Focus on Planning, Not Plans

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and planned the successful invasions of North Africa, France and Germany during World War II, didn’t put much stock in plans.

“Plans are nothing,” Ike once said. Planning, however, was an entirely different matter for the man who would become our nation’s 34th president. He believed “planning is everything.” In other words, the value really derives from the disciplined process that produces the plan. Furthermore, a plan that has not been preceded by sufficient planning may not get you where you want to go.

Are you planning for the future of your facility or club in ways that produce the right plans to guide your actions? Before you try to jump to the final product (the plan), consider a few basic but critical planning steps.

Agronomic Planning. Many states in the U.S. and most Canadian provinces have begun the progressive reduction of pesticides on golf courses and sports fields. Is your course anticipating the almost certain changes that are coming? Your planning process also should address water and water-taking, fertility, pesticides and chemical use and storage, tree replacement and removal, mechanical care and upkeep of maintenance equipment, and employee training and development.

Capital Improvement and Investment Planning. Golf courses and private clubs have insatiable appetites for capital. As a result, clubs must maintain a robust and thorough roster of capital assets, ranging from community infrastructure and buildings to rolling stock and maintenance equipment to furniture, fixtures and equipment.

Typically, capital and investment plans are the work of the controller and the finance committee. But expansive-thinking clubs also include in the process management, staff and the people who actually use and operate the capital assets. The more inputs provided to the capital asset roster, the better the eventual capital plan. The controller should issue clear and unequivocal guidance concerning the active definition of capital assets to ensure board-based understanding and compliance.

When planning for future capital needs, take into account: capital items owned by the club; standard useful life estimates (available through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants); life-cycle projections for golf course assets, including greens, tees, sand bunkers, irrigation systems and drainage (available through the American Society of Certified Golf Architects); and actual standard unit counts of assets to ensure alignment with utilization needs and patterns.

Crisis Planning. What happens in the event of a disastrous or tragic event at your club? What specific actions should employees take, and in which priority order? Which staff members are authorized to contact and deal with police, emergency responders and fire departments? Who contacts the insurer? Who drafts responses to media questions and acts as a spokesperson for the club? Who manages the subsequent media cycles? All of these questions should be anticipated and answered during a detailed planning process and obviously before any crisis.

Resources in answering these questions include your insurance carrier and agent, local public services of fire, health and public safety, and experts available through major professional associations such as CMAA, GCSAA and PGA.

Marketing Planning. One of the regrettable truths revealed by the Great Recession is that most golf courses and private clubs do not understand their markets well enough to inform their most critical decision making. Few conduct a business-like market analysis of existing customers and prospective market segments outside of the front gate.

Lacking a thorough and current understanding of their markets, most clubs execute misdirected, ineffective and potentially costly marketing efforts. Top-performing clubs have studied and measured their market areas. Among other benefits, this research helps them understand feeder markets (which may be out of state and beyond) that can sustain growth and reliable financial performance.

Armed with the information uncovered during the planning process, you now have the ingredients of a comprehensive business plan which supports your overall strategic plan. While he may not salute your plan, Ike would surely be impressed with the hard work and critical thinking that produced it.

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

Will Women Save Golf?

Golf has a tendency to exist in a vacuum, one where blinders we sometimes wear with pride make us inattentive to happenings outside the confines of our green fairways. But looking away from one of the most important issues of the day could have calamitous consequences.

2018 may well go down in modern history as the year of the woman and the fight courageous women waged for respect and opportunity. What started as a backlash against a Hollywood movie mogul by women trapped by his influence has spread to other parts of society and is now part of the daily dialogue. It should also be part of the conversations we’re having in golf.

Leading up to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway, and Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, wrote that “time is up for discrimination and abuse against women. The time has come for women to thrive.”

They went on to say that “giving women and girls the opportunity to succeed is not only the right thing to do, but can also transform societies and economies.” If that opportunity has transformative global potential, just think what it could do for golf.

More women in leadership roles – on boards, as general managers, as department heads, as executive directors of allied associations – would do wonders for golf. I continue to be dismayed when I see panels composed of middle-aged white men at industry events. What perspectives are we missing that could inform better decision-making? What experiences are we not aware of that could help us fix problems on and off the course? What nuances are we tone deaf to that would make the game, our courses and our facilities more engaging?

We’ll never know until women have the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership abilities. And we won’t know the consequences of those omissions until participation and diversity have dwindled even further. Dare we risk that? Golf’s good-old-boys club took us so far. It’s also one of the reasons momentum has stalled.

