A Club Leader’s Perspective [2022]

A Club Leader’s Perspective: Emerging Trends & Challenges 

Latest research produced in collaboration with the Club Management Association of America examines the perspectives of private clubs and what trends are motivating their decisions.

In brief:

  • Industry survey of over 200 club leaders across North America highlights the perspective of club leaders on the current challenges facing the industry.
  • A Club Leader’s Perspective explores the state of the industry from the perspective of those in club leadership roles, and what influences their decisions.
  • Club leaders weighed-in on emerging trends and challenges across five primary areas:
    • Industry outlook within the post-Covid-19 ecosystem
    • Human resources and workforce demands
    • Membership experience and programming
    • Capital planning and long-range improvement strategies, and budgeting and forecasting
    • Inflationary impacts on service

We’ve taken the pulse of club leaders regularly since the start of the pandemic, including in-depth looks at challenges and sentiments in 2021. Over the past two years, many clubs were forced to adapt to evolving public health regulations, supply chain shortages, labor challenges and sky-rocketing membership levels. Despite these challenges, club leaders are largely positive about 2022. 

Access the full report for further insights.

Read now

About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities.  We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. GGA Partners has offices in Toronto, Ontario; Phoenix, Arizona; Bluffton, South Carolina; and Dublin, Ireland. For more information, please visit ggapartners.com.

GGA Partners is proud to be a long-standing CMAA Business Partner.

About CMAA

Founded in 1927, the Club Management Association of America (CMAA) is the largest professional association for managers of membership clubs with 6,800 members throughout the US and internationally. Our members contribute to the success of more than 2,500 country, golf, athletic, city, faculty, military, town, and yacht clubs. The objectives of the Association are to promote relationships between club management professionals and other similar professions; to encourage the education and advancement of members; and to provide the resources needed for efficient and successful club operations. Under the covenants of professionalism, education, leadership, and community, CMAA continues to extend its reach as the leader in the club management practice. CMAA is headquartered in Alexandria, VA, with 42 professional chapters and more than 40 student chapters and colonies. Learn more at cmaa.org.

For further information, contact:

Samar Abdourahman
Manager, Marketing and Communications
GGA Partners
t: 416-333-5008
e: samar.abdourahman@ggapartners.com

A Club Leader’s Perspective: Emerging Trends & Challenges

GGA Partners Releases A Club Leader’s Perspective on Emerging Trends & Challenges Research Report

More than 500 club leaders weigh-in on trends, challenges, and pressing needs in club management emerging in the wake of the global health crisis. Now available for download.

TORONTO, Ontario (June 15, 2021) – GGA Partners, an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities, has released the results of an industry-wide research survey of more than 500 club leaders.  

The 2021 A Club Leader’s Perspective: Emerging Trends & Challenges report is a collaboration between GGA Partners and the Club Management Association of America. Researchers and analysts from both firms partnered in the development and analysis of the findings.

The research, which serves as a contemporary update on pressing needs in club management, takes a look at emerging trends and challenges from the perspective of those in club leadership roles, capturing insight from 515 club leaders, the majority of whom serve as general managers, COOs, and CEOs of private clubs in North America.

A Club Leader's Perspective: Emerging Trends & Challenges

Club leaders weighed-in on emerging trends and challenges across five primary areas: 1) industry outlooks and the ripple effects of COVID-19, 2) human resources and workforce demands, 3) the membership experience, value proposition, and programming, 4) capital planning and long-range improvement strategies, and 5) financial position, budgeting, and forecasting.

“Even before the pandemic, significant change was underway across the private club landscape,” explained Derek Johnston, a partner in the firm. “The crisis has not only accelerated these nascent changes but also introduced new obstacles and challenges for clubs to overcome. The findings of this report will be a useful reference tool for club leaders as they navigate an uncharted path forward and reset for growth beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”

This latest report is a continuation of the GGA Partners Perspective research initiative, a series of surveys the firm deployed in the spring of 2020 which dive into the attitudes, preferences, and industry outlooks of distinct club industry cohorts. The prior installment, A Member’s Perspective: The Shifting Private Club Landscape, featured findings from a global survey of more than 6,300 private club members on their attitudes toward the club industry during the pandemic and how they expect clubs to respond.

