National Club Association Publishes Strategic Planning Guide for Private Clubs

The National Club Association has recently published a Strategic Planning for Private Clubs guide which outlines tactics, strategies, and best-practices for effective strategic planning at private clubs. This publication is funded by NCA’s Board Leadership Institute, which strives to create knowledge-building initiatives that expand both awareness of, and ways to use, effective guidance on club governance. The NCA Foundation and Legacy Alliance Partner Global Golf Advisors (GGA) financially support the Board Leadership Institute.

A six-part webinar series based on this publication presented by Henry DeLozier of GGA is available on the NCA website for members.

6 Ways to Build a Great Board

What makes great board members so great? The fact is that top private club board leaders are made and seldom born. One of the common characteristics is their clear understanding of servant leadership and the necessity of putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

There are several important principles for building a strong board, according to Fred Laughlin, a director at Global Golf Advisors:

  1. Define your team. Laughlin cites three important characteristics needed: (1) required characteristics, which are often described in the club’s by-laws; (2) desired characteristics, such as integrity, advanced listening skills and experienced leadership; and (3) desired experience and skills, such as finance, audit, legal and insurance knowledge.
  2. Form a trustworthy and respected Nominating Committee. Call on the members who are known to be trustworthy, impartial and respected.
  3. Use an uncontested election process. Elections are inherently political. A Nominating Committee that puts forward only the number of candidates as there are open positions on the board serves the club well. If your club must meet statutory requirements for crowd-sourced nominees, see that those candidates selected by the Nominating Committee are designated accordingly and require voters to vote for the number of board seats available in the election.
    Most club managers and many fellow board members can cite common traits of those servant leaders who truly rise to the duty of serving others.

Rick Bayliss, the CEO at Lost Tree Club in North Palm Beach, Fla., says it very simply, “No personal agenda … always acts in a manner that is best for the institution. Views the relationship with the chief staff executive as a ‘partnership’ and collaborative with the board.”

Tim Bakels, the COO and GM at Colleton River Plantation near Hilton Head, S.C., agrees and adds that the best board members “Get it.” In explaining that great board members understand the business aspects of the club calling upon their own good business sense and relying on fact-based decision-making. Bakels notes, “the best directors understand and use the chain of command. They discuss all issues with the GM before addressing operational concerns with other members. And, “they let the operational folks operate while the board members focus on policy.”

John Wright, the COO and GM at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, ticks off his most-needed traits for a board member on his fingers, “No personal agenda, ability to listen, true vision for the club, dedicated understanding of long range strategic plan and a team player.”

Norwood Hills, located less than one mile from Ferguson, Mo., has embraced its opportunities for community leadership through its community programs through inclusive caddy programs, scholarships and dependable employment. It is a great example of board vision and leadership.

At the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., GM Stan Lawson observes that his great board members shared common traits. “They are terrific ambassadors for the club and fully understand that the club relies upon dues revenue to sustain their fine club. They proactively sponsor new members. And they are an extra set of ears bringing their concerns to me so that issues can be addressed in a timely manner.”

Eugene Country Club in Oregon is managed by Rich Spurlin, who observes, “I think about a handful of individuals (mostly club presidents) over the years have a certain charisma that inspires a board, members or membership to believe in an established vision. I have yet to come across a charismatic board member who is isn’t championing something positive, which inevitably helps move the club forward.

Another outstanding trait of an excellent board member is empathy. Although most board members have experienced a certain degree of success in their professional careers, it’s always appreciated when they take the time to try and understand people, situations and issues before casting judgment. More often than not, following an excellent board member’s term, they share a comment appreciating how diverse the interests of the membership are in relationship to what they thought prior to serving the club.”

Joshua Tanner, COO and GM at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert, Calif., notes that the great board members at Ironwood think strategically. He adds, “They listen more than they speak, but when they speak they are educated and well spoken. They ask the right questions and are able to view the big picture. They are trusted and have gravitas. Others respect them and trust their processes and decisions.”

