Practice Areas and the Pandemic

If you’re thinking about adding or enhancing a practice area at your course, here are some things to keep in mind. This article was authored by Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry magazine.

Searching for a silver lining to a pandemic is mostly a fool’s errand. But many golf courses fortunate enough to stay open during the last five months have found something for which to be thankful: Thousands of golfers and would-be golfers are discovering (and rediscovering) a love for the game.

In many places, their affection is being stoked by short-game practice areas that are introducing new players to golf and giving more experienced players a place to hone their games, all the while boosting incremental revenues.

Bradley Klein, a veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist and Golf Course Industry columnist, observes that the role of short-game practice areas is evolving. “Time constraints were the initial impetus, but that’s changed of late.” He says the trend is toward “more fun, family-friendly” areas that also provide practice opportunities for serious golfers. “They also constitute efficient use of land.”

What’s more, in this era of social distancing, short game areas are a safe space for youngsters to learn the game while socializing and exercising, according to Jan Bel Jan, president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. She believes the trend will continue to gain momentum. “Short game improvement areas provide benefits to seasoned golfers, promote a welcoming introduction to golf for adult beginners and help courses remain competitive with other area facilities,” she says.

Pinehurst Resort injected new credibility for areas dedicated to the short game and demonstrated its revenue potential when it opened The Cradle — nine holes, all par threes, measuring 789 yards and covering 10 acres — in September 2017. In the last three years, The Cradle has hosted more than 100,000 rounds while becoming one of Pinehurst’s most popular courses.

If you’re thinking about adding or enhancing a practice area at your course, here are some things to keep in mind.

Know your customer.

New practice, training and game-improvement facilities require planning, which starts with understanding the type of player you want to attract. What skill levels will you prioritize? What will be the hours of operation? How will you price access? Member surveys and information exchange sessions with golfers will help you better understand your target audience’s needs and expectations.

Don’t get sloppy.

“Serious design, with interesting greens contours and variety of tee shots” are keys to effective planning, Klein says. “It has to be run like a real golf course and not like a sloppy afterthought.”

Make it fun.

Jim Wyffels, director of operations at Spirit Hollow Golf Club in Burlington, Iowa, is an innovative thinker when it comes to making golf fun. Spirit Hollow’s Shankopotamus Golf Academy, which features TopTracer technologies, was designed with two goals in mind, Wyffels says. “The first was to create an additional amenity for our stay-and-play guests in the evening and during inclement weather. The second was to create a new revenue stream in the evening and during winter months that would target our local market. Our plan was to create a fun, game-like family atmosphere where all age groups and skill levels, including non-golfers, could be entertained.”

Keep your superintendent in the loop.

How will the golf course superintendent maintain the short-game area? Engage the superintendent to ensure design characteristics that can be efficiently and cost-effectively maintained. Concerns such as adequate turning radii, slopes that can be consistently cut and safely navigated by staff, and shapes that match existing terrain on the adjacent golf course are planning priorities. Bel Jan advises planners to be mindful of optimizing drainage, building putting surfaces to established standards and minimizing shade impacts to enable turf recovery.

COVID-19 really has no upside; it has wreaked havoc in unprecedented ways. But if a crisis of its proportions has encouraged more people to take to the course, and prompted golf managers and leaders to think more innovatively about amenities like short courses and practice areas, then it has left something of value in its wake.

Defined by Passion

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

Golf is a service business that attracts people who have a passion for the game and its values. Identical twins Daryl and Derek Crawford were born and bred for the job.

© times publications

“Our father was a skycap at TWA in Phoenix and taught us the importance of service to others,” Daryl says. “He passed that along to us.”

He also told his sons they would be defined by their actions, not the color of their skin. A father’s guidance has proved invaluable over the course of his sons’ lifetimes and three decades in the golf business. Their story is one more example of the disparate ways golf can serve as the foundation for lives that are well lived.

The Arizona Golf Association’s 2020 Updegraff Award, given to Derek, an executive with Phoenix-based Gibson Golf Management; and Daryl, the general manager at Papago Golf Course in Phoenix, is only the most recent example. The award, named for Dr. Ed Updegraff of Tucson, a longtime supporter of amateur golf in Arizona, is earned by those whose actions exemplify the spirit of the game.

Golf was an early influence in the twins’ lives. Growing up, they were like most little guys, playing whatever sport was in season. They were introduced to golf at a municipal course in Phoenix and soon became fixtures. “We liked being at the golf course and were always looking for reasons to be there,” Derek remembers.

They began to compete as teenagers, and that’s when they met Bill Dickey, a former winner of the Updegraff Award, and other members of the Desert Mashies, a Phoenix-based group of minority golfers who help young golfers connect with the game. “Bill and Alice Dickey embraced us as family and always helped us when we needed it,” Daryl says.

They played on the first golf team at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Phoenix and walked on at Arizona State. Good players and enthusiastic competitors, they were attracted to the game’s attributes and values. