2018 Club Governance Model Executive Summary

The Club Governance Model (Model), which was developed in 2007 and updated in 2018, is built upon accepted principles and best practices in nonprofit governance. Although this Model is directed primarily toward member-owned clubs, the principles embodied in the Model are no less applicable to clubs with a different ownership structure. The primary purpose of the Model is to optimize the most fundamental quality of a governance system – the smooth flow of authority from the club owners to the club staff and the corresponding flow of accountability from the staff back to the club owners. The Model, as shown in the flow chart below, is simply a set of principles designed to keep communications throughout the organization clear and the roles of key participants unambiguous.

The extent of the changes required of a club to implement the Model will depend on the governance system that it presently employs. However, the ease of implementing the Model will depend less on the number and extent of changes needed and more on the commitment of the club’s leaders, namely, the President, the Club General Manager/Chief Operating Officer (GM/COO), and the Board members. A club that is considering the Model for its governance structure and processes must not only assess the necessary steps in moving to the Model, but it must also measure the resolve of its leaders to follow through on the implementation. The caution to be followed here is “don’t start the process unless you have the commitment to finish it.”

Implementing the Model will usually involve amending the bylaws, although the changes recommended are usually straightforward and non-disruptive. The implementation step that will call on the greatest effort, and therefore commitment, is the development and eventual employment of a Board Policies Manual (BPM). From the time that the Board approves the initial version of its BPM, this important document can serve as a governance management system that provides a clear-cut path to success. As with any good system that is utilized on an on-going basis, the BPM will be continually modified and refined to respond to a changing environment. As the Board rely more and more on the BPM to be its single and clear voice, it will reinforce the underlying principles of the Model and allow the club to accrue the substantial benefits of an efficient and effective system of governance.

Overarching – From a high-level perspective, boards are meant to only serve a strategic role whereby their main function is safeguarding assets and evaluating and developing long-term strategic options. The role of management is to operate the club, while committees are meant to only serve an advisory function, with no authoritative or executive powers.

Board Members – Board members are, of course, club members. As such, they are customers, and volunteers. Board members are also trustees or governors in that they are elected to govern the affairs of the club subject to limitations that may be set out in the bylaws. But Board members have the authority to govern (i.e., are “governors”) only when they are taking part in an official Board meeting. Even though Board members are often active in committee meetings or efforts to assist the GM and his or her staff, when Board members are not in an official Board meeting, they are serving as volunteers and not governors.

Club Officers – Club officers, typically the President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer, are normally Board members with special responsibilities in addition to their duties as Board members. They are usually elected by the Board and subject to the Board’s authority and direction. As such, they have the authority only when it is granted by the bylaws or the Board. This means that the President does not represent a separate level of authority and does not supervise the GM except as specifically authorized to do so in the Board Policies Manual. The President is almost always the Chair of the Board and is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the governance structure and related processes. He or she normally is the chief representative of the members and the spokesperson for the Board. As Chair of the Board, he or she sets the agenda of Board meetings and ensures that the Board stays at an appropriate level with its thinking, discussions, and policy development. The President is often an ex officio member of all committees. Therefore, he can serve both in a coordinating role among the Board Committees and in a leadership role in keeping them focused on their respective scopes of responsibility. The duties of other officers are not discussed here because they have less to do with the governance structure and processes.

Committees – As shown in Exhibit I, the Model contains two types of committees. The Board Committees support the Board in Board-level functions (e.g., Governance, Finance, and Programs) while the Operations Committees (e.g., Golf Committee, Green Committee, Tennis Committee, Food & Beverage) support the GM. Board Committees study issues and recommend policies that support decisions at the Board or strategic levels. Operations Committees serve the GM by offering critical member (customer) input and in sharing the workload by helping with events and activities. As critical as the committees are in supporting both the Board and GM, they serve in an advisory capacity, not from a position of authority.

General Manager – The GM is the single agent of the Board with responsibility to carry out the purpose of the club within the policy boundaries set by the Board. Therefore, he or she has operational authority to employ and allocate the resources of the club to serve its members so long as he stays within the boundaries set by the Board in the Board Policies Manual.

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This article was authored by George Pinches, a Director at Global Golf Advisors, who specializes in Club Governance. Reach him at gpinches@globalgolfadvisors.com.

Is Your Club Truly Member-Centric?

In 2017, Toymaker LEGO announced that revenues had hit a record high, rising 6 per cent to DKr37.9bn (stg£4.4bn) – the highest ever annual level recorded in its 85-year history. Profits were also higher, with operating profit up 1.7 per cent to DKr12.4bn and net profit up 2.2 per cent to DKr9.4bn.

LEGO is a remarkable success story considering that, almost 15 years ago, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Though it was a transformational strategy, led by CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, which sparked the unprecedented turnaround in fortunes, significant emphasis was placed on the contribution that customer insights played in the turnaround.

“We never take customers’ enthusiasm for granted. We reward them by showing that we listen to and care about their feedback. I also tell customers that they fulfil another vital role: They are an avenue to the truth. And in today’s world, a CEO needs every avenue to the truth that he or she can find.”

 From my experience, the majority of 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? Why is it they are reluctant to travel this “avenue to the truth”?

To be truly member-centric, club boards must use member insights in major strategic decisions and core processes, not just member-facing ones.