To view the research results and key insights found in A Club Leader’s Perspective: Emerging Trends & Challenges, click on the link below.

Download the report here

 

About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities.  We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. GGA Partners has offices in Toronto, Ontario; Phoenix, Arizona; Bluffton, South Carolina; and Dublin, Ireland. For more information, please visit ggapartners.com.

About CMAA

Founded in 1927, the Club Management Association of America (CMAA) is the largest professional association for managers of membership clubs with 6,800 members throughout the US and internationally. Our members contribute to the success of more than 2,500 country, golf, athletic, city, faculty, military, town, and yacht clubs. The objectives of the Association are to promote relationships between club management professionals and other similar professions; to encourage the education and advancement of members; and to provide the resources needed for efficient and successful club operations. Under the covenants of professionalism, education, leadership, and community, CMAA continues to extend its reach as the leader in the club management practice. CMAA is headquartered in Alexandria, VA, with 42 professional chapters and more than 40 student chapters and colonies. Learn more at cmaa.org.

GGA Partners is proud to be a long-standing CMAA Business Partner.

 

Media Contact

Bennett DeLozier
Manager, GGA Partners
602-614-2100
bennett.delozier@ggapartners.com

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.

Life in Flux: The Evolving Priorities of Millennial Golfers

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Nextgengolf logo

PGA of America logo

GGA Partners & Nextgengolf Release Findings from 5th Annual Research Study on Millennial Golf Community

2021 study reveals the habits, attitudes and preferences of over 1,600 millennial golfers.

TORONTO, Ontario (March 17, 2021) – Global consulting firm GGA Partners and Nextgengolf, a subsidiary of the PGA of America, have released the fifth annual Millennial Golf Industry study entitled “Life in Flux: The Evolving Priorities of Millennial Golfers.”

The 2021 Millennial Golf Industry Survey was conducted from November 2020-January 2021 and garnered responses from over 1,600 golfers whose average age was just over 29 years old.

Cover page of the 2021 millennial research report. Title reads "Life in Flux: The Evolving Priorities of Millennial Golfers". Subheader: "Over 1,600 millennial golfers share their habits, attitudes, and preferences about golf. New 2021 findings reveal what's changing and what isn't." Title and subheader overlay image of golf couple taking selfie near flagpin on green with sunset in the background.

Key highlights of the 2021 millennial golfer study include:

Average annual rounds played reached a new peak: 33.9 rounds, a 9% increase year-over-year and average handicap reached a record low, decreasing 5% to 8.8.

Average spend per golf round has increased 28% over the past five years, climbing to $47 from $34 in 2017 at an average rate of $3.25 more per round each year.

For a generation characterized as digital natives, it may come as a surprise that a substantial portion of millennials purchase golf equipment and apparel in-person, roughly two-thirds at a sporting goods store and almost half at a course pro shop.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, golf has become more important to millennial golfers according to 60% of the sample. More than four in five (84%) say they are able to work from home; and over half (51%) say this added flexibility allows them to play more golf.

Sixty-percent (60%) of participating millennials prefer golf venues that actively exhibit social and environmental values. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say these behaviors would influence their likelihood of purchase, and approximately three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed would be willing to pay more, if excellent social and environmental practices increased the costs of golf venues.

Millennials are attracted to private clubs that offer non-golf amenities and social components. Interest is highest in amenities offering two key attributes: 1) non-traditional golf play like nighttime golf use and simulators; and 2) a multi-use club experience with casual dining, socialization and fitness.

“Not every millennial is the same, but it’s often communicated that way,” commented Matt Weinberger, Nextgengolf director of operations, PGA of America. “In our continuous work with the millennial audience and now Generation Z, we see tremendous opportunity for PGA Professionals and golf facilities to deliver value to young people while operating their businesses. The key is understanding how golf businesses mesh with millennial lifestyles.”

“What this research shows is a tremendous opportunity for golf facilities and private clubs,” commented GGA Partners’ Michael Gregory, a partner of the firm. “To succeed in attracting the next generation of members, golf facilities must build their reputations around diversity, inclusiveness, and environmental stewardship, providing an amenity and activity profile designed to create experiences which enrich the emotional connection and sense of belonging that elevates the value proposition most appealing to young golfers.”