Terra Waldron, VP/COO at the Desert Highlands Association of club and residents adds, “Developing a Board Policy Manual (BPM) defines roles and responsibilities to be evergreen to adapt to the times. Keep it front and center at all meetings.” In addition to supporting many points made by other club leaders, she emphasizes, “A great board member can assist a club’s/association’s growth and prosper with the times, to adapt to the changing environment by providing leadership through the board and trickle down to the committee level. Defining specific roles responsibilities and staying true to the mission. They encourage varied thoughts and discussion but control the environment to stay civil and respectful.”

Members today expect openness from their boards. Tanner adds, “They are transparent and build consensus. They are able to make the tough decision and stand by that decision. They understand the core values of the club and make decisions that are in alignment with those values.”

From coast to coast, the assortment of club managers who contributed their ideas here share certain common observations of great board members:

  1. Put the needs of their fellow club members first.
  2. Are prepared and fully informed to maximize their effectiveness.
  3. Command respect for their willingness to listen and understand;
  4. Understand the operational characteristics of the club;
  5. Respect the organizational chain-of-command; and
  6. Champion the club in all of their efforts.

James Collins, in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, provides the best guidance for those who would be great board members, “A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.” And so it is with private clubs.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for the National Club Association.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

The 23-story billboard looming above Times Square proclaims Nike’s brand message of engagement and commitment in four simple words: “Yesterday…you said tomorrow.”

Tomorrows come like clockwork, and soon we’ve forgotten about yesterday’s promise. It happens to all of us, despite our best intentions. We’re procrastinators by nature. So what are you putting off? Maybe it’s some research on changing demographics in your market. Maybe it’s that strategic plan that your board has been asking for. Or a way to measure the results of a fertilization program scheduled for next spring. If the hot summer months are your off-season, now’s the perfect time to pull those back-burner projects to the front. Here are three opportunities.

1. Research and plan. There’s no off-season for collecting and analyzing information that will become the backbone of future decision-making.

While busy season lessons remain fresh in their minds, Sun Belt managers should review and refresh strategic and business plans. Sun Belt agronomic professionals should begin converting consumption statistics into next year’s procurement plan. Empower your suppliers to work with you to locate better volume-purchase discounts and programs that will save money. Your suppliers are your partners, if you treat them that way. Cool-weather superintendents should focus on the pressing demands of summer. Leverage new photographic apps that enable you to show your assistants problems and locations in real time, instead of waiting until a break. Club managers can study the ebb and flow of labor costs and alternatives that allow increased self-service for members and regular golfers. As labor costs escalate, self-service will expand and become more commonplace. Club managers can get ahead of budget and financial planning during summer months. The budgeting cycle starts again in most clubs after Labor Day; allowing an hour to two per week during the summer will make the process more manageable.

2. Test and measure. Everyone has heard the quote about things that get measured are the things that get managed. Most superintendents are in their prime growing season. Summer is the right time for them to test new turf types, pesticides, fertility options and application rates. With the right information, management becomes much easier.

Explore methods to do more with less. Study your labor plan for efficiencies. Summertime is also the best time to evaluate labor patterns, effectiveness and organization of management. Superintendents can review consumption rates on fuel, pesticides, chemicals and water. These volatile expense categories require regular attention and measurement. Effective strategy is formulated during the off-season and alert managers watch usage trends and patterns at their facilities during busy times. Ask the following questions and pay attention; your customers, members and competitors will show you what actions you should take.

  • What use patterns are changing and in what segments?
  • Is our club more active and productive this year? Why and why not?
  • What are the best practices being used by the leaders in my segment?
  • How do the top-performing clubs and courses address the same problems and opportunities?
  • Are there examples of new ideas from outside of my specialty that I should adapt?

3. Recognize and personalize. Every member or golfer wants to be treated as special. Take time now to develop your own recognition and personalization programs. As an example, professionals can see that every child in their junior program has a personalized bag tag, even if they don’t have a bag yet. Every parent will appreciate that you recognized their child and encouraged them to enjoy golf.

