Clubs Should Be Selling Memories

Today’s fast paced tech savvy society is often called The Experience Economy, which references the ever-rising expectations of customers coupled with the desire for memorable experiences rather than physical possessions (See “Managing Expectations” PCA September, 2018).

The Experience Economy is forcing clubs to prioritize creating unparalleled experiences for their members over simply providing great service, quality amenities or good membership value.

According to Henry DeLozier of Global Golf Advisors, “The memory itself becomes the product and in private clubs today, members relish an unforgettable experience far more than a bargain.”

Different from the past, members now relate membership value to the club’s ability to deliver memorable experiences to their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Experiences in this context are preplanned activities or events that are packed full of emotional, memorable, shareable impressions that are difficult for others to duplicate. “The key to this entire concept is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” DeLozier explained.

Club executives and operators must shift their focus from simply ensuring enjoyable experiences (dining at the club, great round of golf, good tennis lesson, etc.) to building opportunities for members to establish stories. When members (and their families) become part of a holistic experience, they become part of a story and that is when a positive and lasting memory is formed.

The sky is the limit as each club has endless opportunities to create experiences that speak directly to member perceptions of value.

“Club leaders will find the greatest success in innovative ideas, unforgettable experiences and fresh new concepts that are unique to their club and community,” DeLozier concluded.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for the Private Club Advisor.

2019 Millennial Golf Industry Survey Findings – Part 1

In ongoing research collaboration with Millennial golfer organization Nextgengolf, GGA recently updated its study of the habits, attitudes, and preferences of Millennial golfers.  The 2019 study brings forward survey findings from over 1,400 Millennial golfers and builds upon research conducted in 2017 and 2018.

Illustrated below is the first installment of a multi-part series of infographics to feature the latest Millennial golfer feedback.  To establish a baseline for discussion, Part 1 focuses on the demographics of respondents and their exposure to the game.

Over the next few weeks, keep an eye out for new installments featuring the Millennial outlook on public courses, golf skill, club fees/costs/dues, private clubs, membership recruitment, barriers to golf, and much more.

Research Overview

In many clubs today, the long-held expectations and perceptions of existing, ageing members are at odds with the entirely different needs and expectations of a new wave of younger, more casual members.  The challenge for clubs?  To create an environment which not only appeals to the new wave, but where members of all types can coexist.

Research findings highlight how golf clubs can adapt and develop their offerings to meet the needs of the next generation of members and customers.  The goal is to provide valuable insights about Millennial golfers, the challenges they face, and the opportunities for clubs to help support the long-term sustainability of the game and the industry as a whole.


As the leading entity for team-based golf in the United States, Nextgengolf connects Millennials to golf and supports the success of their game while GGA specializes in solution engineering and problem solving for golf-related businesses.  A fusion of GGA’s 27-year history of private club research and Nextgengolf’s connection to young golfers afforded the unique opportunity to study a highly valuable Millennial audience.

The survey sample focused exclusively on a sample audience of active, avid Millennial golfers with prior golf interest and experience in tournaments or golf events.  To date, more than 3,600 survey responses have been analyzed during the three-year research study.

Thank you to the Club Management Association of America (CMAA) for the support that makes this research possible.

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Protecting Against Project Mythology

Anyone taking on projects great or small during 2019 might consider a lesson from Phidias, the Greek sculptor, painter and architect.  Phidias is best known for his statue of Zeus, the king of the ancient gods.  However, it was his creation of the statues on the frieze of the Parthenon, the temple of the gods in Athens, from which we can draw an important lesson on project planning and management.

Phidias’s bill for his work on the heroic-scale statues was initially declined.  The bursar of Athens said that the statues should have been created in a front-only perspective, instead of Phidias’s 360-degree perspective, because the statues would be placed well above eye level and citizens would see only the front view.  Phidias replied, “The gods will know.” And his bill was paid.