There is urgency because, as we have seen dramatic evidence of already this year, women are not content to wait for change to come to them. But are the mostly male leaders of golf and its mostly private clubs prepared to examine their own practices and begin to open the right doors?

Introspection starts close to home. Boards can mandate women fill a minimum number of seats around the table. They can also require that job searches include women (and minorities). General managers can make educational and career-experience opportunities available to women so when management positions become available women and men are competing on a level playing field. Clubs can take the necessary steps to help women stay active in the workplace while raising a family. And without question, clubs can compensate women and men on an equal basis for jobs with similar requirements and responsibility.

Enlightened perspectives should also be customer facing for obvious reasons:

  • Women are driving the global economy – the women’s market is growing at a faster growth rate than men.
  • Women are responsible for $20 trillion U.S. dollars in annual consumer spending.
  • Women have a high level of commitment and loyalty.
  • Women share positive experiences.

But (news flash!) there are considerable barriers that women must overcome to gain the respect and opportunity most men are granted with few questions. Almost 90 percent of countries have one or more gender-based legal restrictions holding back women. Fortunately, those legal restrictions do not exist in the United States. But we all know that there are other barriers that can be onerous and restrictive, and we don’t have to look outside our own organizations to see them. Clubs ignore those hurdles and discriminatory practices at their own peril.

We must realize that recognizing and rewarding women’s potential is critical to the future of golf and golf clubs. We may be swimming against the tide of tradition in some cases, but the best practice seems simply to make the most of everybody’s talents.

The tide has shifted, the momentum has changed. Today’s conversation focuses on broad social change led by women and – yes – men who are speaking out against outdated views that hold all of us back. Helping women make the most of their potential is a job for all of us, and it’s time to get started.

GGA’s Henry DeLozier penned this article for Golf Course Industry.

GGA Education Events Isolate Themes & Challenges Facing Club Leaders

Golf club executives have come together on both sides of the Atlantic as GGA continues its program of insight-led educational Symposiums, that deliver insights, research and current trends influencing golf club business success.

Against the backdrop of Loch Lomond Golf Club in Scotland and Scarboro Golf & Country Club in Canada, senior figures in the club industry discussed the challenges, issues and successes of the past year and forecasted opportunities and possible difficulties for the next 12 months.

Managing Partner of GGA’s EMEA Practice, Rob Hill, who directed the European Symposium in Scotland, said: “Our Symposiums foster a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration among club leaders, many of whom are tackling the same challenges and are eager to learn from each other’s successes. This, backed by GGA’s key findings and research, provides a foundation of confidence and focus for the year ahead.”

The Scotland and Canada Symposiums touched on a vast array of topics ranging from far-reaching global trends to granular, market-specific issues managers are typically experiencing, including strategic thinking, business intelligence, member satisfaction, capital expenditures, membership growth, governance and manager-led panel discussion.

Key Takeaways:

The Symposiums isolated a number of key themes and challenges club managers are set to face in the year ahead:

  • Strategic thinking is a challenge everywhere, particularly among club Boards. Challenges in defining strategy, remaining strategic at the Board level, and qualifying the elements of a strategic plan are widespread.
  • Business intelligence resources are in high demand. Many clubs indicated that they do not have all the data they need to make strategic assessments and key business decisions, particularly as they relate to local-market understanding, member satisfaction, club utilization habits, and evaluating club finances.
  • Member Satisfaction is paramount. Club managers believe that understanding members’ satisfaction, current habits, and future preferences is essential to a happy club environment. Empirically and anecdotally, there was strong correlation between overall member satisfaction and evaluations of a club’s social atmosphere, food and beverage operation, and clubhouse quality/condition.
  • Millennials and Generation X are top of mind. While tactics for recruitment and sentiments for the viability of these audiences varied significantly among regions and participating managers, it is evident that understanding the future generation of club members is a hot topic for club managers and a concern for some.
  • Governance is both a source of strength and adversity. Clubs are constantly facing challenges to govern effectively and implement governing infrastructure which supports the organization’s strategic vision. At clubs where governance is characterized by strategic thinking, written policy, and efficient, purposeful deliberation, success often follows.
  • Clubs are considering the following key initiatives for 2018:
    • Strategic Plan implementation: implementing/executing golf course masterplans, facilities masterplans, determining club brands, or evaluating club relevance to current/future members.
    • Governance reviews: reviewing governance practices, ensuring governance models are more ‘business’ appropriate, implementing Board Policy Manuals, and operating with greater transparency and more communication.
    • Membership changes: evaluating membership categories, measuring member utilization, focusing on maintaining existing members, and assessing approaches to attract Millennials/Generation X.
    • Financial monitoring: increasing the measurement of goals and financial performance through business intelligence/satisfaction surveys/employee surveys, assessing costs and benefits of process improvements through technology/robotics, and monitoring labor costs.
    • Environmental assessments: gauging the cost and potential impacts of processes focused on sustainability, ecology, and environmental stewardship.
    • Capital replenishment: conducting capital reserve studies, building capital reserves, exploring new methods of capital funding, gaining member support for CapEx through digital communications (i.e. video information rather than Town Hall meetings; estimating vote projections through online surveys; electronic voting for easier capture and analysis), and improving the monitoring capital maintenance requirements.