Historically focused on golfers in the millennial generation (those born between 1981-1996, roughly ages 25-40 in 2021), the study has now begun to span two generations. Nearly one third of the sample audience now technically belongs to Generation Z (those born after 1997, roughly ages 9-24 in 2021), an emergent golfer cohort which the study will continue to evaluate in the future.

Through this study, GGA Partners and Nextgengolf have identified the evolutions happening among the golfers of the future to assist golf facility operators in finding ways to adapt and develop their offerings to meet the needs of the next wave of members and customers.

The 2021 Millennial Research Study is available to all golf facility operators. Download the report by clicking on the link below.

Download the report here

 

About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities. We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. For more information, please visit ggapartners.com.

About Nextgengolf

Nextgengolf, a subsidiary of the PGA of America, has the mission to provide golfing opportunities for golfers of all ages and make the game of golf more relevant for high school students, college students, and adults. Through the NHSGA, NCCGA and City Tour products, Nextgengolf caters to golfers over 15 years old by proactively keeping golfers engaged through events and bringing new players into the game. For more information, visit nextgengolf.org.

About the PGA of America

The PGA of America is one of the world’s largest sports organizations, composed of nearly 28,000 PGA Professionals who daily work to grow interest and inclusion in the game of golf. For more information about the PGA of America, visit PGA.com and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

 

Media Contacts

Bennett DeLozier
Manager, GGA Partners
602-614-2100
bennett.delozier@ggapartners.com

Michael Abramowitz
PGA of America
561-624-8458
mabramowitz@pgahq.com

GGA Partners Expands Research & Survey Capabilities with the Addition of Experienced Hospitality Research Professor

Dr. Eric Brey, PhD, joins GGA Partners as a Director to bolster consumer research capabilities

TORONTO, Ontario – GGA Partners has expanded its portfolio of services for private clubs, public golf courses, residential communities, resorts, municipalities and hospitality clients with the addition of an experienced research mind and acting hospitality educator.

Dr. Eric Brey, PhD, a researcher and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, School of Hospitality Leadership, has joined GGA Partners as its newest director to expand the firm’s research efforts.

Dr. Brey’s research expertise will strengthen GGA’s capabilities in customer feedback and market research, both of which are core services for GGA. One of the many expanded offerings the addition of Dr. Brey supports is 3-Factor Theory Analysis designed to provide a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the touchpoints that have the greatest potential to impact customer and member satisfaction.

professional headshot of Dr. Eric Brey, PhD
Dr. Eric Brey, PhD

Recently, Medinah Country Club engaged Dr. Brey to conduct 3-Factor Theory Analysis using the raw survey data collected by GGA. “Identifying the touchpoints important to our members provided tremendous insight across our entire operation” stated Medinah Country Club General Manager Robert Sereci. “Clubs will benefit greatly by using this methodology to pinpoint opportunities on which to focus enhancement efforts to achieve the highest level of enjoyment for their members.”

In addition to enhanced customer satisfaction analysis, Dr. Brey’s vast experience in consumer research will provide expanded opportunities for survey interpretation, managed customer feedback, third party performance monitoring and analysis of existing client data to support GGA’s strategic planning and business intelligence services.

“The synergies created by combining GGA’s expertise in research and strategic planning with the knowledge and experience I bring to consumer research are exponential,” commented Dr. Brey. “Together we will be able to assist golf, club, resort and municipal operators with more detailed and comprehensive data analysis that will enhance their ability to make strategic decisions and improve their operational efficiency and customer experience.”

“Research is a cornerstone of our firm and consumer satisfaction is just one component of GGA’s capabilities in this space. Dr. Brey will play a key role in elevating GGA’s industry leading research, and will apply research best practices and new methods to develop even stronger insights for our clients,” commented GGA Partner Michel Gregory. “As a firm we are working to develop an all-encompassing approach to measuring real time, periodic, and long-term consumer feedback that will benefit a wide range of clients in the private club, resort and hospitality industries as well as municipalities who own golf and leisure assets”.

 

About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities. We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. For more information, please visit ggapartners.com.

