Even without a golf course, the club facilities managed by Gerald Marvel, CCM, for the University of Kentucky pose unprecedented challenges—and his success in meeting them has merited Excellence in Club Management Award recognition.
Even without a golf course (one of his properties does have two chipping and putting greens), Gerald Marvel, CCM, shoulders a load of facility management challenges as hefty as any to be found in the club industry. His office is located in The Hilary J. Boone Center, the on-campus facility for faculty, staff and alumni at the University of Kentucky (UK) in Lexington, where Marvel himself was first exposed to the club business as a busboy while attending the university, and then spent six years at the start of his professional career as its Dining Room Supervisor and F&B Director.
Marvel has been General Manager of the Boone Center since 2011. In that role, he has immersed himself in directing the club’s resurgence after a major renovation (the 20,000-sq. ft. facility was closed from 2006-08 for a $6 million-plus expansion and modernization), while also ensuring its continued relevance through innovative repurposing of space (most notably, the creation of a popular Boone Center Grill in an outdoor terrace area). While all of this has certainly amounted to a full-time job all its own (the club has close to 1,000 members), Marvel was actually given the Boone Center position as an “add-on” to another responsibility that he already had—as GM/COO of The Club at UK’s Spindletop Hall, a 60-acre property used by another set of 1,100 members that is located in the heart of horse country at the edge of Lexington’s city limits.
And Spindletop is hardly just any property—its “clubhouse” is a 45,000-sq. ft. mansion that was built by Pansy Yount, a wealthy oil widow from Texas, in 1937 and acquired by the university in 1959. The mansion, which was selected by Disney Movies for the filming of several scenes for “Secretariat” in 2010, remains a living museum as well as a working club (it houses, among many unique pieces, a restored 1925 Steinway grand player piano and one of only a few hundred Kimball Welte reproducing organs that can still be found in its original location). In fact, by working with Holly Weidemann, a club member who specializes in historic preservation, and UK students in that discipline, Marvel helped to lead a successful effort in 2012 to have Spindletop Hall and its immediate grounds listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As passionate as Marvel is about preserving and celebrating Spindletop’s history (he has cheerfully taken on the responsibilities of being the building’s primary curator and lead tour guide), he also devotes considerable energy to ensuring that the property thrives as a vibrant, modern-day, family-oriented club. From spring through the fall, both the mansion and its grounds pulse with daily activity, as the club’s members take full advantage of extensive amenities for indoor and outdoor dining, tennis, swimming and many other recreational activities. Spindletop is also a popular wedding venue, and frequently hosts major swim meets and other receptions and events that can bring up to 1,000 people to the property.
While his success in managing either one of the clubs that are now under his jurisdiction could be enough by itself to merit strong consideration for The Mel Rex Award for City, Athletic or Specialty (Non-Golf) Clubs, as part of the Excellence in Club Management Awards, Marvel’s performance in simultaneously juggling the duties for both the Boone Center and Spindletop are what really seal the deal.
While both facilities are under the UK umbrella—and while Marvel has made great strides in getting them to be thought of collectively through “Clubs of UK” branding and marketing efforts—they are still, as he describes, “two different clubs and two different operations, with different Boards and memberships.”
The ownership of both clubs by a public university only adds another layer of administrative and strategic complexity—and in such an environment, it would be understandable if even the most talented and innovative manager would rein in expectations and put limits on what can be achieved. But as he leads tours of both properties and describes what’s been accomplished—and what he’d like to do next—Marvel repeatedly sounds the same theme.
“There’s unlimited potential [for both clubs],” he enthuses. “It’s just a matter of getting the resources and applying them correctly.” And as he’s already shown repeatedly, Marvel, like the comic-book Captain of the same name, can always seem to call on special powers to work new club-management magic at his properties, without even having to say “Shazam.”
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 2014 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 2015 ECM Awards is November 20, 2015.
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 will be held next February in San Diego, Calif., and will once again be sponsored by ClubCorp, Denehy Club Thinking Partners, Preferred Club, Toro and Yamaha Golf Car.