Every project you plan and execute this year, whether a new swimming pool, the replacement of sand bunkers or a clubhouse remodel, will face 360-degree scrutiny.  Many will evaluate the quality of your work. Here are five important steps to help your efforts stand the test of time:

  1. Plan from start to finish. Lay out the process to be used, the materials required and who will be responsible for a successful outcome.  Organize your project team to ensure that each team member understands where he or she will pitch in and be held accountable.  See that your action plan is thorough.  Comprehensive planning anticipates the end result and establishes standards of expectations.  Ensure that the finished quality of your work is excellent.  Quality is remembered long after cost is forgotten.  Plan the post-completion “unveiling” of your results as carefully as you plan the first meeting.
  2. Set realistic schedules. Avoid over-promising and being unnecessarily conservative.  Creating a critical path of the actions required to complete the project is an important key.  Scheduling also requires a complete plan.  Many projects – and the credibility of those responsible for them – are undermined by incomplete or poor scheduling.  Establish a broad understanding of when you will execute in-process measurements and evaluations.  The things that are measured get managed. Get to work and finish ahead of schedule.
  3. Budget thoroughly. The two greatest points on which to brag about a finished project are “complete” and “under budget.”  Ensure that the budget is inclusive of all expenses, including labor, materials and post-project clean-up and finishing work.  Check and double-check unit count, whether pounds, square acres or individual item costs.  Confirm the accuracy of your costs-per-unit measurements.  These two checkpoints – unit-count and unit-pricing – protect the downside of important projects.
  4. Communicate constantly. See that all stakeholders are kept informed of progress and problems – especially the latter.  Because so many people feel invested in key projects, and think their voices should be heard, create a communications plan that includes video updates as well as written reminders and status reports.  Reduce the likelihood that stakeholders are uninformed of progress.  Likewise, update those responsible for completing the project by making sure they receive regular and routine project updates.  It is nice to know that everyone on the team is keeping up their time-sensitive tasks and sharing in the accountability.  Remember that members and regular customers like to be included with project updates.
  5. Celebrate generously. Pass around the credit and share the successful completion of the project.  See that there is plenty of credit to go around.  Recognize those who authorized your work on the project.  Name those who did the work.  Make and distribute photographs of the finished project and those who celebrated with you.  Use follow-up storytelling to identify those who are enjoying the results of the project.  Be inclusive of all who are affected by the project.

You may think that the work you did to complete a project successfully is sometimes ignored or forgotten.  In fact, in these times of tight budgets and 360-degree evaluation, very little is overlooked by management or membership.  Remember the lesson of Phidias: the quality of your work will endure and even if some people do not appreciate your contributions, the gods certainly will.

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

Who’s Your Innovator?

If you’re to succeed in driving change at your club, you need a champion of innovation – the person who makes things happen. But what if that person doesn’t exist? GGA’s Bennett DeLozier advises on what an innovator looks like, and how to move forward if you don’t have one.

The Importance of Innovation as a Change Catalyst

Last fall GGA reported its preliminary findings from a survey of roughly 400 club managers who were asked to weigh in on the topic of innovation. Feedback from participants, all of whom are members of CMAA, placed emphasis on two key themes: first, that innovation is crucial for the future of club management and, second, that clubs need to improve when it comes to innovation.

Despite overwhelming majority agreement on the importance of innovation, a closer look at survey findings shows a stark contrast between theory and practice.

Research revealed that even managers who believe innovation is essential to the long-term success of their clubs do not regard themselves as particularly innovative. They believe the club industry lags behind other sectors when it comes to change. They say they would like to catch up in the areas of marketing, communications, technology, food & beverage, and strategy, but report they are hampered by resource constraints, cultural opposition, and a lack of effective infrastructure. Even many clubs that do prioritize and pursue innovation are operating without a deliberate strategy.

To translate ingenuity into business strategy, managers believe that a broader cultural endorsement is needed within their clubs to support, enable, and nurture innovation. However, affecting cultural change from the top down, with reliable bottom-up support, is no easy task.

Queue “the innovator”: the champion of change, the person who can make things happen by putting theory into practice to achieve positive outcomes. Who might this person be and what does their skillset look like?

And, importantly, what do we do if we can’t find them?

The Mark of the Innovator

To be effective in driving change requires tremendous leadership, so our innovator must first have the character of a leader. This is a person who also possesses the uncanny ability to see unseen opportunity, the right balance of knowledge and charisma, an adeptness at bringing people together to work toward a common goal, and an aptitude for putting plans into action and getting the job done.

