Happily, the majority of clubs have righted their ship by committing to Board governance focused on strategy and an empowered, skilled management team.
I joined my first club in 1982.
An enduring memory from the application process was the (unannounced) in-home visit and interview by a representative from the club’s membership committee. The meeting was relatively brief and the guy must have loved “energetic” kids, so we got in. Not sure how extensively this somewhat awkward tradition carries on—most clubs today are not looking for reasons to turn away prospective members.
Another recollection is that club management was not an important issue to me back then; however, it didn’t take long to figure out the club was “managed” by a handful of well-intentioned, tenured members who basically told the GM what they wanted done and not done. If the club had a long-range plan, I wasn’t aware of it. We went through a lot of GMs. We made a lot of mistakes. We carried on.
Members grumbled occasionally about this or that, but a rising tide lifts all boats and the club world in those days was the beneficiary, not a victim, of business, economic, and tax policies. Annual membership attrition at the club was easily replaced, finances were in good enough shape, the golf course, pool and tennis courts were well-maintained, food was average but tolerated, and club events were a lot of fun.
I don’t recall a single member ever voicing a concern about the long-term viability of the club. The dynamics of the club industry started to shift noticeably as we turned the century, but no one saw the storm clouds of the Great Recession on the horizon. The club world was about to change, dramatically and forever. Some clubs would handle it better than others. Some didn’t handle it at all and closed their doors.
We launched Club & Resort Business in 2005. The business and content plan for C&RB accurately accounted for the accelerating transformation of the industry to a more professional, sophisticated approach to club governance and management. The A-list clubs were already there, but others, like my club, needed to get there, and the transformation for some clubs continues to this day.
Happily, the majority of clubs have righted their ship by committing to Board governance focused on strategy and an empowered, skilled management team implementing well-defined goals. These clubs survived the recession and are investing in their future.
For other clubs there is a plan B, and this month’s special report on golf management firms looks into the surge of increased interest from both public and private clubs in exploring how affiliating with a management company may help them to be positioned successfully for the next era of club operations.
The concept of engaging a management firm is not new—ClubCorp was founded in 1957, KemperSports in 1981, and Troon in 1990. Smaller, regional “boutique” firms have emerged since then—we see announcements of a new relationship between a previously independent club property and a management firm on a regular basis.
Could plan B be right for your club? It certainly has been for the growing list of clubs signing on with these firms. As the GM, the elephant in the room with this option is likely a concern about prospects for continued employment—but no company thrives by terminating capable managers and associates. Interest in a management firm is often driven by some combination of financial need and access to additional resources. If you find your club in this situation, those issues need to be resolved, internally or externally. If not, your continued employment is in jeopardy anyway.
As my partner Bill Donohue likes to say, “Hope is not a strategy.” After reading this issue, we think you will come to the conclusion that if your club has an interest and a need, plan B is a strategy that can work for you and your members.