Rob added: “While these learnings represent only macro-level, shared sentiments among participating European and North American club managers, they point toward an auspicious outlook for the 2018 golf season, one defined by a focus on data-driven decision-making and informed strategy.”

Symposiums provide an opportunity to connect with club managers and to share the latest and fullest extent of GGA’s wealth of industry knowledge observed through client assignments and extensive market analysis. Partner Henry DeLozier, said: “At GGA we believe that one must share knowledge so that all may benefit. None of us owns knowledge.”

Prioritize Customer Service to Maximize Revenue

Detailed research shows that 93% of customers admit to online reviews impacting on their purchasing decisions*.

For golf clubs, this means they need to find new ways to ensure exceptional service is embedded at every turn of the customer experience. Because wherever there are flaws, the chances are, someone somewhere will know about them, as GGA Director Asia Pacific, Paul Hinton, explains…

If there is a reality club managers need to come to terms with, it is that internal experience impacts external perception, more than ever.

But rather than becoming fearful this will somehow expose areas of weakness, it should be viewed as an opportunity to take a strategic view of service quality. This will help to focus and optimize all aspects (and generate additional revenue), while providing a platform to broaden out to new areas, such as Functions and Events where I have personally witnessed the transformational impact this can have.

Putting needs of the customer first

Clubs are well-known as places where members can socialize, relax and avoid the commercial pressures of the outside world. So, while you may speak to your teams about upselling, cross-selling or add-on sales, to the customer this should only ever be seen as ‘service’.

Whether staff are trained to offer a schooner of beer rather than a middy, a cake or dessert with a coffee, or to pick up on deteriorating grips on members’ golf clubs when they are being cleaned this is all part of putting the customer first.

Providing the service offering is delivered with integrity, the member will feel valued and looked after. Not only will the club benefit from increased revenues in the short-term, but can expect favorable online reviews and an enhanced perception of how the club is run and how customers value it.

Serving as one

A club may account for multiple businesses, from the self-employed PGA Professional to franchise caterers or even events teams, but this is of no significance to the customer. Online reviews will attach themselves to your venue, your brand, whether it is golf, a particular event, a lesson or otherwise. Therefore, the need for a consistency in service quality across all aspects of the venue is critical to its wider success.

At a fundamental level, regular meetings between all business owners should take place, though club executives and/or presidents should take the strategic lead in ensuring an exceptional and consistent customer experience is delivered across all aspects of the business.

Exploring new opportunities

Members needs and expectations are changing; the likes of traditional three-course meals and formal dining is on the decline. As dining trends change, and with a greater desire for socialization emerging, developing a calendar of events for members that offers a range of experiences to different demographic and interest groups represents a sound strategic direction.

A creative and innovative events team is a great starting point to shape this direction. By taking traditional events and transforming them into more contemporary and family-friendly occasions, clubs can better accommodate the needs of its members, create the opportunity to deliver more exceptional service and, crucially, differentiate itself from its competitors.

When it comes to activating an events strategy, share the enthusiasm by planning with the operational committees to engage their help in promoting the event.

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of word-of-mouth, supported by a communications plan. The event experience starts with the promotion of the event and the booking, so if that is online, ensure the website and booking platforms are functioning correctly and that club staff are briefed on the event. Suggest to members, to extend the invitation to fellow members and or guests during the booking process too.

Service at the event is a critical success factor, from the moment members and visitors arrive at the venue to the moment they depart. This is where trained staff can play an influential role in exceeding expectations by being professional, courteous, respectful and engaging.

Ideally a ‘wow factor’ needs to be created, from room theming to entertainment, ensuring attention-to-detail is at such a level, it provides a positive talking point for members and visitors to take away with them.

Although this may sound like a significant undertaking, I have seen clubs increase food and beverage revenue from $2.5M to $5M in three years, driven by successful club events, improved service and products, innovation and improved marketing and communications.

*Research from Podium ‘2017 State of Online Reviews’ available to view here.

Paul Hinton is a Director of GGA’s Asia Pacific Office, located in Sydney, Australia.