick to come back to once we can be fully open again,” he says. “Even in such especially difficult times, what we’ve been able to do as a team has generated some valuable good will.”
Celebration of Excellence
The 2019 Excellence in Club Management winners were honored at an Awards Dinner held at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas on February 8, 2020 (“The Toast of Texas,” C+RB, March 2020). The Awards Dinner was sponsored by Denehy Club Thinking Partners, ForeTees LLC, Izon Golf, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives and Preferred Club.