Review the contents of members’ golf bags with them. Set an appointment and invite each golfer to walk you through his or her bag. Do they need hybrids? Will new grips help? If they are planning a summer golf trip, will they need rain gear and water-proof shoes? Can you make a call to a fellow professional to get them on a special course? Let your golfers experience how knowledgeable and enthusiastic you are about your role and how much you want to help.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry.

John Strawn Joins GGA as Director

July 18, 2016
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

John Strawn, the former CEO of Robert Trent Jones II and more recently the President of Hills & Forrest, International Golf Course Architects, has joined GGA, the world leader in golf and private club strategic business planning, as a Director of the firm. Serving more than 2,700 clients worldwide from offices in Toronto, Phoenix and Dublin, GGA provides an array of professional advisory services which match perfectly with Strawn’s unusual background as both a golf industry executive and a distinguished writer. According to GGA Partner Henry DeLozier, “John brings a unique set of experiences and expertise to GGA, complementing our services with his skills in strategic planning, marketing and promotion. He is a natural connector, who enjoys bringing people and places together.”

Over the previous two decades, as CEO of eminent international golf course design firms, Strawn participated in the development of numerous award-winning courses around the globe, among them Bro Hof Slott in Sweden, The Scandinavian Club and Lubker Golf Resort in Denmark, Black Gold and Half Moon Bay in California, and Washington State’s Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 US Open. In addition to his work on these projects, Strawn has also managed new course developments in Italy, China, Russia, Hungary, Portugal, Puerto Rico, among other countries, as well as participating in the creation of numerous North American courses, from high-end resorts to residential communities to publicly-owned facilities, such as Chambers Bay.

Strawn has also written extensively about golf, in books such as his path-breaking account of the development of a golf course, “Driving the Green.” His magazine articles have focused on golf’s diffusion from its historic Scottish homeland, its economic contributions to local and regional economies, and the benefits it provides in preserving open green space, natural habitat and an arena for healthful exercise. He wrote a regular column for several years for Golf Magazine China, exploring issues of golf design and development.

Curt Sampson, the author of a shelf of best-selling golf books such as “The Eternal Summer,” “The Lost Masters,” and “Hogan,” commends Strawn for “expertise straddling two fields–writing and golf course architecture and development—when it’s hard enough to thrive in just one. John is personable as well as professional, and enjoys great respect as a writer and an expert in the golf business.”

Steve Forrest, the Chairman of Hills & Forrest, says that “GGA is a perfect fit for John’s unique skills. His knowledge of golf history and his keen understanding of the strategic principles of golf course architecture, combined with his impressive worldwide network of contacts, will provide valuable insight to GGA’s clients.”

Robert Trent Jones, Jr. calls Strawn “a scholar, a wonderful writer and a lover of the game of golf.” Jones’s illustrious firm, he notes, “has worked directly in the past with GGA, and we find GGA, like John, to be highly professional.”

Strawn has organized and moderated golf development workshops and conferences, inviting leaders in golf course design and construction, land planning, clubhouse architecture, and course management, among other areas of expertise, to provide guidance in countries such as Russia and Italy on devising long-term strategic plans for golf tourism.

At GGA, Strawn will work focus on business development, long-term strategic planning initiatives, and devising creative solutions to long-term challenges for clients. Jason Bangild, the GM at Gearhart Golf Links on the Oregon coast, worked with John over the last several years, both in the restoration of the oldest golf course in the western United States, which had suffered years of decline, and in repositioning Gearhart as a classic links through a variety of events and marketing initiatives.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing John Strawn since Gearhart Golf Links asked him advise us on our plans for tree removal and course improvements,” Bangild said. “As someone already familiar with Gearhart, John was an excellent resource, and we hope he will continue to provide assistance to us as we follow through on plans to make Gearhart an essential stop for golfers visiting Oregon.

