Takeaways from the Top - Regardless of size, is it time to shake up your HR strategy?

   As seen in Golf Business May/June 2023   

By Scott Kauffman, Contributor, Golf Business


Nearly 10 years ago, Troon Golf was looking for a new strategic investment partner to replace the company’s longtime majority shareholders, Goldman Sachs and Starwood Capital. At the time, the private Scottsdale-based company was one of the largest golf operators,  overseeing more than 225 clubs worldwide.

Among the company’s new investors announced in July 2014 were Kohlberg & Company and golf icon Greg Norman’s Great White Shark Enterprises. Oh, how times have changed for Troon.

Today, the company is backed by private equity groups Leonard Green & Partners, TPG Capital and none other than golf superstar Rory McIlroy’s private Symphony Ventures investment fund. Norman, of course, is no longer an investor, and Troon now resembles nothing like the company it was a decade ago.

Indeed, not only has Troon more than tripled the size of its portfolio, with 740-plus courses in 45 states and 30-plus countries, the world’s largest golf operator is now a leading third-party manager of tennis and racquet facilities after acquiring Cliff Drysdale Tennis and Peter Burwash International in recent years.  And for further non-golf diversification, the company’s recent acquisitions of RealFood Hospitality and ICON Management gave Troon growing inroads to the hospitality and community association businesses.

So, with all this explosive growth in a matter of five short years, it begs the question: How is Troon able to maintain its decades-long brand and quality standards while simultaneously filling its ever-expanding employee pipeline, which now numbers some 35,000 associates worldwide? 

According to longtime Troon senior operations and sales/marketing executives Bill O’Brien and Kris Strauss, respectively, the company is subject to the same demographic and socio-economic challenges that so many golf and non-golf industries continue to have in the post-pandemic labor landscape. Nevertheless, one reason Troon is able to “withstand more than its fair share of employee churn,” according to O’Brien, is because the company is first and foremost committed to helping its employees “reach their financial and professional goals from within the company.”

“We tend to foster succession planning and tend to foster career growth first from those who have already been in our organization,” adds O’Brien, senior vice president of operations on the west coast and now in his 24th year with Troon. “So there’s a neat opportunity to advance from within our portfolio. Number two, I also think we conscientiously saw the opportunity to be an organization that chooses to recruit versus hire. That’s a shift philosophically. “

“So we’ve created recruiter positions in our organization, which helps us identify traits and characteristics of the types of folks who tend to value the same things. And when you have this same like-mindedness, generally you can withstand plenty of turbulence.”

The sum of these Troon best practices – promote from within, educate associates in a meaningful way and last but not least, focus on recruiting over hiring – tends to “help you identify a person who’s willing to be a part of your organization and demonstrates quite a bit of loyalty,” O’Brien adds.

To be sure, not every course owner or operator has the power of Troon’s portfolio or resources. But Strauss, executive vice president of global sales and marketing, says one of the key hiring strategies anybody can deploy is simply thinking differently or more creatively.

“One of the keys today is when you have opportunities, at least from what I’ve learned from other colleagues and even our (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) council, is don’t look in the same place you’ve always looked when posting a position,” Strauss adds. “Expand your search to other sources. From a DEI standpoint, it’s like how can I get these career opportunities in front of a diverse candidate pool? And what that does is expand your overall candidate pool if you have intention in where you’re placing your employment ads or who you’re sending your job postings to.”

For instance, Strauss points out any course can consider outreach to local universities or community colleges and start mining the local area for the types of skills needed at your facility. Another Troon takeaway, Strauss says, is creatively expanding one’s employee benefits in addition to the core compensation. 

For example, perhaps a facility can partner with local restaurants, hotels or attractions and provide a promo code to employees, enhancing the overall employee benefit package this way. Maybe it’s providing more swag than usual, Strauss suggests, or giving employees a free subscription to the meditation and sleep app called Calm, which Troon did this year for its associates to help relieve day-to-day stresses in life.

“So don’t just post a job on a career page and hope it brings different results,” Strauss adds. “You have to have intentions to drive different results.”

To wit, as the great Albert Einstein supposedly once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” 

Troon knows this as well as anyone today and it’s one reason the changing golf and “lifestyle” company not only is able to grow significantly in a sane manner, but the company is doing it with a more diverse and loyal workforce than ever before.


This article was featured in the May/June edition of Golf Business magazine.

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