Our analysis indicates that, actually, this is rarely the case. A recent global survey, undertaken by GGA, examined several hundred clubs to find which conducted annual member research. The reported benchmark range for clubs who do conduct annual member research was found to be between 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. Gathering, tracking and applying 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.

In his book Good to Great (2001), management guru Jim C. Collins cites 5 elements of member-centric associations;

  1. Culture. A documented, shared understanding among all staff, embraced and touted by leadership, which defines expectations on how the association interacts with members.
  2. Metrics – Tracking, measuring and responding to data that defines success through the eyes of its members and for the organization. One of the 7 Measures of Success pillars is being data-driven.
  3. Knowledge – Belief and practices on collecting, sharing and responding to the challenges, needs and expectations of members.
  4. Technology – Planning, managing and leveraging tools (e.g., database, social media) to collect, share, and deliver information to all stakeholders in a timely manner.
  5. Segmentation – Developing profiles of and understanding specific groups, or segments, of members to deliver on their expectations and to increase retention rates.

How does your club score in relation to these member-centric qualifications? Think back on recent “leadership” or “planning” meetings you attended at your club. In how many instances did member insights, measured evidence, inform a final decision?

In the oft-quoted words of Wayne Gretzky, leaders will find deep and relevant member insights will guide a club in “skating to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”

Rob Hill is a Partner at GGA’s EMEA Office, based outside Dublin, Ireland.

Creating Strong Club Culture

“CULTURE EATS STRATEGY for breakfast,” said management guru Peter Drucker. For clubs, culture is governance, and private club strategy—no matter how good and well-conceived—will be a victim to poor governance.

According to Fred Laughlin, nonprofit governance expert and a Director at Global Golf Advisors (GGA), “the board speaks with one voice—in writing,” in clubs that are well governed. When you omit either one of two key concepts in the phrase, you invite dysfunctions.

Take out “one voice” and you have a board of factions. While diversity of thought around the board table is healthy, speaking with multiple voices outside the boardroom confuses the members, frustrates the general manager and discourages the board members whose voice is not heard.

Take out “in writing” means the board must choose another way to communicate policies, which usually comes from the person with the most power or influence, the largest faction of followers or the loudest voice. Such verbal policies are ephemeral, lasting only if the person or group stays in power.

Following is a useful three-question test concerning the governance at your club:

1. Are we who we claim to be? The brand promise in most private clubs is that the club will provide an enjoyable lifestyle for its members. Lifestyle varies from club to club; the promise does not vary where the culture of the club is genuine.

2. Are we doing what is right for the members? Often boards deliberate what is allowed under the bylaws. Sometimes the proceedings ask: What options will the members tolerate? Great boards concern themselves with the moral compass that points to doing what is right. Truthfulness, dependability and openness are terms most often cited in private club member surveys concerning expectations of the board.

3. Are we truly servant leaders? Servant leadership places the point of focus on those served ahead of focusing on those serving. Great and successful clubs share the characteristic of strong servant leadership.

Strategy flourishes in clubs with cultures that foster great governance. Great strategy is simple in its description and thorough in its formulation. Effective strategy depends upon a culture borne of trustworthy governance.

An indicator of a club with weak governance is timid and has ambiguous goals that hold no one accountable for their achievement.

How Does a Club Implement Strategic Thinking?

“Putting strategy to work is the key,” according to Derek Johnston, a partner at Global Golf Advisors. GGA recommends a shortlist of primary actions to ensure strategy is alive and functioning at the highest level.

  • Strategy must be an agenda item at every board meeting. Strategic plan review enables the board to adhere to strategy. Progress toward goals should be reported into every board meeting by either the long-range planning chair or the club manager.
  • Keep score on strategy. The strategic scorecard is a valuable tool that enables the board to focus on the key strategic goals and objectives. As simple as a financial performance dashboard, the strategic scorecard shows each goal or objective across the horizontal axis with the monthly or quarterly (depending upon the frequency of your board meetings) forming the vertical axes. Progress updates should be summarized at every board meeting.
  • Socialize strategy. See that the management staff is fully informed of the key strategic goals. More importantly, see that everyone on staff understands and is committed to the strategy that the board has set.
  • Publish the club’s strategic plan. Members want to know that their club operates in a responsible manner. Make the club’s strategy available to all members in ways that ensure that the strategic plan is not passed throughout the local community and into the hands of competitor clubs. It is important for club members to know what is and is not included within the clubs’ strategy.

Discipline and attention is necessary for private club boards responsible for preserving and enhancing the best attributes of the club.

Written by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier, this article was originally written for and published by Club Director Magazine in January 2018.

The Keys to Successful Strategic Planning

Research by Global Golf Advisors indicates more than 80% of top performing clubs believe they are working to a strategic plan. But are they?

It is absolutely true 80% of clubs wish to have a strategic plan and truly intend to have a strategic plan, but if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, not all of them do,” says GGA Partner Henry DeLozier.

The reality is that many managers are not clear what a bona fide strategic plan is. They believe that if they have a capital asset roster or have developed a master facilities plan they are well on their way to developing a full strategic plan, which is not accurate.

So what is a strategic plan and what happens when clubs successfully implement strategy?

In this video, Henry DeLozier explains Global Golf Advisors’ five key elements of an effective strategic plan and why a focus on implementation and performance monitoring frequently leads to success and an increase in club membership.


For more insights on successful strategic planning, download the GGA whitepaper ‘Strategic Planning: A Road Map to Club Survival and Success.’