Mid-Year Predictions for the Second Half of 2021

At the start of the new year and in the spirit of planning, the thought leaders at GGA Partners sat down to predict what we believed to be coming throughout the year and shared our 2021 Predictions on the Shape of the Next Normal. Now, halfway through 2021 with the spring season in the books and summer underway, we reconvened GGA leaders for a mid-year check-in on predictions for the latter half of the year.

1. Ensuring fair and equitable access to amenities remains top of mind, especially on the golf course

A trending topic throughout the industry is golf’s demand surge and how long it will sustain, much has been written on this point and those who are closely watching rounds played metrics anticipate a clearer reading by the end of the summer.

Stephen Johnston, GGA’s founding partner, expects that private clubs will see the surge continue to elevate rounds played by members which will likely increase issues relating to compaction of tee traffic and accessibility.  He predicts the benchmark regarding average number of rounds per member to be higher by approximately 10% following the pandemic and also increased golf course utilization by members’ spouses and family members.  Both factors will create a greater demand for tee times at private clubs.

Johnston believes some clubs may need to consider permitting round play by fivesomes instead of foursomes, potentially catalyzing logistical challenges such as a greater need for single-rider power carts in order to maintain speed of play at the same rate as foursomes with all players using power carts. For club managers and course operators, this entails an increased need for current and detailed evaluation of the benefits of membership and the relationship between playing privileges and the practical ability to book a tee time and get on-course.

2. Effective demand management is key and will shift from agile, flexible approaches to new operating standards as demand stabilizes

During the pandemic and throughout 2020, many golf, club, and leisure businesses recognized the increased need to more accurately and routinely measure the utilization of amenities, adapting operations management to react quickly to change.

Craig Johnston, head of GGA’s transaction advisory practice, anticipates an evolution in this one-day-at-a-time, agile monitoring approach into a new and more formalized standard of operating procedures.  “At the start of 2021, we said we would see clubs provide flexibility and experiment with various operational changes,” he explained.  “With the pandemic feeling like it’s steadily moving toward the rear-view mirror, members will be expecting clubs to begin instituting the ‘new normal’ operations and the data compiled by clubs in the first half of the year will be critical to deciding on the new normal.”

Johnston believes that membership demand will continue to be strong through the second half of the year and that it is likely utilization will reduce marginally as members begin travelling again for work and social obligations.  Even with a marginal reduction in utilization, demand for private club services will remain strong and will continue to put pressure on capacity and access in most clubs.

Senior Partner Henry DeLozier encourages club and facility operators to embrace short-term continuations of high demand while keeping an eye on the future and the non-zero probability of a demand shift in the coming years.  “Clubs must create pathways to sustain demand while navigating utilization volume.  It is unwise to place hard or irreversible limitations on capacity while clubs are at historic maximums for demand and usage,” cautioned DeLozier. “Clubs will do well to establish a clear understanding of demand and utilization to enable innovative programs which serve to fill periods of low demand in the future.”

3. Ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic’s long-term impact on club finances will increase the review and reevaluation of club financial projections to ensure sustained budget flexibility

While data regarding utilization, participation, and engagement throughout the summer months continues to be captured and consolidated, business leaders should not delay their financial planning and instead get to work on reevaluating finances and updating their future forecasts.

“Now is the time to review, evaluate, and reset club debt levels,” emphasized Henry DeLozier. “Clubs need to recast financial projections based upon elevated joining/initiation fees arising from high demand.”

In support of alacrity in financial planning, DeLozier notes that labor shortages spurred by the pandemic will increase payroll-related costs at a material level. He also predicts that comprehensive risk review is needed at most clubs to evaluate possible impacts arising from cyber-crime and/or declining club revenues during 2022.

Beyond internal shake-ups in utilization or operations, club leaders should be anticipating external impacts that could impact their financial plans.  A hypothetical example raised by DeLozier is if the U.S. economy were to become more inflationary.  In such a circumstance he believes clubs would see an increase in the costs of labor and supplies which would necessitate increases in member dues and fees, a deceleration of new-member enrollments as consumer confidence dips, and a slight slow-down in housing demand.