This person is a synthesis of four key archetypes:

1. The Visionary – A person with the ability to discover opportunities and inspire others to pursue them. One who can see the possibility in a given context and hone in on the most important insights in order to identify unmet needs and valuable problems to solve. They develop meaningful solutions to address significant club problems. Further, they have the capability to explain the nuances of the value proposition, and can motivate key decisionmakers to agree that an innovation initiative is worth pursuing.

2. The Collaborator – A person who can manage change by stimulating effective teamwork and bringing cohesion to the group. A charismatic and daring leader, this person can encourage action through trial-and-error by creating an environment that is conducive to change and views failure as a necessary and educational part of the innovative process. They are a skilled networker and an effective communicator who can muster the necessary resources to get the job done while keeping everyone on the same page.

3. The Thinker – A person who is a natural learner with a deep curiosity about any ideas, products, technologies, concepts, or approaches which could increase the chances that their undertaking will succeed. This individual is willing to explore opportunities as they present themselves, continually pursues new ideas and quickly integrates learnings from multiple sources of information.

4. The Executor – A person with the ability to ensure that rubber meets the road. One who can make quick decisions amidst uncertainty while maintaining realistic progress towards the targeted goal. This individual can translate ideas into an achievable sequence of activities and is often the first to shake things up and challenge the status quo. They can persevere through setbacks and readily adapt plans to new conditions, variables, or requirements.

Help Wanted: Club Innovator

Armed with an understanding of the traits which drive the most successful innovators, club leaders can begin to seek out their champion of change.

Where will they find “the innovator”? Do they exist?

Naturally, it may be tempting for clubs that are hoping to deliver on important initiatives to seek out a talented individual with a track record of high-performance and success. However, it is exceedingly rare that one person will possess the full range of skills needed to innovate successfully. Innovation requires skills and mindsets that are often underdeveloped even among the highest performers.

Rather, clubs should reframe their search for “the innovator” from an individual to a team. A carefully constructed and well-balanced team that brings together the various innovative traits and personalities can compensate for the rarity of a “true innovator”.

Innovating for the Future

Adopting a team-based approach to innovation will increase the likelihood of sourcing the necessary talent, as well as the likelihood that innovation initiatives will succeed.

Returning to the survey findings, the top three challenges which club managers say inhibit, deter, or prevent innovation are: (1) resource constraints such as budget time, space, people; (2) social or cultural opposition to change or new ideas; and (3) lack of structured innovation processes or procedures. These deterrents are often bigger than any one individual’s performance capabilities, and reinforce the need for an innovator group.

The top three ingredients which managers identify as important for innovation are: (1) the right culture to foster and support innovation; (2) a willingness to change norms and take risks; and (3) strong visionary business leadership. These elements add up to a culture of strategic thinking. This type of club culture encourages new ideas, supports experimentation, solicits group input, and is characterized by undaunted, resourceful leadership who are willing to take calculated risks with the support of others.

Understanding the traits of the innovator and the need for teams to have a balanced composition of these traits can help clubs become better and faster innovators. By identifying and encouraging people within the club who possess these skills, then steering them into supervisory roles where they can put these skills to work and also learn from each other, clubs can begin to build an academy of innovation leaders who will continue to drive positive change into the future.

This article was authored by GGA Manager Bennett DeLozier.

Why You Need More than One Member Survey

Member satisfaction surveys are a rich source of data and intelligence for measuring year-on-year club performance, but fall short of accounting for the changing face of members’ needs and expectations. GGA’s Michael Gregory explains the need for a different type of survey, and the questions you be should be posing to your members.

Why is it that member satisfaction surveys are not an effective mechanism to capture everything that members need, want and expect?

By definition, the primary objective of a member satisfaction survey is exactly that: to measure member satisfaction.

Straying from an accepted format or structure without providing the necessary context may lead to a drop off in engagement levels. So, while you can potentially look to feed in additional questions to source particular information or data from your members, the key is to be relevant.

The advantage of a survey for any given situation is the club’s ability to gauge members’ feelings or attitudes on that specific topic or project. If the board is considering a capital project – a new clubhouse for instance – a dedicated survey would represent an effective way of obtaining some invaluable insights, as well as learning whether members could tolerate increases to dues in order to accommodate this, and support for other methods of funding.

Can members get ‘survey fatigue’? If so, how can you avoid this situation to ensure you capture reliable, insightful data?