About Dr. Eric Brey, PhD

Dr. Brey earned his B.S. and M.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Stout School of Hospitality Leadership. In 2006, he earned his PhD from Purdue University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Dr. Brey spent six years at the University of Memphis, Fogelman College of Business and Economics, Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality Management before joining the University of Wisconsin-Stout, School of Hospitality Leadership in 2012. In his current role, he serves as professor and chair of the school, teaching marketing, strategy and customer analytics courses, and conducting research on consumer-centric strategy.

Dr. Brey has published numerous peer and refereed journal papers, written industry white papers and book chapters, received many recognitions and honors and has conducted applied research for the United States Golf Association. Recently, Dr. Brey completed a research study for the USGA identifying more than 1,000 touchpoints golfers can have throughout their experience that impact satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The results of the research will provide insights to help operators gain a firm understanding of what customers need and how to meet and exceed those expectations.

 

Media Contacts:

Michael Gregory, Partner
GGA Partners
416-524-0083
michael.gregory@ggapartners.com

 

2021 Predictions on the Shape of the Next Normal

When we were introduced to COVID-19 in March 2020, no one had any indication that ten months later the number of cases and its toll on society would continue to rise. The introduction of a vaccine is promising, but the road ahead remains filled with uncertainty as to when the next normal will arrive – and what shape that normal will adopt.

Since its inception, GGA Partners has traveled the globe working with private clubs, golf courses, investors, real estate developers, resorts, municipalities, and financial institutions. This has provided unique insight into the state of golf, private club, and leisure businesses from many different perspectives.

We have observed that even before the coronavirus pandemic, significant change was underway across the private club landscape. As we prepare for the “new normal” the thought leaders at GGA sat down to predict what they believe is coming in 2021 and beyond.

1. COVID-19 accelerates change already afoot in governance

According to Senior Partner Henry DeLozier, the change brought on by the pandemic is going to necessitate even more rapid change in governance, which GGA has seen clubs struggle with this past year.

“In corporate America, the concept of stakeholder capitalism was at the forefront in 2020 and that has transcended to the private club space,” commented DeLozier. “We’re hearing members across the private club spectrum questioning why they do not have a larger voice in their club and how board selections, as well as decisions, are being made.”

Private clubs that do not have current and effective governance will suffer from decreased member satisfaction and a constant churn of its membership base.

2. The capability to communicate effectively and efficiently will be key

Linda Dillenbeck, GGA’s director for the firm’s communications practice, stated that there continues to be a need to assist clubs in their efforts to communicate effectively and efficiently.

“It is basic human nature that people do not like change,” said Dillenbeck. “To minimize the disruption of pending changes, it is incumbent upon the management team and board of directors to clearly communicate the what, how, and why of their decisions then allow members to voice their opinions. This provides the level of two-way communication members are demanding.”

In addition to communications about club finances and capital improvements, clubs need to improve the use of the data they have collected to provide tailored communications to members. For example, notices about evolving restrictions on golf events should only be sent to those who play and those about activities for families with children don’t need to be sent to empty nesters.

Beyond member communications, clubs that will be successful in 2021 will be those which can retool and refine their external communications to ensure the message of what truly makes the club unique is presented clearly.

3. Greater work flexibility will impact club utilization in new and challenging ways

Report after report has trumpeted the tremendous increase in rounds played during the pandemic. According to GGA Director John Strawn, that is in large part due to work-from-home adaptations which are providing greater flexibility in how and when employees complete their daily tasks.

“People have more control over their work lives,” said Strawn. “Golf experienced fewer restrictions during the pandemic and that has brought out many new and fringe players leading to full tee sheets at both private and public golf courses.”

Full tee sheets are causing negative feedback from those who play more frequently as there is a belief that those not paying full dues are taking coveted tee times. To solve the problem, Strawn predicts clubs will need to revisit their strategies and ultimately their business models more frequently to ensure they are meeting this new and different demand effectively. Flexibility will be critical until the long-term impact on golf demand is better understood.

While clubs continue struggling to ensure fair and equitable access to the tee or courts while accommodating increased demand, Senior Associate Andrew Milne added that clubs should expect that best practice solutions may shift regarding reservations and tee sheet management to include lottery systems and Chelsea systems to ensure dissatisfaction among members is minimized. Understanding that new reservation management approaches may change the value proposition for members, a clear plan and message acknowledging this, and for measuring and adapting the approach as the future becomes clearer, will be important.

