A strong partnership with its insurance providers helps to keep Colleton River Club on course, even when Mother Nature shows her capricious side.
After Hurricane Irma failed to split Florida in half last fall, as had been breathlessly suggested amid the hysterical hype as the storm approached, most of the news organizations that had descended on the state to report on the impending disaster packed up and went back to where they’d come from, convinced that the “story” was over.
But for many club and resort properties not only in Florida, but throughout the South and along the southern Atlantic Coast, the real story was just beginning. While Irma may not have brought the apocalyptic destruction some had predicted, it was still a powerful storm that brought significant damage from its winds and rain as it moved north after making landfall. And that once again severely tested the readiness and ability of many affected properties to not only absorb, but recover quickly, from the blows that natural disasters can inflict.
At the Colleton River Club in Bluffton, S.C., Irma left numerous calling cards in the form of downed trees and debris throughout the 1,500-acre property, including on its two signature golf courses designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, as well as damage to many of the boat docks used by members for club and community activity.
For the management of Colleton River, it amounted to an unwanted dose of deja vu, after Hurricane Matthew had left similar mementos a year earlier. But when Irma brought a repeat performance, the club’s management team, led by General Manager/COO Timothy Bakels, CCM, CCE, and Chief Financial Officer Stephanie Kerr, CPA, had already directed a full recovery from Matthew and was well-prepared for what Irma would leave behind, in large part because of Colleton River’s strong relationship with its insurance partners through PREFERRED CLUB, the specialty insurance program for golf and country clubs from Venture Insurance Programs.
Bakels and Kerr both came to Colleton River in 2013, and one of their first orders of business was to take a fresh look at the club’s insurance coverages. Having worked with USI Insurance Services while at her previous club, Kerr contacted Robb Imbus, a Senior Sales Executive with the brokerage firm’s Charleston, S.C., office, and Imbus advocated the PREFERRED CLUB program as a strong fit to meet Colleton River’s needs for property/casualty coverage.
From the outset, Bakels and Kerr were impressed by the true partnership formed with PREFERRED CLUB and USI. “A package of insurance coverage is only going to be as good as the people behind it,” says Bakels, “and from the start, the [PREFERRED/USI] group has always made us feel not only like we’re a priority, but that we’re their only customer.”
Imbus and Corbin Wimberly, an Employee Benefits Consultant for coverage also arranged through USI, have been the club’s primary contacts. But another key aspect of the relationship, Kerr adds, has been the “depth and strength” of the full team that has helped to implement the bundled coverages made available through the PREFERRED CLUB program.
“Whenever a question comes up, we can reach out at any time, even on nights and weekends, and get an answer right away,” Kerr notes. “That’s not something you find every day with an insurance broker.”
And of course, the anxiety factor involved with having to wait for any response can be especially high after disruptive forces like Matthew and Irma hit the property. But in these cases, Bakels reports, the PREFERRED/USI team reacted in especially valuable fashion.
“Both times, [PREFERRED CLUB] had boots on the ground for us within just a couple of days, with [Imbus] walking the site with an adjuster,” Bakels says. “That not only allowed us to re-open the club within just a few days, it also helped us get settlement checks much more quickly, without the after-the-fact negotiating I’ve had to do at previous clubs.”
And the service provided to help recover from the storms hasn’t stopped after the last tree branches were cleaned up. “We were much better prepared [to deal with damage from] Irma because of lessons USI helped us learn after Matthew, such as identifying and partnering with disaster-recovery providers that were best equipped to manage the needs specific to our unique property,” Bakels notes.
Staying Out in Front
The Colleton River property is also well-equipped to minimize ongoing insurance-related losses, in addition to those caused by Mother Nature’s most violent outbursts, because of annual risk-management assessments that the PREFERRED/USI team conducts with the club’s staff. “These aren’t just quick walkthroughs,” says Bakels. “They’re very thorough, involving all departments, and are followed up with detailed reports that include photos and suggestions for specific things we can do to help reduce liabilities.”
All of these efforts contribute to a comprehensive, long-range strategic approach that has paid off in many ways for Colleton River. “The market for covering coastal properties like ours changed drastically after Matthew, and I expect it will do so again after Irma,” Bakels says. “But when our property/casualty renewal came up last spring, [the PREFERRED/USI team] sought out over 40 carriers, to put together a package that still helped us get as much coverage as we needed and could afford.”
The dedication shown by Colleton River’s managers to fashion a successful partnership has also been vital to making the relationship work smoothly, USI’s Imbus says. “[Insurance] carriers want to work with clubs that are engaged and receptive to suggested solutions, and that don’t look to create adversarial relationships or take things personally,” he notes. “It’s been a solid partnership [with Colleton River] from the start, because they’ve always looked strategically and proactively to identify long-term approaches that can help them stay ahead of the market.”