Undoubtedly. Times have changed and we have witnessed first-hand how the willingness of members to devote significant time to surveys is decreasing.

Around 10 years ago, it was entirely possible to carry out a combined satisfaction and strategic survey of members which could take up to 45 minutes to complete. With changes to device use and attention span, new tactics have emerged to overcome the possibility of survey fatigue, including:

  • Different types of surveys – from shorter, pulse surveys to more immersive, philosophical, and strategic surveys. Providing each is structured to capture the interest and engagement of members, this will mitigate any possibility of an attention ‘drop off’.
  • Segmentation – not all surveys will require input from all members. So, providing you involve an appropriate cross section for a given survey, this will ensure you’re not asking too much of too many members all at once.
  • Accessibility – by making all options available to your members in terms of how they can complete a survey (cell phone, tablet device, desktop or hard copy), you allow them to make a choice in which way they find most comfortable, convenient and quick.

Finding the right survey approach demonstrates to your membership that their opinion matters, you are open to change, and that the club wishes to maximize its relevance to the majority of members. Crucially, it eliminates the possibility of a reactive ‘culture creep’ where decisions are made on the basis of vocal minority opinion rather than how they should be made – through data-driven decision making.

When’s the optimum time to be running member survey(s)?

This is really determined by the need and seasonality for each club. Some surveys will be linked to time-defined events (such as those focused towards capital projects), so would need to happen within a given window.

If a club is looking at a strategic or attitudinal survey then the timing is somewhat less critical – though the off-season can be a good time to survey members on these topics.

Things are more certain when it comes to surveying members on how satisfied they are. Our research and data in this area points to the period following the peak season as the optimum time to question members about their year-on-year sentiments towards the club, and there are some key reasons for this:

  • Members have just experienced the club in its best light – so they are more likely to be engaged, positive, but also practical and pragmatic in their assessment and recommendations.
  • A maximum number of members are utilizing the club – with the seasonal nature of a number of clubs, members can often go into hibernation during the off-season. So, surveying these individuals at a time when the club is far from their mind and everyday life is unlikely to provide qualitative data and insights. Conversely, questioning members when the club is a highly relevant part of their day-to-day life will ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

How do you interpret the findings and how (much) should they help to inform wider strategic club intentions?

Asking the right questions is only part of the process. Much of my work involves spending a great deal of time interpreting results by looking at the key drivers and mapping these against various demographic filters; this reveals differences of opinion between various groups such as men and women, newer and longer-tenured members, younger and more senior members, and various other categories. All helping to fuel the right future strategy for the club.

However, this process can be more complex than what it seems.

Take, for example, a case where the food and beverage operation is the lowest rated component of the services, amenities and activities available to members. The natural inclination would be to hone in on this area as one requiring action and improvement. But this is where key drivers come in. What really drives the satisfaction of members? Which areas are they most sensitive to? And therefore, where should your focus lie (not always the lowest-ranked component)?

Once these key drivers are determined they can prompt specific strategic action, or, in cases where more information is needed, spin off surveys. Understanding the key factors that are driving member satisfaction helps to interpret survey results in an aggregate context, one in which outputs on specific questions are considered relative to others in order to help the club prioritize areas of focus and support justifications for doing so.

What have you observed from clubs who do/don’t take a keen interest in finding out more about the needs and wants of their members?

Making operational and strategic decisions based on perception or the opinions of a vocal minority is one of the greatest risks a club can face.

The club that makes it a priority to obtain feedback from its members has a solid understanding of the factors that caused its members to join, an annual measure of current performance relative to expectations, understands the key drivers of satisfaction, and has a clear notion of its members’ hopes and goals for the club.

More than that, by taking an active interest in the opinions of its members, the club takes them on a journey and demonstrates trust, transparency, and the benefits of data driven decision-making along the way.

In cases where the vocal minority come forward with points of dissatisfaction, the robust data at the hands of managers creates a credible sense of authority when engaging in dialogue.

Any final thoughts to add?

In any member survey, communication and transparency are key. Start your process with focus groups – this helps generate buy-in and trust in the process, and also shows you are (literally) willing to listen to the opinions of members.

Once you have embarked on the process, keep members informed about the next stages and the reasons behind conducting a survey. It’s highly likely they will speak with one another about the process and the details of any survey, so regular club communication will ensure there’s no room for misinterpretation or myths arising.

