By Larry Hirsh, President, Golf Property Analysts
One thing I’ve observed over the years at private clubs is that there are as many opinions as there are members. No topic is safe and the culture of private clubs is such that most of the (largely successful and independent) members consider themselves experts on all issues related to the club.
Every golfer has his or her ideas about the design of the golf course, where bunkers should be placed, how fast greens should be and which trees should be removed. The clubhouse furnishings are fine for some but not others. The selection of beers may be perfect for some members while others can’t find anything to their liking. Some members want a ribeye steak while others prefer a New York Strip.
Should the club accommodate each and every request?
The most damaging thing I see is club leaders, especially those that stay on too long, often take a level of ownership in the club focused on leaving their personal imprint on the club rather than doing what’s best for the short and long term future of the club. This leads to inconsistency.
Changes in leadership, though periodically appropriate, often result in changes in key management positions or a new direction for the club... whether the club is already successful or not. Fresh ideas are necessary but so is stability.
Private clubs are a melting pot for often unnecessary rules. In an effort to elevate the club’s perceived status, leadership will often establish a wide variety of rules that members don’t need or want and serve no purpose except to restrict members’ ability to relax and enjoy the club and create authority for club leaders. Has anyone ever joined a club because they had lots of rules?
Rules have a purpose. One common definition of rules is: a principle or regulation governing conduct, action, procedure, arrangement, etc. Certainly any club seeks to maintain a sense of order and rules are needed. However, many clubs take the concept of rules too far and inhibit the fundamental purpose of the club, which is recreation and relaxation for the members and their guests. Does the length of someone’s shorts actually diminish anybody else’s enjoyment of the club.
I’m often intrigued by clubs who hire, at considerable expense, the best talent for key positions like General Manager, Director of Golf, Golf Course Superintendent and Head Chef only to spend countless hours in committee and board meetings devising plans for telling these highly paid and skilled professionals how to do their jobs. Clubs need to use the same common sense that most of the members regularly practice in their (usually) successful businesses. Hire the right people and let them do their jobs.
Common sense is often a scarce commodity, even at the most successful clubs. The desire of many club leaders to elevate the club’s status, combined with their often over-sized enthusiasm for the club, can result in losing sight of the club’s culture, the things that made the club successful in the first place and the economics involved.
Every club has a specific culture and market niche. No two clubs are alike and a keen understanding of that culture is critical to long term stability and success.
Common sense dictates a few good rules to follow:
- If it ain’t broke don’t fix it;
- The longer you let a problem go, the bigger it grows – If it is broke, fix it NOW;
- Focus on the greater good – the future of the club, rather than individual pet issues;
- Minimize the number of rules;
- Limit terms of club leaders;
- Reinvest to maintain and upgrade club facilities sensibly;
- Learn and understand the club’s culture;
- Apply and enforce rules sensibly;
- Give management and staff decision-making authority;
- Establish and follow a plan for consistency
Larry Hirsh, President of Golf Property Analysts, is a widely published author and frequent lecturer at industry events. He has done assignments on more than 3,000 courses in 45 US states and Canada.