Bangild also noted that Gearhart “will welcome a group of Irish golfers this fall, when a delegation from our sister course, Carne Golf Links in County Mayo, comes to visit. This sister-course relationship was suggested and nourished by John, who was the only one among us with contacts at both courses, and it has proven of great mutual benefit to Gearhart and Carne. Because this sort of association among courses is so rare, it has generated wonderful national and international publicity. So John has not only provided innovative professional advice, he’s been a friend to all of us at Gearhart and Carne.”

John can be reached at

GGA, formerly known as KPMG Golf Industry Practice, as the preeminent consulting firm in golf, provides unmatched expertise to the international business community. GGA has a strong and proven reputation for helping its clients maximize the performance of club and golf related assets in order to realize specific club lifestyle or investment objectives. The wide-ranging disciplines and expert training of our professionals enable the firm to provide valuable assistance in all aspects of golf, private club, real estate and resort-related businesses.

For more information:
Toll-Free in North America:
EMEA: +353-1-44-33-603

Henry B. DeLozier
Partner, Global Golf Advisors
Phone: (602) 739-0488

Rob Hill
Partner, Global Golf Advisors
Phone: +353 86 68 12 744

2016 Canadian Private Club Symposium Survey Results

Each year GGA hosts club executives and presidents of leading Canadian private clubs for a symposium to identify and discuss emerging trends and best practices within the private club business segment. This year’s Symposium explored topics relating to the continued development of Canada’s most elite clubs including current trends, research, key performance indicators, and top issues facing clubs in 2016. GGA solicited feedback from attendees on key topics and discussions raised during the symposium via a post-symposium survey and developed the findings into a summary report that highlights the post-symposium survey results.


What does ‘Brexit’ mean for Private Clubs in the U.K.?

BrexitIt is now 7 years since the Global Economic Crash and Great Recession of 2009. During that time, growth in the Eurozone and the U.K. has been relatively weak and in both cases was coming from a relatively low base. The longest growth cycle since 1980 has been 11 years. The shortest 7 years.

Great Britain’s decision to leave the EU increases the likelihood that recession will return within the next 3 years, and with it some considerable consequences for the club industry.

The U.K. is now entering a time of uncertainty while business and politics attempt to make sense of the post-referendum reality and navigate a new course. Ratings agency Moody’s revised the region’s credit outlook down to negative stating the result will herald “a prolonged period of uncertainty with negative implications for the country’s medium-term growth outlook”.

As such, clubs and the challenges they already face, will be magnified and overlooked.

Experience tells us that luxuries such as club membership come under particular stress during recessionary times. Only clubs with true economic strength find shelter from the storm or continue to grow.

During the last recession, most clubs hunkered down and spent nothing, did nothing and hoped to ride out the storm. Budgets came under pressure, teams were reduced, capital maintenance and projects deferred, survival became the sole focus. The clubs that did survive, were terribly damaged in so doing.

The clubs that developed and / or stuck to their plans, developed tremendous competitive advantage emerging from the cycle. They had a considerable head start in absorbing the growth when it returned. Think of it like giving a competitor a 20 metre head start in a 100-metre race.

With this in mind, clubs in the UK should get planning, prepare for eventualities, consider opportunities and get close to their membership. Start to engage now. Don’t wait for the cycle before you react because experience tells us recession is coming, that only the prepared will come out stronger, and that it is a cycle, so growth will return. Will you be still on the blocks when it does or 20 metres into your sprint?

Rob Hill is a Partner at GGA who heads GGA’s EMEA Operations out of Dublin, Ireland. Reach him at

Member Insights Empower Clubs… That Listen

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” – Steve Jobs

ClubsListenUpApple’s extraordinary founder showed us all the value of innovation and built a company synonymous with inventing not what customers want, but what they will want. Apple has always had a talent for understanding their customers’ future needs better than the customer themselves. This understanding allowed Apple to consistently anticipate and shape change.

Most club leaders stress the importance of understanding their members in order to stay relevant in today’s fast-changing external environment. So why is it that so few clubs seek to systematically listen to their members and as a result, are constantly reacting to change rather than planning for it?

Think back on the last few “leadership” or “planning” meetings you attended at your club. How much of the time was spent discussing internal issues rather than external realities? In how many instances did member feedback/insights change the opinion in the room?