4. Clubs must better understand what women want from their club

According to the National Golf Foundation, while only one in five golfers are women, females represent a disproportionately higher percentage of beginners (31%).

Women ease into the game for a variety of reasons; to spend time with their family, to compete, to be outdoors, and to enjoy the support, community, and socialization. As these women age and consider joining a club, they will choose the clubs that shape programs, staff, activities, and offerings to blend the female competitive group with the group that is more interested in the social community.

“We’ve known for some time just how important the role of women and the family dynamic is regarding the decision on whether to join a private club,” commented GGA Director Murray Blair. “For clubs to succeed in 2021 and beyond, they will need to understand how women are impacting the decision-making process and implement the necessary adjustments to make them feel welcome, whether they play golf or not.”

5. Operational efficiencies gained during the pandemic will carry forward in 2021, and their challenges will too

Among the most remarkable takeaways from 2020 was the ability for clubs to adapt their operations and service offerings swiftly and effectively in the face of facility closures, variable human resource availability, and rapidly changing restrictions for public health and safety.

Contactless payments, varying tee time intervals, and pace dispersion tactics are pandemic-inspired efficiencies which GGA Associate Andrew Johnson predicts will continue.

Adding to the list, GGA Director Ben Hopkinson expects clubs will become more efficient at managing grab-and-go meals, take-out dining, and mobile ordering, following the best practices of companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash.

New ways of operating have also brought about new challenges, some of which will persist into 2021 and require even more new solutions to be generated at clubs and courses.

GGA Senior Associate Andrew Johnson expects that the increased costs associated with COVID-19 mandated protocols such as labor for sanitation and cleaning, as well as elevated maintenance expenses due to increased rounds, will remain through 2021.

Clubs that effectively determine what increased interest and golf participation means for facility accessibility, program creation, membership categories and associated privileges will find increased membership satisfaction and interest from new prospects.

6. The pandemic’s impact on club finances will remain uncertain, expect to see more measurement, flexibility, and experimentation

Despite successful adaptations in club operations and economic relief opportunities afforded by governments and municipalities, the full extent of the pandemic’s economic impact will remain varied across club types depending on business structures and market areas.

GGA Senior Manager Martin Tzankov, remains concerned about the financial position of many clubs and believes the brunt of the economic impact has yet to be seen.

“The reliance of clubs on dues increases and capital assessments has been particularly apparent this year and may have stretched the value proposition too far for some,” stated Tzankov.  “2021 will show the clubs where a clear and present value proposition is being presented to members, who in turn, will continue to pay the cost of belonging.”

GGA Partner Derek Johnston believes there are clubs that will be able to increase pricing and sustain the increases in the long-term and there are clubs that will overshoot the mark. Johnston expressed concern that some clubs may move joining fees too high, too fast; golf businesses may move their green fees too high, too fast; and some may move away from tee sheet management practices too quickly.

“Nobody knows what’s coming.  If clubs have experienced less attrition than in the past, it may be due to members being unwilling to give up their safe sanctuary, but when things begin to stabilize post-vaccine that may not persist,” he explained.  “I believe that a portion of the historical attrition hasn’t been abated, just held back.  There will be increased attrition over the next 12-24 months and there may not be the same demand there to replace those who leave, especially as other social and lifestyle pursuits become more widely available again.”

2021 will be a time for clubs to experiment.  A measured, flexible approach to joining fees and dues will be a prudent approach this year.

7. A club’s success will in part be driven by its sum of parts in 2021

Craig Johnston, a partner and head of GGA’s transaction advisory practice, emphasized that the success of clubs during and following the pandemic will in part be driven by its sum of parts. Johnston explained “A private club may include a fitness center, retail store, several restaurants, a golf course, and a marina. The pandemic has impacted the utilization and thus success of all those ‘parts’ differently, and therefore the overall success of the club will largely be dependent on the club’s product or shall we say parts mix.”

“Every club is going to be different depending on its type of business and the operations which comprise it, the extent and variability of pandemic-related changes means that comparatives are going to need to be refined,” continued Johnston.  “Clubs that understand and appreciate the challenges and successes of the various parts of their business will be in a better position to realign and optimize heading into the ‘new normal’.”