Right now, uncertainty remains with respect to the virus as well as the resulting economic impact from the pandemic. From a financial standpoint, clubs will do well to advance their forward planning while retaining budget elasticity.  “It will be imperative for clubs and boards to build flexibility into their budgets and agility into their operations,” added Craig Johnston.

4. Existing governance practices, policies, and procedures will be revisited, refurbished, and reinvigorated

A litany of new ways of operating and governing the club arose as a result of the pandemic, some of which suggest an efficacy that can be sustained in a post-pandemic environment.  Essential to assimilating these adaptions into new standards of procedure is a review of existing governance practices and the documentation which supports them.

“At a time when boards can measure the full range of financial performance metrics, updating club governing documents is a primary board responsibility,” noted Henry DeLozier.  “Board room succession planning must be formalized to prepare clubs for the inevitable downturn from record high utilization.”

In considering the nearly overnight adoption of technology tools to enable remote meetings and board-level deliberations, partner Michael Gregory noted a substantial increase in the use of technology tools that go beyond virtual Zoom meetings.  “The pandemic has allowed clubs to test online voting,” he explained.  “For many clubs, once things return to normal, their bylaws won’t allow for the continued execution of online voting unless they make changes.”

“We have seen the adoption and implementation of online voting to be a huge success for the clubs who have tried it for the first time,” said Gregory. “Members love it, it’s easy, it’s convenient, it leads to higher participation from the membership, and many clubs are in the process of changing their governing documents to allow for online voting as a result.”  The challenges and opportunities of employing online voting are detailed in our piece on taking club elections digital, which features a downloadable resource that can be shared among club boards.

5. In human resources, expect to see deeper reevaluations of compensation structures and employee value propositions

Weighing in from across the pond, Rob Hill, partner and managing director of GGA’s EMEA office in Dublin, predicts that club leaders will face bigger challenges in human resources throughout the remainder of 2021.

The first of three particular items he called out is a reevaluation of compensation.  “Making decisions about employee pay is among the biggest challenges facing club leaders in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown,” stated Hill. “As they begin compensation planning for the rest of the year and into 2022, these leaders not only have to consider pay levels, but also the suitability of their mission and operating model to thrive in a post-pandemic world.”

Citing his recent experiences in the European market, Hill shared that club leaders are challenged with finding new ways to operate smarter and more efficiently, while also looking for innovative ways to implement sturdy, low-cost solutions that their employees will love.  Which leads to his second point, that there will be a renewed emphasis on what employees love and how clubs, as employers, can provide an enhanced value proposition for their employees.

“As employees get back to work onsite, employers are finding that what their people value from the employment relationship has changed,” Hill explained.  “Where pay has been viewed as largely transactional in the past, clubs may need to provide new types of benefits, especially programs that provide more flexibility, financial security, and empowerment to retain and motivate their people.”

Lastly, there is likely to be considerable movement of talent over the coming year brought on by employees’ new work-life ambitions and financial imperatives, said Hill, “As demand for their skills and experience grows, the very best talent will seek out employers that demonstrate they view employees not as costs but as assets and reflect this in their approach to compensation.”

Recalling our start-of-year prediction that the movement of people and relocation of companies will reshape markets, partner Craig Johnston added, “The relocation of people continues to be a prominent trend and one that is likely to continue in the second half of the year.”  For club employers, it’s not just the changing physical locations which impact the cost and supply of labor, but also the expectations of employees as they seek out competitive new roles and work experiences.

6. The repurposing and reimagining of club facilities, amenities, and member-use areas will continue

The pandemic pushed to the fore the need for clubs to adapt their facilities to match changes in the ways members use and enjoy their clubs.  A combination of practical evolutions for health and safety and circumstantial evolutions drawn from widespread ability for members to work remotely created increased desire for clubs to offer more casual outdoor dining options and spaces to enable members to conduct work while at the club.

Partner Stephen Johnston believes these sentiments will continue to near-term facility improvements at clubs.  “With more flexibility in the workplace and members working from home periodically, there will be a need at the club for members to do work or take calls before their tee time or their lunch date,” he said.  “It has been evident for some time that members generally prefer to enjoy outdoor dining and since, throughout the pandemic, it has become apparent that guests draw greater comfort in outdoor experiences, I see a greater demand for outside patio and food and beverage service.”

