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.

Four Factors That Impact Innovation

At GGA Partners, we have watched the pandemic create innovative opportunities and innovation in clubs unlike what we have seen in many years.

In our continuing Whitepaper Series, Senior Partner Henry DeLozier reminds managers and club leaders how critically important innovation is, especially during these pandemic times.

 

 

Read our Innovation Whitepaper

What Are You Doing to Develop Future Leaders?

One of the most important responsibilities for managers is developing the next generation of leaders and preparing them for the professional challenges they will face. The most obvious way to develop leadership qualities is simply to pay your knowledge forward by identifying the most important lessons you’ve learned — often the hard way — and passing them on to your team.

That responsibility starts with acknowledging that agronomic knowledge is simply table stakes. Knowing how to grow turf and keep it healthy is expected of anyone in the superintendent role, and most up-and-coming turf managers come to the job well prepared. GCSAA educational programs and the generous teaching of consulting specialists and suppliers go a long way in helping to lay this foundation. Certainly, the college of hard knocks provides its lessons as well.

But what lessons will you teach your assistants and crew members? And how can you help prepare them for their next opportunity to move into more responsible positions? In addition to making yourself available as a mentor, you can also broaden your own knowledge by paying attention to what your most respected peers consider their priorities. Here are suggestions from two of the best in the business.

Bill Cygan is the exceptional young superintendent at Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield, Connecticut. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Bill spent six years as an assistant at Innis Arden Golf Club in Greenwich and another six years caring for the West Course at Winged Foot.

Build strong relationships and communicate often.

“This is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight, but the stronger your relationships are at the club, the smoother the ride will be, especially during times of adversity,” Bill says. “Relationship building should include department managers — especially the golf pro, controller and general manager — as well as certain key members of the club, including the green chairman and treasurer, who can be important allies.”

Trust your teammates.

In addition to the administrative leaders with whom a successful superintendent works, Bill adds, “Be sure to build a strong team responsible for the daily golf course maintenance operations.” The strength of the team is your strength.

Carlos Arraya, the assistant general manager at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, began his career as a golf course superintendent and over two decades has grown into a key leadership position at one of America’s finest clubs, having hosted the 100th PGA Championship in 2019. Carlos teaches several key points of focus:

Lead the way.

“Understand your leadership style and voice,” he says, adding that managers who favorably influence the next generation of leaders practice mindfulness, leaving their ego at the shop door, putting the interests and needs of their crew ahead of their own and recognizing a job well done. Further, he recommends continue evolving as a leader to best handle the needs of a changing workforce.

Be present.

Some managers are overly focused on the next job, but Carlos counsels: “Focus on being great in your current role.” One can never know too much; by the same token, one can never know everything, so don’t pretend that you do.

Hone your own character.

Superintendents and managers of all descriptions work in the proverbial glass house. The key to being effective at each level is understanding that one is setting an example for others up and down the organizational chart. “Know the difference between an excuse and a reason,” he says. “And don’t fall into the trap of professional jealousy.”

Rely on science.

“(Superintendents) are trained in the scientific method. But sometimes we overreact and are too quick to make a decision,” he says. Club and course managers can pressure superintendents, especially when times are tough, to have immediate answers. “Be deliberate, rely on the science.”

Developing young people into experienced and highly effective crew members, ones who will one day lead their own operations, is one of the most important jobs of any superintendent. And only when you lose some of your best people, when they move on to the top job at another club or course, you will know that you’ve been successful.

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

What’s Next Rests in Your Hands

Every superintendent’s hands tell a story. Tough as worn boot leather, marked with the scars of the trade, a superintendent’s hands are testament to long days and honest work that never seems to end. Their hands groom and maintain the course and grounds that are an owner’s most valuable asset while holding the employment and income stability for their crews.

By all accounts, a superintendent’s hands shape the future. That’s as true with the things that are visible — tee boxes, fairways and greens — as those that are not, namely the meticulous plans that support every aspect of an agronomic program. How do the best superintendents plan for the future? They start with three basics:

1. An overall plan for their work.

The overall plan for the care and upkeep of your course establishes the standards of excellence by which you should be measured. The agronomic plan describes your cultural practices for the basics and should include detailed descriptions of fertility, irrigation, labor, arboreal and the sub-plans that support each of those major pillars.

Plan so that you can make your agronomic plan an educational and informational guide that uses photographs and narrated video to keep your owner, board and greens committee well-informed. In addition to setting standards, your agronomic plan is a great opportunity for you to teach key stakeholders what they should expect of you and your team.

2. A comprehensive communications plan.

Once your agronomic plan — together with its supporting details and sub-plans — is established and approved, it’s time to implement your communications plan. Target all stakeholders — your team, the rest of the management staff and your golfers — to help everyone understand your plan of action. This is not a time to seek permission. This is the time to demonstrate your knowledge, experience and expertise.

Set a schedule for your messaging and meet it. Use multiple media to deliver the message — video, brief written descriptions and small-group field days, when you take members onto the course to demonstrate how your programs are being executed.