8. The movement of people and relocation of companies will reshape markets

Our news feeds have been full of stories about high-profile people and companies moving out of California into Texas, as well as the movement of bankers to Florida from New York. If looking at this as a trend, you might imagine seeing increased need and greater attrition among clubs in the California and New York markets and, conversely, excess demand for clubs in markets like Texas and Florida.

According to GGA Manager Alison Corner, it will be important for clubs to understand the movement of people – not just the movement away from major urban centers and into the suburbs, but also the movement of companies and the actual physical locations of corporations – because they may have drastic impacts to how certain club and leisure businesses perform over the next 5 – 10 years.

Clubs that are mindful of these relocation trends will help themselves to recognize and either seize new opportunities, or mitigate future risks.

Constantly Thinking About Budgets

With most 2021 budgets prepared and submitted, many golf course superintendents and their managers are reviewing and updating agronomic plans for the coming year. A sound agronomic plan is a living document that must anticipate upcoming conditions and respond to emerging circumstances. In volatile times, certain constants must be considered. Let’s evaluate some of those constants in the context of today’s conditions and challenges and see how they might affect budgets.

Constants

Certain irrevocable factors influence the proper care and upkeep of golf facilities with budgets leading the list. Your budget is the mathematical “North Star” on which you steer your performance. It’s also a measure of your intentions. One superintendent summarized his budget by saying, “You can run but cannot hide from your budget, so you might as well pick it up and run with it.” In other words, dig into the process and learn to deal with the variables.

For 2021, here are several budget guidelines to understand:

  • Most planners expect a choppy year ahead. Set aside funds for the unexpected events that will emerge and keep your powder dry.
  • Plan for three categories of expense. Fixed expenses for such budget overhead requirements as utilities and equipment leases are unlikely to change, although careful budget managers ask for relief on such fixed costs through abatements or forgiveness that may help to stretch budgeted resources. Second, labor costs will ebb and flow as impacts from COVID-19 and closures of club facilities will place irregular demands on labor dollars. Give yourself some room to maneuver. Third, discretionary needs will emerge as fellow managers and golfers seek new solutions to new problems. So be prepared.
  • New ideas and methods introduce new solutions for labor and overhead costs. Be alert and watch for new and innovative possibilities that make your work eventful and add purpose to your accomplishments.
  • Changing weather patterns demand that golf course operators become better informed and more proactive in planning care and upkeep practices. While much of your work is influenced by changing weather conditions, superintendents know to rely on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for accurate weather pattern forecasts that help them more accurately plan and schedule their maintenance practices.
  • Golfers’ expectations continue to escalate. You can count on golfers wanting “more and better,” which means course managers are always searching for process and results improvements. For 2021, golfers’ expectations include enhanced sanitation and clearing of on-course comfort stations, golf carts and practice range equipment. Next year will demand sustainable care and upkeep standards despite irregular resources that may be interrupted by supply chain and budgetary limitations.

Upcoming Conditions

Course managers must anticipate changes being introduced for labor management and workers’ expectations. Such changes as reducing the number of workers exposed to one another is requiring managers to divide crews and adjust shifts. Your team’s protection is vital.

Changing climatic circumstances requires enhanced emergency preparations. Consider your clean-air, fire and immediate-notice evacuation plans for workers and affiliated departments. Your liability insurance carriers are a good starting point for collecting guidance, as are emergency preparedness agencies in your vicinity.

Emerging Circumstances

Develop your short list of resources on which you will draw for new threats and opportunities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are examples of resources on which you can rely. The coming year will reveal new problems, challenges and circumstances with which golf course managers must reckon.

Emergency services professionals, such as your local health care, water supply and cyber-security experts, are valuable resources on which you can call. Beyond your club’s insurer, call on fire and police experts to provide guidance in planning ahead.

This article was authored by Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry magazine

Playing the Long Game

How do you plan for the future when the ground is shifting beneath your feet? When every day seems to bring a new forecast about the health of our fellow citizens, our economy and our environment?

The answer is simple for some. They’ll simply turn away from long-term opportunities and challenges while taking refuge in what seems slightly less murky: tomorrow, next week or next month.

