In the last 30 years, Roger Bacon has been involved with some of the more prestigious golf and country clubs in America, including critically acclaimed Sand Hills Golf Club and historic Omaha Country Club in his home state of Nebraska and exclusive Desert Forest Golf in the golf-rich Phoenix-Scottsdale market.
Now, the veteran club manager is making his mark as general manager of historic Montclair (N.J.) Golf Club, one of the founding members of the Metropolitan Golf Association in 1897. Considered a go-to candidate for clubs in need of renewal or new direction, Bacon is no stranger to change management and embraces the opportunities/challenges associated with private club disruption.
But even Bacon concedes his latest job has been challenging at times, to say the least. For starters, Bacon arrived at Montclair three weeks before the pandemic hit in early 2020, just as the club was about to begin $12 million in capital improvement projects that comprised sweeping renovations to the Donald Ross-designed 27-hole loop and new pool and racquet-related amenities for the members-owned club that opened 128 years ago.
As if the combination of Covid-19 and all these construction projects didn’t cause enough stress, one year after the club rebounded from the effects of the pandemic and débuted the new pool and racquet facilities last summer before a growing family-friendly membership, Bacon’s team faces yet another major obstacle going into 2022: the U.S. labor shortage.
“It’s been a real struggle,” says Bacon, whose club plans on starting restoration work on the Charles Bank-designed Fourth Nine later this year. “We opened the pool in August, and when you make the kind of capital investment, opening day is really, really important. … But we’re like everyone else with this labor shortage and crisis. So our approach to it has been, first of all, try and figure out what was going on and why this is happening?
“Especially in hospitality. And it was pretty clear this was not a result of inflated unemployment checks. This problem has been a result of people leaving hospitality permanently. Everybody in hospitality woke up one morning last winter (2020) and was unemployed. So, looking at it that way we’ve been trying to coax people from other areas in hospitality into the club business.”
What exacerbates matters is the fact “most Americans have no sense or idea what the private club industry is like,” Bacon points out. “Most have never stepped foot on a private club, so we have that challenge,” he adds. “Educating people about the private club business because there’s a difference. For instance, we pay an hourly rate and there’s no tipping. That’s a foreign concept to a lot of people in the hospitality business.”
Fortunately for Bacon, however, Montclair is making positive strides on the labor front courtesy of some innovative thinking by director of course operations Michael Campbell and a company called Talent Plus. Campbell’s contribution was coming up with a creative plan to hire a seasoned local recruiter, Amy Cowley, to oversee the entire hiring process, from club marketing efforts to visiting local colleges and job fairs to onboarding of every employee hired.
“It was a brilliant idea by Mike,” says Bacon, who also dramatically increased wages to meet the market. “He looked at all the money and time we’d been spending on recruiting, and he was able to find a really talented recruiter to come right in. We don’t have an (human resource) department here and individual managers simply don’t have time to organize and do all this outreach. Amy hasn’t been with us long but she’s already making an impact for us.
Another “outside-the-box” move paying off for Bacon is having hospitality-focused Talent Plus assist in the hiring process of every Montclair employee. Integral to the value of Talent Plus, according to Bacon, is the company’s cutting-edge employment assessment every job applicant is encouraged to take. And Bacon, a longtime user of the Lincoln, Neb.-based consulting firm, is quick to point out the company’s assessment is not a “personality test.” For instance, Talent Plus’s secretive questions are designed to discern job applicants’ positivity, work ethic and approach to teamwork, according to Bacon.
“We’re in a position now where we have to recruit people and train them for jobs they may never have done before, whether it’s serving or working on the golf course,” Bacon adds. “What this system does is allow us to determine whether or not someone has that hospitality DNA, if you will, or whatever you want to call it. We have gotten well over a thousand applications for all the different jobs (in 2021) and this system screened out most of them. That’s what makes this such a valuable tool for us. So when we do hire someone, it’s not a guarantee or perfect system; it just gives us a leg up, and it gives the applicant a leg up.”