Many clubs speak of being member-centric and yet they are not walking the talk. To be truly member-centric, club boards must use member feedback/insights in major strategic decisions and core processes, not just member-facing ones. Our analysis indicates that rarely is this the case. Recent GGA studies involving hundreds of clubs throughout the golfing world, indicate that the benchmark range for clubs that conduct annual member research is 10-20%, with the norm being just 15-16%.

Member insights provide an essential window into the change that lies ahead through their perceptions, needs, preferences, behaviours and attitudes. For clubs, the gathering, tracking and application of such insights can empower a club to lead rather than react. It allows them to match strategy and implementation to their environment, and to prepare for change rather than responding to it.

So would you regard your club as a leader or a follower? Just how well do you understand your members’ future needs and expectations?

Club leaders intent on increasing their capacity to listen and learn from their membership, might consider the following approaches:

Annual Member Survey. A member survey helps to uncover members’ expectations and attitudes, how they define value, their tolerance for fees and dues increases, and their changing lifestyle. It tells the board and management what the majority of members want from their club, how they wish to use it and distinguishes the opinion of the silent majority from that of the vocal minority. Implementing such a survey on an annual basis, allows for the measurement and identification of patterns of change. It can serve as a guide to strategic and capital planning, inform operational enhancements, and assist a board in protecting itself from anecdotal or agenda-driven decision making. GGA surveys typically demand between 20 and 25 minutes to complete and clubs should aim for a minimum 35% response rate in order to achieve an appropriate level of confidence that the results reasonably reflect the views of the membership. For best results, surveys should be managed by an independent professional with total assurance on confidentiality for respondents. This encourages both a greater participation rate and a more candid, reflective response.

PULSE Surveys. Short PULSE surveys, comprising of 8 to 12 questions and requiring no longer than 5 minutes to complete, are an excellent way to take the temperature of a membership on a specific topic and keeping abreast of specific issues. Typical topics include technology, communications, retail, food and beverage experience, capital maintenance and social programmes. These can also be targeted to specific membership categories or demographics within your club.

Focus Groups. Depending on how you wish to use them, focus groups can offer a platform for testing assumptions gathered from a survey or provide the basis for the questions which will make up a survey. They are a qualitative rather than quantitative method which can facilitate deeper insight into member attitudes and perceptions. The goal is to have a conversation with members and hear their responses in their own words – they are not instructive opportunities. Host a reflective sample of members – between 6 and 12 is ideal – in an environment that encourages open discussion. It can be effective to start with a presentation to provide context and this should ideally take no longer than 15% of the entire session time. Work to either a rigid set of questions, or a rigid set of topics where the wording of questions is flexible. Your facilitator should be knowledgeable on the topic(s), an effective communicator and entirely objective. Be certain to set clear objectives for the session and structure it to achieve conclusions for these.

Membership Mapping. Graphically representing your clubs membership on a map, is a useful exercise in examining your members’ source of origin, identifying trends in their proximity to the club and plotting neighbourhoods of interest for future membership development. There are online tools to assist you with this such as which will give you some quick and interesting results.

Demographic and Psychographic Analysis. Demographic insights on your membership can be assembled and evaluated from your membership management system or through survey survey. For your catchment area, free demographic data is usually available from each country’s respective census website. This information can help you not only understand the profile of your membership and local area, but also identify trends in the demographic make-up of both.Often members’ interest in a club can be determined by their lifestyle. In other instances members may wish to express their lifestyle through the club of which they are a member. Psychographic analysis is a method of segmenting members (or a population) according to variables such as lifestyle, personality and social class. The objective is to predict behaviours and attitudes. To understand why members or populations behave the way they do. This is a powerful predictive tool. Overlaying the demographic and psychographic profile of your club’s membership against that of your catchment area, will present a graphic representation of the likely current and future health of the membership market for your club.