As society begins to reopen and communities begin to stabilize, time can only tell precisely how clubs will continue to evolve their operations, whether that be scaling back pandemic-relevant operations or doubling-down on new services and efficiencies.  Evident in our work with clients are significant efforts to reorganize club leaders, reevaluate operations, and retool plans for a successful future in the new normal.  Here are a few highlights of efforts clubs are making for the next normal:

 

  • Reinvigoration of governance processes and engagement of leaders to ensure alignment between boards and club strategic plans.
  • Renewed surveying of members to keep a pulse on how sentiments have changed from pre-pandemic, during pandemic, and currently as communities stabilize.
  • Enhanced adoption and application of electronic voting as clubs reevaluate membership structures, governing documents, and operating policies amidst “displaced” members.
  • Reconfiguring of budgets, capital plans, and long-range financial models.
  • Refinement and advancement of membership marketing strategies, tactics, and materials.
  • Tightening relationships between facility planning, capital improvements, and member communications campaigns.

Tactics for Financial Stewardship in a Crisis (Part 2)

This article continues a series of communications from GGA Partners to help private club leaders address challenges confronting their businesses and their employees as a result of the global health crisis. Today, in the second of two articles discussing financial stewardship, partner and head of transaction advisory, Craig Johnston, outlines information and tactics which should be considered in developing your club’s financial plans in times of crisis.

As businesses across North America begin to re-open, ever-changing social and economic circumstances further complicate the decision-making process, and now more than ever it is imperative that business leaders have access to the critical information which impacts their business.

In the midst of a crisis, we believe prudent financial stewards should embark on a phased approach to financial planning and analysis. The three phases are:

1. Cash Preservation

2. Sustainability

3. Opportunity

The immediate focus should be on cash and cash preservation. The familiar adage Cash is King takes on even greater importance in crisis situations. Next, the focus shifts to reviewing key risks to long-term sustainability and developing plans to reduce and combat those risks. Once a game plan is understood for sustainability, business leaders should explore opportunities to enhance member experience, reduce operating or capital costs, and increase return on investment.

To navigate these three phases, two critical financial platforms are required: a detailed annual budget and a club financial model.

Often these platforms are considered one in the same, but they are not. A detailed annual budget should be designed on a monthly basis and based on agreed upon key performance indicators (KPIs) and specific circumstances for the year. A club financial model should be designed on an annual basis and based on historical and budgeted KPIs as well as other economic inputs. The monthly budget is important to support cash preservation analyses while the financial model supports long-term sustainability scrutiny and enhancement opportunity exploration.

Both platforms should be dynamic, both platforms should encompass all three financial statements, and both platforms are a must-have. By “dynamic”, we mean easily adjustable for various economic and club-specific KPIs and, by “all three”, we mean income statement, cash flow statement and balance sheet. (Yes, a club should set and approve a budget at the outset of every year, but that does not mean the platform it was developed under needs to be static.)

The information required to develop both platforms include:

  • Historical audited financial statements, including notes.
  • Detailed department financial schedules, including breakdown of fixed and variable expenses.
  • Membership information, including counts, fees, attrition rates and sales expectations.
  • Debt agreements and schedules, including covenant calculations, coupon rates and terms.
  • Labour contracts and employment agreements.
  • Supplier and vendor contracts and agreements, including terms and pricing.
  • Capital project listing, including historical expenditures, reserve studies and facilities plans.

The specific tactics under each phase of planning and analysis will vary from club to club, but some predominant examples include:

1. Cash Preservation

a. Analyze current club liquidity: evaluate the club’s current balance sheet, including available cash, receivables and payables based on an up-to-date budget, then leverage the monthly budgets to assess the near-term (three to six months) liquidity based on estimated revenues and expenses.

b. Scenario analysis: complete various scenario analysis within the annual budget platform (designed on a monthly basis) based on potential closure and re-opening scenarios. This requires a realistic evaluation of the impact of each scenario from department managers.