Some superintendents become victim to overpromising details and conditions that cannot be delivered. Be alert and carefully describe what you will accomplish. By the same token, do not understate the value of your efforts. This is no game for sandbaggers. Demonstrate your professionalism and capabilities with clear-cut descriptions of who you are, what your team goals are and how the goals will be successfully achieved. Show what features you will emphasize on the course and explain the benefits of each element of your strategy.

3. A self-improvement plan.

GCSAA provides countless opportunities for superintendents to stay current on science and technology and to learn about new trends. The most respected and rewarded superintendents also seek out opportunities — and a regimen — for self-improvement. Here are a handful of keys for improving your own capabilities:

  • Read more. Leaders in every field are readers who continually gather more information that bolsters insight and wisdom.
  • Get fit. The pressures that come with the job and the common inclination to treat oneself well when one feels overlooked or unappreciated combine to add weight, cholesterol and risk to your well-being. Get in shape and stay there.
  • Identify and address blind spots. What do you overlook or consider to be inconsequential? Which people or circumstances trigger frustrations during your day? The better you identify threats to your overall view of your world, the better you will navigate unexpected events.
  • Live with BHAGS. Set big, hairy, audacious goals for yourself and your crew. The bigger your dreams, the more fun it is when you make them real.
  • Avoid negative people. Their attitudes can be contagious and poison morale. Build your network around positive people who inspire you and bring out innovative thinking and your best work.

Superintendents hold in their hands the franchise value of their course. Describe your plan to make it even better. Communicate your plans clearly and honestly. And never stop making yourself an even more valuable professional.

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

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)

Not the Time to Wait

Henry DeLozier highlights three important points for club leaders to ramp up club operations and refine their game plan.

When asked what steps they are taking to prepare their business for the post-COVID-19 environment, many small- and medium-sized business owners and managers say they’re taking a “wait-and-see” approach. While that attitude is understandable, with conditions and health and safety guidelines changing by the day, it’s also not advisable.

The more effective strategy is the one that many other businesses are taking to navigate the crisis in creative and productive ways: Anticipating and preparing for a post-COVID-19 business, whenever that may come and whatever it might resemble.

In a wide range of businesses, preemptive leaders are driving revenue through new marketing tactics and sales channels, putting new incentives in place to spur immediate purchasing and capture pent-up demand, moving more of their in-person interactions online, pivoting their business to address new needs and developing new products to position their business when customer demand returns to normal.

Others are enhancing their digital presence by sprucing up their website with new content or fixing online issues for a better customer experience. And many businesses are strategizing by mapping out potential scenarios for the future.

Three important points to consider when ramping up club operations:

1. Update the club’s financial plan.

The business interruption and financial impacts will be profound and may even threaten the club’s existence. The board must reset the club’s financial plan by evaluating the current in-flow of dues revenue and the realistic projection of pending banquet and catering activity. Refer to the club’s historic reference points for revenue as the key component in ramping up successfully. Balance revenue projections with the probable attrition rate caused by members who will leave the club for health and financial reasons.

Look realistically at the club’s expenses and prepare yourself – they will be discouraging. Plan to restart programs and services in a phased manner that focuses on the most popular and engaging programs in the eyes of your members.

It’s important to remember that members may have different priorities in a post-recession world. Knowing what those are through surveys and focus groups is far more advisable than assuming the old normal is also the new normal. Keep in mind that the club may not be able to restart at a level and pace that meets members’ expectations without what may be significant investments.

In a financial sense, the club is starting over financially. This can be good for clubs overloaded with expensive debt since it gives them incentive to renegotiate their debt structure. Interest rates are at historic lows and will remain so for some time. This makes it a good time to restructure the club’s financial plan to remove historic flaws, such as membership-optional communities and outdated governance practices.

2. Strengthen your team.

Every club in your area is being affected differently by the pandemic. Some will retain staff with little change. Others will be forced to reduce operations, programs and staff. Some of your own employees will decide not to return or may be unavailable. Be prepared and recruit aggressively to fill and strengthen key positions on your team. It’s also a good time to review and update personnel records, roles and benefits.

3. Introduce new social programs.

As leaders hit the reset button, remember that private clubs enjoy an emotional relationship with their members far more than a transactional one. When evaluating and creating programs, consider the following:

Members will want to see one another and be seen. There will be a great opportunity for friends to be reunited and reminded that their club is a safe haven for their families and friends.

Look at events that are either successive – where one event sets the stage for the next – or part of a series of similar events. Give members the sense of ongoing relationships rather than one-off types of events.

Host member information exchanges. As members anticipate their clubs reopening, they will have lots of questions, which can be boiled down to “What’s changed – and what hasn’t?” Assemble a team of staff members who constitute the Answers Team.

Get ahead of questions by anticipating as many as you can and communicating the answers widely through email, newsletters and social media.

Creating a Reliable Game Plan

The most effective transitional leaders will be those who can manage information aggressively. Keep your stakeholder groups of members, employees, suppliers, and extended business partners – like bankers and insurance carriers – well-informed.

