By “managing by walking around,” Terra S. H. Waldron, CCM, CCE, has guided The Desert Highlands Country & Golf Club Association toward steady progress and growth, and earned Excellence in Club Management Award recognition for herself.
Of the nine members on The Desert Highlands Country & Golf Club Association’s Board of Directors, four are women. While pointing out this fact, and highlighting how positive it is for the Scottsdale, Ariz., community, General Manager/Chief Operating Officer Terra S. H. Waldron, CCM, CCE, makes sure to note that she’s not taking credit for this accomplishment.
In the face of numerous achievements, multiple awards and high satisfaction among members, Waldron is always quick to cite the contributions of the club’s 14 department heads, Board of Directors, and the community itself for the progress that Desert Highlands has made. She retained this characteristic humility and desire to share the spotlight even as she received The Mead Grady Award through the 2015 Excellence in Club Management Awards, co-sponsored by Club & Resort Business and The McMahon Group.
Achievements at Desert Highlands Under Terra Waldron’s Leadership
• The community and club have adopted and implemented a strategic plan, policy manual for Board governance, and a master planning committee for the next 15 to 20 years.
But there’s no disputing that Waldron has been the driving force behind ushering in a more forward-thinking era in her 10 years at Desert Highlands’ helm. “I would say the membership has become more progressive in wanting to identify trends and be relevant to existing and new members,” she says. “I’m very proud of the governance that has been adopted—it’s very strategic, allowing management and departments to manage.”
With family members in the industry as chefs and resort owners, Waldron says hospitality and management was “the natural course”when it came time for her to choose a career. As she worked on her hospitality degree, she earned her salt as a server and bartender in clubs, before taking on her first “real” club job as a banquet manager of The Commonwealth Club in Richmond, Va., where she stayed for five years.
Over the next 30 years, Waldron racked up experience at clubs across the country, before finding her niche at Desert Highlands in October 2006.
“What an evolution,” Waldron says of how she’s seen the industry change. “The demands are so much higher now—there’s almost an unrealistic expectation, which is a challenge when it comes to staffing.”
Ideas Implemented Successfully at Desert Highlands Under Terra Waldron’s Leadership
• A shift toward a more casual, healthful dining experience, including farm-to-table fare, small plates, and heart-healthy options; numerous “Chefs Gone Wild” dining events give members an opportunity to interact with chefs and provide feedback.
With a total of 590 members, all of whom are residents in the community and mostly in their second or third homes, Desert Highlands encompasses a sprawling residential community, a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, 18-hole putting course, 13-court racquet club, a 7,000-sq. ft. fitness center with spa, short-game practice area and a 30,000-sq. ft. clubhouse. Waldron handles operations of each component of the property, from club amenities to property management and HOA design.
Describing her management style as “managing by walking around,” Waldron attends all committee meetings and frequently connects with department heads and property-management residential services. But, she adds, she does not micromanage.
“You hire great people, you give direction, and you give support,” she says of her management philosophy. “You have to have the hospitality heart.”
About 70% of Desert Highlands’ members leave for the season in May, Waldron estimates, and the 30% who remain tend to leave for a month or so, returning in the third week of October. The club’s staff uses that time, she says, for “creative thinking to enhance operations,” developing plans for new services, projects and budgets.
On her daily management walks, Waldron maintains visibility with members, talking with them one-on-one. “I find out a lot when I’m out and about on the property,” she says. Some members refer to Desert Highlands as “the little kingdom,” she says, and that makes her feel “like Walt Disney.”
And because of the Disney-like magic that Waldron has helped to bring about at Desert Highlands, members have full confidence in her leadership. “It has taken awhile, but I’m finally the go-to person,” she says. “It’s extremely rewarding to me, and that could change tomorrow. But for now, it’s a wonderful place to be.”
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; “lifetime achievements” are not considered.
Awards in four categories are given each year:
A Selection Committee comprised of a peer group of leading club managers conducts the judging for the ECM Awards; the McMahon Group and Club & Resort Business are not involved in the selection of the winners.
The Selection Committee for the 2015 Awards was chaired by Kevin Vitale, CCM, General Manager/COO of Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J. 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 the special website for the ECM Awards, www.clubmanageraward.com.
The deadline for submitting nominations for the 2016 ECM Awards is November 11, 2016.
In addition to in-depth articles in Club & Resort Business that detail the achievements of each ECM winner, individual presentation ceremonies are held at their clubs. All winners are also honored at the Excellence in Club Management Awards Dinner, held each year in conjunction with the Club Managers Association of America World Conference. The 2015 Awards Dinner was held this February in San Diego, Calif., and sponsored by ClubCorp, Denehy Club Thinking Partners, ForeTees LLC, Preferred Club, Toro and Yamaha Golf Car.