After it became all too clear that members weren’t holding the club in high regard, The Gallery GC took aggressive steps to put a better image on permanent display.
Garrett Wallace has some fairly startling figures. The General Manager at The Gallery Golf Club in Marana, Ariz., will tell you that before October 2012, when he and Troon Golf were hired to take over operations, only 3% of Gallery members admitted they would be happy recommending their club to friends.
A young (1998) but prestigious institution with two highly acclaimed John Fought-designed golf courses, one of which hosted the 2007 and 2008 WGC Accenture Matchplay championships, The Gallery was losing its good reputation, seeing a net loss of 28 members in 2012.
“I think the previous management probably failed to engage the membership,” says Wallace, doing his best to be as kind as possible in describing policies that clearly weren’t working.
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The Gallery Golf Club
Location: Marana, Ariz.
Telling It Like It Wasn’t
Claudette Halpern, a Gallery member who divided her time between Wisconsin and California before moving with her husband to Arizona in 2005, isn’t quite so diplomatic. “The club just lost its appeal,” she says. “The condition of the golf courses started to deteriorate, there weren’t many food-and-beverage programs for members, and the service and quality took a disappointing dive. Worst of all, perhaps, was the fact that the management staff seemed to have the magic word ‘No’ stamped to their foreheads.”
Fellow member Miles Weigold, who moved with his wife from Maryland to Arizona in 2007 and built his retirement house on the golf course, was equally unimpressed. He too had noticed a worrisome decline in course conditions, and was also frustrated that the clubhouse restaurant wasn’t available for members as often as he would have liked—in fact, it was only open three nights a week.
And Weigold echoes Halpern’s comments about the management’s aloofness. “There was a feeling that, though they did listen to members’ suggestions to improve the club, they just weren’t willing to act on them,” he says.
Taking Off the Wraps
With this kind of feedback staring them in the face, the primary task for Wallace and his 175-person staff was clear. “We needed to make management’s dealings with members more transparent,” he says. “We needed to establish an open-door policy and be straight with them, and not hide anything.”
Communications via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter were immediately ramped up, making it easier for members to remain in the loop by providing more immediate and direct access to Wallace and other department heads.
This made all the difference, Halpern and Weigold say, as part of a change in attitude that they saw from the moment Troon came on board. “The most important thing for me were the steps they took to instill a positive future for The Gallery,” says Halpern. “It was clear right from day one that they wanted the members to be proud of their club and to take an active role in helping it get back to where it had been.”
The staff is always available now, Weigold says. “The change is palpable,” he says. “Not only do they listen to the members, they also take both proactive and reactive steps when and where they are necessary.”
Wallace stressed to his staff that the primary goal was to make the members feel as though The Gallery was at the center of their lives. He wanted members to not only look forward to spending time on the property, but also get involved in the life of their club as much as possible. In short, he wanted to “reenergize” the existing membership of 352.
“The analogy I like to use is to describe two restaurants,” he says. “One is fun and busy with a great reputation, but it also has an hour-long wait for a table. The other, right next door, is relatively quiet and drab and has no great reputation, but you get seated immediately.
“Far more often than not, people will wait for the first one,” Wallace says. “They’re willing to pay more to get the best. I constantly tell my staff we’re in the happiness business. It’s our job to make each member feel valued and special.”
Plenty of Perceived Value
To help fund needed improvements, Gallery members are now paying a little extra—monthly dues went up 10% at the start of the year, from $720 per month to $795. But if they noticed the increase, few members, if any, were making any complaints.
“I don’t think anyone was upset at the increase; I know I wasn’t,” says Weigold. “Troon has put an overreaching focus on enhancing the member experience.”
The clubhouse restaurant is now open seven days a weeks and special evenings, such as BBQ Night, Fish & Chips Night and Pizza Night, help to provide a more amenable F&B experience. “[The changes] have made a significant improvement in the social benefit and return on investment for members,” Weigold says.
Adds Halpern: “There are F&B programs for all levels of membership. We now have casual dining, off-the-menu options, entertainment, chef’s table dinners, wine dinners and catering.”
In all, says Wallace, there are now four times more programs for members than were provided during pre-Troon days, with the expanded social and dining calendar also including “Wine & 9” golf/social evenings, and monthly wine tastings that coordinate with Troon’s Retail Wine Sales program.
Pickleball courts have been added at the Sports Club, as well as additional fitness classes. “And the golf and fitness locker rooms are stocked with fresh fruit, free coffee, hot chocolate and fresh popcorn,” says Wallace.
Course of Action
To address growing concerns about the condition of The Gallery’s golf courses, Troon gave Course Superintendent Paul Ellwood the go-ahead to overseed both layouts in 2013 (overseeding was foregone in 2012 as a cost-cutting measure).
“[Course] conditions had started getting noticeably worse in the summers, and not overseeding in 2012 was a low point,” says Halpern. “But when Troon took over, they demonstrated how they could save ongoing maintenance costs in other areas, which allowed [Ellwood] to resume overseeding.”
Now, management reports, markedly better course conditions are not only inspiring Gallery members to play more golf, but also spend more money at the club. To acknowledge the increased spending—and encourage even more—Wallace has introduced Gallery Rewards, which offers members Gold Status and a 5% discount in the restaurant, golf shop and fitness club when their spending reaches $3,000, and Platinum Status and a 10% discount after a member has spent $6,000.
Worth Showing Off
The current membership total at The Gallery—359 full-privilege “Lifestyle” members and 168 Sports Club members—reflects the success to date of Troon Golf’s efforts to bolster the club’s appeal. But to ensure financial sustainability going forward, Wallace and his staff are also taking aggressive steps to identify and now attract potential members. These include annual trips to cities and areas that members traditionally come from—including Chicago, Northern California and Calgary, Alberta, Canada—to host “prospect cocktail parties.”
“Existing members from those places help us organize the parties for their friends and colleagues,” says Wallace. “We can bring a bit of what The Gallery has to offer right to them.”
Attendees who respond favorably and want to consider membership are then given a complimentary two-night stay in one of the club’s four luxury rental homes, and their time on the property includes golf, dinner and formal tours of the facilities and local real estate options. Helping to bring someone new into the club earns an existing member a $1,000 credit.
Troon also brought with it a rethinking of membership categories at The Gallery. Where the club previously experimented with various types of trial memberships and offered a 100% refundable membership costing $65,000, “We decided to take a new approach after looking at the market,” says Wallace. The Gallery now offers a non-refundable, full-privilege “Lifestyle” membership for a $15,000 initiation fee, along with other options for Young Professionals and Corporate memberships.
In addition to the net gain of seven members that The Gallery made in 2013, other impressive numbers emerged. The F&B department added $500,000 to its top line in 2013. And perhaps most notably, instead of only 3% of members saying they would be happy recommending the club to friends, a highly impressive 89.9% now say they are eager to promote it.
“I’m constantly telling friends about The Gallery,” says Halpern. “And I have no doubt there are plenty of other members that do the same.”