That approach may feel safe, but it’s not what your board or your ownership expect. They hired you to be the long-term caretaker of their clubs and facilities and the guardian of their relationships with loyal members and customers. They expect someone in your position to have a plan, not only for getting through our current mess, but also for positioning the business for success well into the future.

So, what are those kinds of leaders doing to prepare? Our observations suggest five things at the top of their lists.

1. They’re looking ahead … way ahead.

Some economists predict that the U.S. economy will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023. That means visionary facility managers and club leaders of every description should be looking not only around the corner, but also over the horizon to get ready for a post-pandemic world. Those leaders see things differently.

  • They see opportunity rising out of increasing golfer participation, as families and friends view golf courses as a primary platform for socialization and outdoor exercise.
  • They see increasing outdoor dining options, where picnicking, farm baskets and patio-dining alternatives are meeting the need for socially distanced outings.
  • With high unemployment levels, they see opportunities to upgrade their staff’s performance and service levels.

2. They’re taking care of their people.

In several recent national polls, including Gallup and Harris, a strong majority of employees say they feel their employer is looking out for their best interests. (Similarly, a survey of private club members in the U.S. and Canada conducted by our firm found that members feel highly positive about the performance of their clubs throughout the coronavirus crisis.)

It’s easy to show your team members that you care for their well-being and that you respect their dedication during difficult times. You can write a personal note of thanks and invite them into your office for a conversation and remind them of their importance. You can encourage them to bring their family to the course as part of “family day.”

Your best people are your most important asset. You’ll need them prepared and energized to lead your business into the future.

3. They’re aware of shifting market conditions.

External influences are changing our views on leisure activities and disposable income. It’s critical that club leaders understand the unbiased and unvarnished trends influencing golf.

In the GGA Partners’ survey, roughly four in five members reported either an increase in importance or no change in the club’s importance in their lives. However, survey respondents were not optimistic about their club’s financial position. Seventy-one percent expect a decline in the financial health of their club. Fifty percent cited current economic conditions and 42% said a decline in member spending would lead to the decline, which 20% predicted would be “significant.”

A surge in golfer participation that many courses have enjoyed in the past several months should not be construed as a guarantee of future success. When there are few other distractions, golf is proving a popular, socially distanced alternative entertainment. But leaders planning for the long term are taking nothing for granted and shoring up service levels to make sure they continue to deliver unquestioned value.

4. They’re realistic and preemptive.

Hopefully, an approved coronavirus vaccine will be rolled out soon. If an approved vaccine is delayed, however, progressive leaders have contingency plans. For golf superintendents, club managers and other leaders, realistic planning requires careful review of revenue capabilities and overhead arising from on-going operational costs.

Here are some steps to take in preparing for 2021:

  • Review your staffing model and search for efficiencies. Now may be time to update and refine your organization of management, taking into account changing attitudes about work/life balance.
  • Re-think your plan of work model. Perhaps mowing in the afternoons opens up desirable morning tee times and makes your work on less crowded fairways more efficient. Likewise, evaluate work such as tree trimming and bulk clean-up and consider outsourcing or moving such projects to the off-season.
  • Monitor inventory levels. There is no need for a full fuel storage tank during the off-season, for example. Procure what you will use more efficiently.

5. They’re planning on success.

Imagine your facility on its best day ever. You and your team make those days happen when you dream big and work toward a future that delivers the best of your talents and imagination. Don’t be shy. You can be realistic while also making sure your plans include a few “shoot the moon” and BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals) aspirations.

Dramatic and unpredictable times like those we’re living in create multiple challenges that can seem daunting. But they also bring out the best in those who plan for success.

This article was authored by Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry magazine.  Henry returned GCI’s Beyond the Page podcast to discuss long-range planning in a conversation with Golf Course Industry managing editor Matt LaWell. Listen to the playback below and visit the GCI website to subscribe to the Beyond the Page podcast.

 

(16-minute listen, 02:30-18:50)

Speaking the New Language of Brands

GGA Partners Releases New Whitepaper on Private Club Branding as Part of Thought Leadership Series

‘Speaking the New Language of Brands’ Now Available for Download

TORONTO, Ontario – International consulting firm GGA Partners has released Speaking the New Language of Brands, the second in its new series of thought leadership whitepapers.  This authoritative guide redefines a traditional brand value equation and illustrates how adding emotion and experience to a private club’s brand story will increase its value with members.