Based on the results of the above, determine if any near-term adjustments (staffing changes, discussions and negotiations with suppliers and lenders) are required for cash preservation.

2. Sustainability

a. Anticipate attrition rates: depending on the timing of annual dues payments, attrition rates during times of crisis can be significant. Running scenario analysis based on various levels of attrition and their impact on the club’s long-term sustainability is essential.

b. Estimate decline in membership sales: some clubs may rely on entrance fees to support operating expenses, or more predominantly capital maintenance expenditures. Evaluating the potential decline in new membership sales over the short and medium-term, and its impact on club sustainability is critical.

Based on the results of the scenario analyses, scrutinize the club’s operating model to address discrepancies between cash inflows and cash outflows. This may require moderate or significant reductions to the club’s operating profile, including hours of operation and levels of high-touch service, for example.

3. Opportunity

The review of enhancement opportunities may come about during the focus on sustainability, as the club looks at unique ways to better align cash outflows with cash inflows. However, for clubs where sustainability is straightforwardly achievable, the focus on opportunity will follow sustainability. Areas of opportunity include:

a. Staffing profile: use times of disruption to consider changes to your management team and right sizing of your staffing profile.

b. Debt re-structuring: meet with the club’s lender(s) to discuss revised terms to the current debt agreements. Interest rates are near all-time lows, and although the numerator on certain coverage ratio calculations has declined, a preferable rate or term may be available.

c. Capital projects: favorable prices may be available on large-scale projects or purchases during times of crises. Consider moving ahead with large-scale projects if the potential savings are meaningful and there is a high degree of confidence in the club’s financial sustainability.

Navigating through crisis in this phased approach – while adhering to the guiding principles of financial stewardship – will help clubs develop financial plans which offer short-term solutions and lasting success.

Guiding Principles for Financial Stewardship (Part 1)

This article continues a series of communications from GGA Partners to help private club leaders address challenges confronting their businesses and their employees as a result of the global health crisis. Today, in the first of two articles discussing financial stewardship, founding partner Stephen Johnston outlines the guiding principles for being a prudent financial steward.

Despite the opinions of pundits and experts parading before our television screens, no one can accurately predict how long this pandemic will last or its economic impact. By the same token, it’s impossible to anticipate every challenge club leaders will face in the days ahead. But we can say with certainty that long-term financial stability is an issue confronting every club leader. Those who evaluate the challenge and develop a strategy with both short-term and long-term plans give their clubs the greatest opportunity for success.

From our perspective, actions in these uncertain times should follow these guiding principles:

1. Fairness. Prior to a final decision, step back and ask yourself if the anticipated action is fair for all parties, starting with members and the employees. This crisis will pass, and people will remember how they were treated.

2. Transparency. Do not take anything for granted, especially when it comes to sharing information with employees and communicating with membership. It is important for members to understand and appreciate the conscientious approach and the lengths taken to ensure the viability of their club. Video conferencing and electronic pulse surveys make timely communications and opinion convenient and efficient.

3. Value. It is important for members to understand the club carefully considers the value members receive for their fees, dues and other financial support of the club. The value for money proposition for each club and each member is different; “we’re doing what other clubs are doing” discounts this uniqueness.

4. Ownership. Ensuring members maintain their club participation and pride of ownership during challenging times is critical. Maintaining a sense of ownership in the club will help members appreciate the difficult decisions being made in the face of unprecedented circumstances.

5. Right Things Right. Make sure each critical action or decision is conscientiously considered and prudently implemented. By considering the long-term economic and social consequences of your decisions, leaders often realize that efficiency and cost savings are not automatically the top priority.

6. Think Long-Term. Short-term planning and tactics are the priority. But before executing, assess how the short-term actions affect the long-term plan and vision for the club. Always measure the impact any action will have on cash preservation, club value, member and employee satisfaction. Adjustments to the short-term plan may be necessary to reduce the impact on your long-range strategic plan.

7. Preparedness. It’s easy to say we should be prepared for the worst, but it’s impossible to anticipate every calamity. What we can do is make sure all the club’s business information and resources are readily available. This generally means putting in that extra hour or two each week to stay organized. As we prepare for reopening and the new normal, develop a reopening plan and adjust this daily based on new information which comes available.