Your members and stakeholders want information, to be sure. Even more importantly, they want confidence that their club is in steady hands. They want to see evidence – action more so than talk – that the club is taking measured steps and addressing the key strategic issues without distraction with petty short-term matters. This capability requires a reliable game plan.

In May, GGA Partners conducted a series of weekly webinars to help club leaders construct their game plan and illustrate the thought processes that go into reopening and operating again in the wake of COVID-19. The sessions offered a deeper look into these three important points and tactics to prepare for a post-pandemic business environment.

The archive of each webinar and accompanying slide deck (if applicable) are available on CMAA University, complimentary to all CMAA members. Once you are signed in to CMAA University, you can find the recording and accompanying resources under CMAA Member Education, COVID-19 Resources. The content is then organized by topic area, see below for where each of the four webinars are housed:

Crisis Management and Communications

Changing Communications for Changing Times – Linda Dillenbeck & Bennett DeLozier – May 27, 2020

Member Surveys in Uncertain Times – Michael Gregory & Ben Hopkinson – May 20, 2020

Reopening Your Club

Transitional Leadership: Restarting Your Club – Henry DeLozier – May 6, 2020

Business Continuity

Future Trends in the Workforce – Patrick DeLozier – May 15, 2020

If you don’t know your login information, please contact CMAA through this online form.

 

This article also featured in Golf Course Industry magazine

Running Toward Change

This article continues a series of communications from GGA Partners to help private club leaders address challenges confronting their businesses and their employees because of the global health crisis. Today, Henry DeLozier suggests that change on a massive scale is no longer something that should surprise us.

Technology’s tools give clubs a way to prepare for the new normal.

We’re hearing a lot these days about the “new normal” and how the coronavirus has forever changed the ways we work, shop, travel and interact.

But wasn’t it not long ago that we were talking about another new normal? Remember the new normal that followed the financial crisis of 2007-2008, which led to a global recession? That pivot from the previously abnormal to a new normal ushered in more stringent guidelines for financial institutions and in a much larger sense ushered out the sense of trust we had in many other institutions and the people who ran them.

And although the term was not yet in vogue, didn’t the seismic shift from analog to digital – the tipping point came in 2002, when the world began storing more information in digital than in analog format – qualify as a new normal?

All of which led some creative soul to design a bumper sticker that said it all: Change Happens. (You may remember it with a synonym for change.) The most adaptable among us learn to deal with change; the most successful turn it into a competitive advantage. How do they do it?

Don’t be surprised – be prepared.

When he first heard Bob Dylan’s 1965 anthem “Like a Rolling Stone,” Bruce Springsteen said, “[It] sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.” With that song, Dylan changed how artists thought about making music. Major change often seems to arrive suddenly – with the speed of a stone rolling down a steep hill – and without warning. Its capriciousness makes us anxious. But if we know it’s coming, we shouldn’t be surprised. We should be prepared.

An embrace of the tools that technology now affords us is an important key to our preparation.

Derek Johnston, a partner in our firm, says although club leaders could not have anticipated the pandemic, they could have been better prepared.

“Many clubs were ill-prepared to quickly analyze the potential impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, to run initial scenarios, to easily gather more information, to test their hypotheses with their membership and, ultimately, set a course of action,” he says.

That is not to say that clubs have responded poorly. On the contrary, club leaders have performed in truly admirable fashion. Many clubs just had to work much harder than those that had already implemented data analytics processes and plug-and-play dashboarding tools, like MetricsFirst or continuous member feedback tools like MemberInsight.

“Some club leaders still question the need to bother with data analytics tools and programs. This misunderstanding is simply misguided,” Johnston says, adding that the term “analytics” seems to intimidate some and conjure visions of data overload and complexity. Another fallacy, Johnston says. “Data analytics, when executed properly, is intended to actually simplify information and present insights in very crisp, clean, and easy to understand ways.”

Ginni Rometty, executive chair of IBM, told Fortune magazine editor Alan Murray, “There is no doubt this [coronavirus] will speed up everyone’s transition to be a digital business.” She identified four areas of impending change: 1) the movement to the cloud; 2) the move toward automation; 3) the overhaul of supply chains, and 4) the movement toward new ways of doing work. Each force will happen in accelerated fashion, she predicts.

Rometty is not alone in her assessment. Almost two out of three respondents to a recent Fortune survey of Fortune 500 CEOs expect technological transformation to accelerate. Doug Merritt, CEO at Splunk, a big-data platform, pointed out two important observations: 1) a rapid digital transformation and 2) the elevated importance of gathering and interrogating data.

Top-performing clubs will similarly leverage the pandemic to implement advanced methods for executing work and providing services. Retooling such routine practices as monthly billings, guest policy tracking, and point-of-sale transactions will happen quickly. Likewise, separating work from jobs will trend even more in the wake of the pandemic.

“Clubs that are actively maintaining both real-time operating dashboards and strategic dashboards, combined with a proper financial model, are taking preemptive steps toward dealing with change,” Johnston says. “When it happens – and we know it will – they will experience far less conflict amongst their management team and their board. Ultimately, their preparation will enable better decisions, faster.”

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