The final, and arguably the most important consideration, is confidentiality. Members should embark on a survey in the knowledge that their individual responses will be securely held by an independent third party. This affords them the opportunity to respond candidly and feel comfortable enough to air out dissenting opinions, frustrations, and constructive criticisms that may bring to light or reinforce issues which otherwise may not be shared.

Crucially, this arms club leaders with the authentic, informative feedback they need to be effective strategists.

This article was authored by GGA Senior Manager and Market Intelligence expert Michael Gregory.

Why Business Planning is the No. 1 Trend Facing Private Clubs

Business Planning is the number one trend in the private club sphere for 2019, with club managers citing it as having the highest impact on club operations in today’s market.
GGA Partner, Rob Hill, looks at why this was…

Private club managers are working to meet demands for a better plan.

This was the clear finding of a recent survey of managers recently conducted across North America, with valuable contributions from several leading European clubs.

While many may see this as nothing new, the survey did reveal a number of interesting reasons behind this trend, with changing markets and changing member expectations driving the need for a more forward-thinking approach among club leaders.

A wave of change

Europe and North America both face a challenging macro-environment in 2019, with Morgan Stanley Research predicting a growth drop of around 0.6% for the United States, and 0.3% in the Eurozone*. With uncertainty fueling a lack of investor and consumer confidence, both are making more careful, considered and longer-term choices.

Alongside this uncertainty in the markets, the needs, wants and demands of club members are also evolving rapidly, creating a shifting landscape in which it is no surprise that business planning has surfaced as the most impactful trend among private club managers.

Trends within trends

Of course, the notion of business planning itself is nothing new. The need to produce and update a plan with board members at regular intervals is an ever-present duty for club leaders.

That said, a closer analysis of manager’s survey responses reveals interesting trends within this process that help explain why it is only growing in importance:

Wanting more – with lower levels of consumer confidence and greater scrutiny of expenses, members are understandably looking for greater value where they do choose to spend. As one manager put it, “Members want much more nowadays – so we need to provide more services, and plan for what they are and what members need.”

Typically, this means expanding amenities and services, as well as creating greater differentiation from other competing leisure pursuits – many of which do not require the same level of time and financial commitment, making them easier to justify.

Experiences – the advent and increasing popularity of investing in experiences over products is well-documented, and is now permeating through to clubs.

Survey responses indicated that clubs are becoming more mindful of this trend, with one respondent stating the need to “develop creative solutions and unique experiences which members will value.”

While clubs are coming to understand the need to craft and deliver exceptional experiences for their members, these experiences need to be carefully informed, appropriately financed and properly planned to ensure you fulfill this ever-growing demand among the membership.

Rising costs – increased member demands for new services and amenities are contributing to rising operations costs across much of the industry. In this landscape, business planning will play a pivotal role in ensuring financial stability, mitigating the impact of increased competition, and securing the longevity of the club – both as a business and as a relevant destination to existing and prospective members.

Where to start

As important as it is to know how to start a plan, it’s just as critical to know who is responsible for it. Managers involved in the survey spoke of the need to ‘free up’ the board to think more in a strategic context, rather than just an operational one. This can empower the board to inform a far-reaching, evidence-backed vision and plan for the club which all stakeholders can unite behind.

Club managers can then operate with the freedom to develop greater agility in making real-time decisions, to source the right information to support them, and to implement process management and ‘total work’ systems that will see the plans through.

Attention to detail

In expanding their amenities and services, many clubs are evolving from small businesses into larger, multifaceted entities which require increasingly specific, detailed, and timely plans of action. A combination of economic interests, resource limitations, and evaluations of financial viability are compelling clubs to think longer-term and to plan more diligently.

In a world that continues to change at tremendous pace, it is easy for business leaders to feel out of control. And this gets to the heart of why, we believe, business planning emerged in this survey as the trend with the highest impact on clubs today.

However, by arming yourself with the best tools at your disposal, tools that will enable you to take swift, measured, evidence-backed action, you will be well-equipped to face the challenges of both the present and of the future.

*Morgan Stanley Research “2019 Global Macro Outlook: Emerging Markets Retake the Lead” (Nov. 25, 2018)

This article was authored by GGA Partner Rob Hill