8. Listening. We are a firm believer in the importance of empowering the general manager to make critical business decisions. We’re equally committed to the idea that managers need to listen to the ideas, challenges and concerns of their board members, department heads, members and industry and government leaders. Their input and feedback are essential in making informed decisions.

Financial stewardship matters most in times of crisis. Even the most prudent financial stewards cannot anticipate every obstacle they will confront. But experienced, poised, and attentive leaders will follow proven guiding principles to protect the club’s members, brand and overall financial health. In our next article, we will explore specific tactics for developing a financial plan to ensure short-term success and long-term sustainability.

Why Every Club Needs a Regular Capital Reserve Study

Clubs around the country are developing new amenities to meet the needs and expectations of the next generation of members.

An astute and forward-thinking move. But can they afford it?

GGA Partner and Head of Transaction Advisory, Craig Johnston, spells out the importance of capital planning and the need to assess what your current assets cost to maintain (and will cost) before planning to invest in new ones.

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.”

State of the Industry 2018: GGA Optimistic on Golf’s Future

GGA Partner and Principal Henry DeLozier was asked to weigh in on the future of golf as part of Golf Course Industry Magazine’s annual state of the industry piece, titled this year “State of the Industry 2018: The Great Reinvestment“.

Despite the industry’s cuts, closures, and tumbles, DeLozier and Global Golf Advisors remain optimistic about the future of golf and its career potential, “We are in a bull market. The stock market is frequently setting records that have never been imagined before. The growing economy is causing everyone to feel more positive and more optimistic, it’s causing more membership, more participation. The downside of that is that with the unemployment figure down, it’s harder to find labor and, therefore, you have to pay them more. We’re seeing both sides of that.

According to DeLozier, 2018 presents both opportunities and challenges for golf:

  • Development – “I think 2018 is going to be a great year for golf course architects and builders.
  • Reinvestment – “Competitive desires spur enhancements among the top 25 percent of clubs.
  • Accessibility – “The industry can grow without expanding its customer base because mobile jobs that can be performed anywhere, including on a golf course, shrink the separation between work and recreation.
  • Wage Increases – “I think labor costs are going to [increase decidedly] up 6 to 7 percent in the golf business – and that’s if you can get workers.

Learn the context of these excerpts and more in the full article available at Golf Course Industry Magazine.

This article was written for and published by Golf Course Industry Magazine by GGA Partner Henry Delozier.

Expected Life Cycle of Golf Course Items

How long should parts of the golf course last?

No two golf courses are alike except for one thing: deferring replacement of key items can lead to greater expense in the future, as well as a drop in conditioning and player enjoyment.

The following information represents a realistic timeline for each item’s longevity. Component life spans can vary depending upon location of the golf course, quality of materials, original installation and past maintenance practices. The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) encourages golf course leaders to work with an ASGCA member, superintendents and others to assess their course’s components.

ITEM YEARS
Greens (1) 15 – 30 years
Bunker Sand 5 – 7 years
Irrigation System 10 – 30 years
  • Irrigation Control System
10 – 15 years
  • Pump Station
15 – 30 years
Cart Paths – asphalt (2) 5 – 10 years (or longer)
Cart Paths – concrete 15 – 30 years (or longer)
Practice Range Tees 5 – 10 years
Tees 15 – 20 years
Corrugated Metal Pipes 15 – 50 years
Bunker Drainage Pipes (3) 5 – 10 years
Mulch 1 – 3 years
Grass (4) Varies

Notes: (1) Several factors can weigh into the decision to replace greens: accumulation of layers on the surface of the original construction, the desire to convert to new grasses and response to changes in the game from architectural standpoint (like the interaction between green speed and hole location). (2) Assumes on-going maintenance beginning 1 – 2 years after installation. (3) Typically replaced because the sand is being changed – while the machinery is there to change sand, it’s often a good time to replace the drainage pipes as well. (4) As new grasses enter the marketplace – for example, those that are more drought and disease tolerant – replanting may be appropriate, depending upon the site.

As published and compiled by Boardroom Magazine – all information courtesy of ASGCA

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