Marty Ryan earned Lifetime Achievement recognition through the Excellence in Club Management Awards for handling many challenges adeptly through his distinguished career—including moving from the New York area to head a club with entrenched Bostonians who are very particular about their chowder.
Long before he had to navigate clubs through the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Great Recession or 9/11, Marty Ryan learned to adapt to change and challenge in both his personal life and his career arc, while always displaying the trademark optimism and affability that put him on the path to earning Lifetime Achievement recognition through the Excellence in Club Management awards (see “Honored by Their Peers,” below).
At the outset, it appeared Ryan wasn’t destined for the club industry at all. He grew up in Newark, N.J. and was introduced to all aspects of hospitality at an early age, performing busboy and barbacking duties at The Clipper Ship, a restaurant and tavern run by his family that was a popular stop for commuters when returning home from working in New York City. But the rioting from civil-rights unrest in Newark in 1967 claimed The Clipper Ship as one of many casualties from the upheaval that greatly reduced the business and employment opportunities in the city.
That change led many in Ryan’s family and circle to seek work elsewhere in the New York metropolitan area, including at golf and country clubs in the towns and suburbs surrounding Newark. As a young teenager, Ryan heard through those connections of an opportunity to work as a busboy at Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, N.J.—and once he ventured into that world, the rest is club-management history.
“It was such a revelation when I first went out of the city to see the Montclair property,” Ryan recalls. “The manicured lawns, the pool, the grand clubhouse with flowers around the front door—it was hospitality Disneyland, and I felt like I was entering a castle.”
The work ethic that had been honed at an early age by serving demanding New York commuters in a busy city establishment soon caught the eye of Montclair’s General Manager, who told Ryan he wanted him to work there each summer during high school. That led to a steady progression of responsibilities in the club’s shoe and locker rooms, bars and dining rooms that continued while Ryan studied Hotel Administration in college, and eventually to a series of Clubhouse Manager and Assistant GM positions at Montclair GC, as well as other clubs throughout the greater New York region.
MATTERS OF INTEGRITY
Ryan never envisioned that he would leave the New York area and was certainly on a path that would lead him to a fulfilling and rewarding career without ever having to move elsewhere. But while he was Clubhouse Manager at another New Jersey club, he got the clear sense that he was being groomed for the purpose of pushing out the current GM, who was someone he respected and valued as a mentor. “It was a matter of loyalty,” Ryan says. “I had to get out.”
“Getting out” in the early 1990s, however, involved a little more effort than just checking postings on Indeed.com or networking through LinkedIn. A friend from college who knew of Ryan’s interest in making a move alerted him to a classified ad that had been placed in the employment opportunities section of The Boston Globe—the actual physical newspaper, because the online version didn’t yet exist—by Wellesley (Mass.) Country Club, which was looking for a new General Manager.
While thinking that Wellesley probably wouldn’t have any interest in bringing a “New York/New Jersey guy” to Massachusetts, Ryan still sent (mailed) his resume and a cover letter to the club, and he looked good enough on (real) paper that he was called (on the telephone) for an interview. The process eventually led to Ryan’s natural affability and conversational skill finding personal connections between those he was talking to at Wellesley and people he knew in his area, and an offer to be the club’s new General Manager.
Here, too, however, Ryan’s strong sense of loyalty and integrity came into play. Wellesley wanted him to start immediately at the start of its spring season, but he stressed that he had important duties coming up at his current club, including a major golf outing and weddings that he had worked with members to arrange, that would prevent him for making a move until July.
Rather than spoil the deal, however, he was told that his concern about how and when he could leave his current club confirmed that he was “just the type of manager that [Wellesley] was looking for”—and the stage was set for a new and extended chapter that would be marked by unprecedented success for both Wellesley CC and Marty Ryan.
JUST DON’T MESS WITH THE SOUP
That chapter did get off to a bit of a jumpy start, Ryan relates, that gave him some pause as to whether it was “going to last.” In his first week, he ventured into the dining room and was beckoned by a member of the 111-year-old club’s founding family. “You’re our new General Manager?” the man asked in his best Boston Brahmin accent. “Well, just remember—we don’t put tomatoes in our chow-dah.”
In the second week, another member called Ryan over to ask, “What’s wrong with you? We’ve never had a manager who wants to have conversations with us—it’s very odd.” But none of this deterred Ryan from continuing to win people over with his engaging, always-effervescent personality and unending devotion to impeccable service.
“It’s just the ‘walnut challenge,’” he says of his consistent approach to all of the people he’s met and worked with and for through the years. “If you run into a shell, you just need to find delicate ways to crack it and get to the meat.”
Twenty-nine years later, it’s now long been proven that the relationship between Marty Ryan and Wellesley Country Club’s membership and staff was definitely destined to last. In addition to a successful centennial celebration, a series of major clubhouse and facility improvements, and several successful golf tournaments, his steady leadership steered the club through the other challenges that emerged during his tenure.
And he’s still making his mark, retaining General Manager Emeritus status and an active daily schedule as he continues to mentor Brian Lynch, who arrived as Assistant General Manager in August 2019 and was named to succeed Ryan as Wellesley CC’s new General Manager in October 2020.
“My schedule hasn’t changed, and there’s still so much on [our club’s] plate,” Ryan says with his usual energy. “[The arrangement is] a good business practice to avoid some of the mistakes you see with succession plans. I’ll focus on bringing Brian along to take over the reins, and continue to help support the building blocks that create the right atmosphere for everyone to all work together.”
Honored by Their Peers
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.
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
Lifetime Achievement Awards for a retiring club manager are also included as part of some years’ ECM honors.
A Selection Committee comprised of a peer group of leading club managers conducts the judging for the ECM Awards. A full listing of the 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.
Because the annual ECM Awards Dinner could not be held this year, the 2020 recipients of the Excellence In Club Management were announced through a special webcast on March 2nd. The webcast, sponsored exclusively by ForeTees, was conducted in an “Academy Award” format that included remarks from the award winners after they were announced. The full webcast can be viewed at https://clubmanageraward.com/project/2020-excellence-in-club-management-awards-broadcast/