Listening to and measuring insights from your membership is a practice your board and management should embrace if they are to predict and navigate the inevitable change that is coming to every club. And critically, in the case of private clubs, the insights and measurement garnered from such a listening culture should serve as the basis for the large majority of your club’s formal performance metrics. Only then can your club claim to be truly member-centric and lead rather than follow.

Rob Hill is a Partner of Global Golf Advisors who specializes in GGA’s EMEA Operations out of Dublin, Ireland. Reach him at

Not Business As Usual

Developers – like golf course builders – have changed in very basic and impactful ways. The results will be widespread, diverse and unlike the housing boom cycle that was so generous for golf course builders.

The concept of a “developer” has changed. Private club boards and individual golf course owners are today’s developers. The result is smaller projects with highly focused intentions, such as new tees and bunkers, renovated greens and / or dedicated drainage and arboreal projects.

Many of the large-scale residential developers and builders have shelved past methods for community development and, as a consequence, golf courses were assigned different priorities and preferences. Golf remains a lifestyle priority for many of the largest homebuilding companies. These companies are re-sorting the timeline for golf courses, which have been a drag on internal rates of return. Smaller and less expensive amenities, such as fitness facilities and Starbucks-type venues substitute wellness and socialization as the highly attractive early-in-the- project amenities.

The shift in thinking is worrisome to many golf course builders and tests their collective commitment. However, GCBAA members have now experienced the greatest housing booms in the history of the planet – and, with it, one of the greatest growth surges in new golf course development. Likewise, builders have survived the worst economic declines since the Great Depression. Such dramatic highs and lows provide wisdom, insight and a heckuva roller-coaster ride.

What does the future hold for golf course builders?

GCBAA builders must develop new and more efficient methods in order to unlock emerging opportunities.

Understanding that they now operate within a new business paradigm, golf course builders must implement several key changes in process:

1. Be small and act BIG. Golf course builders must be ever more resourceful solution providers for developers of all types. The shift to smaller projects directed by servant leaders and club volunteers means that GCBAA members need to refine their project management and redundant communication skills. Only on certain projects will GCBAA members be dealing with college-educated engineers and project supervisors.

2. Recognize that funding will be a point of pressure for clients and of opportunity for builders who can be good shepherds of project resources.

3. Support where and how golf fits into the overall plan. Golf remains important to more than 24 million people, according to the National Golf Foundation’s April 2016 update. Golf remains “sticky” with its core audience segments and churns roughly 3 million golfers per year. Three million into the game and roughly the same number who leave golf for reasons such as time and economic constraint.

Opportunities are emerging for GCBAA members.

Most opportunities are local in nature, smaller in scope and budget, and more demanding due to lack of experience for “developers”. The opportunity lies in the fact that GCBAA builders can fill important needs.

New projects will surface in states such as Arizona, California, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Texas. Almost 80% of the top 50 new residential communities from 2015 launched within these states.

Solutions must be on a smaller scale and ready-to- demand. Most developments will source capital from local resources such as member assessments, local banks and wealthy individuals. Builders who can be nimble, responsive and on-budget will prosper.

Four big takeaways for golf course builders.

1. After a significant market correction, golf remains a primary amenity and land-planning solution for most property developers. And, golf retains advantageous “pull” for 40- to 70-year age cohorts of high household income and educational attainment. New types of “developers” have emerged; they are club committees and boards of directors;

2. It is NOT business as usual. Most successful builders will have changed their methods and systems while continuing to rely upon experienced, expert and proven people;

3. The opportunities that are attainable requires that small companies act big by sharing procurement expertise and network reach. Big builders must use their strengths of access to capital and people to act small by being on-point and highly accessible; and

4. Advanced customer relationship management is essential for every golf course builder – whether the developer is a club or a homebuilding company. Get to know everyone and see that you are known to everyone.

This article was penned by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for The Golf Course Builders Association of America.

Profiles in Excellence – Michael Leemhuis

The President of the Ocean Reef Club and past CMAA Club Executive of the Year began his career with a promise to himself, a promise that has carried into successful management practices throughout his career. The keys: hiring valued, trustworthy professionals and getting the details right.