Speaking the New Language of Brands highlights ways iconic “mega-brands” mold, define, and advance their organizational identity toward the goal of influencing consumer purchasing decisions.  The paper evaluates a traditional outlook on the brand value equation and asserts a redefinition which paves the way to enhanced value perceptions among private club members.

“Traditionally, the key to building value in the eyes of the consumer has been demonstrated in a simple equation, where perceived value is equal to performance divided by price,” explained Henry DeLozier, one of several authors of the piece. “We believe there is a far more effective – and cost efficient – way to increase the value members place in your club and in your brand. It’s by introducing emotion and experience into the equation.”

In addition, the whitepaper argues that a successful branding program is based on the idea of “singularity” and should be designed with differentiation as the primary goal.  “Harkening to the days of the Old West, a branding program should differentiate your cow from all of the other cattle on the range,” said DeLozier.  In other words, creating in the mind of a member or prospective member the belief that there is no other club on the market quite like your club.

Building a brand is easier said than done.  For club managers not familiar with the brand development process, the whitepaper explains six essential steps for clubs to follow when constructing their brand and draws on examples from inside and outside the private club business.

In addition to branding, GGA Partners recently published a new strategic planning whitepaper and has confirmed that others in the series focused on governance and innovation will be published through the third quarter of 2020.

Click here to download the whitepaper

 

About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities.  We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. For more information, please visit ggapartners.com.

Media Contact:

Bennett DeLozier
GGA Partners
602-614-2100
bennett.delozier@ggapartners.com

The New Urgency of Strategic Planning

GGA Partners Continues Thought Leadership Series with Four New Whitepapers

‘The New Urgency of Strategic Planning’ Now Available for Download

TORONTO (June 10, 2020) – GGA Partners – international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities – will continue its thought leadership series with the publication of four new whitepapers to help leaders of golf, club, and leisure businesses make better-informed decisions regarding key planning and marketing challenges.  The whitepapers focus on strategic planning, branding, governance, and innovation.

Let’s Face It, Times Are Changing

That may be the understatement of the year.

Between rapidly advancing technology, economic uncertainty, transforming demographic and lifestyle stressors, and a digitally-connected global community, the environment for club and leisure-related businesses is more competitive than ever.

The business landscape is shifting and management stances are evolving, yet the principles of competition endure: one’s gain is another’s loss and the strongest will come out on top.

Knowledge is a tremendous source of strength and GGA Partners is developing authoritative reports on the industry’s most pressing issues and constructing advanced problem-solving guides for the road ahead.

The New Urgency of Strategic Planning

The strategic planning whitepaper, which can now be downloaded from the GGA Partners website, focuses on a misconception regarding the strategic planning process, according to Henry DeLozier, who along with GGA partners Steve Johnston, Rob Hill, Derek Johnston, and Michael Gregory authored the paper.

“Because of its traditional long-range horizons, many club leaders don’t prioritize strategic planning,” DeLozier said. “With conditions inside and outside the club environment changing as quickly as they are, there’s a new urgency to strategic planning.”

In addition, the whitepaper argues for a shorter planning cycle, ranging anywhere from 12 to 24 months, and a closer connection between strategy and execution.

“Businesses that are directly affected by shifts in the economy and consumer preferences should consider shorter planning cycles,” Johnston said.  “Think about it: Would a five-year strategic plan created in 2015 successfully guide your business today?”

Today’s most successful clubs look at their strategic plan as a blueprint for action, Hill added. “They don’t put their plans on a shelf to gather dust. They’re implementing their plans, adjusting as needed and executing their vision for the club.”

For club managers not familiar with the strategic planning process, the whitepaper explains five key steps in developing a plan and draws on examples from inside and outside the private club business.

In addition to strategic planning, other whitepapers in the series focused on branding, governance, and innovation will be published through the third quarter of 2020.  Discover more about the cross-section of high-impact topics GGA Partners is studying at ggapartners.com.

Click here to download the whitepaper

 

About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities.  We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. For more information, visit ggapartners.com.

Media Contact:

Bennett DeLozier
GGA Partners
602-614-2100
bennett.delozier@ggapartners.com

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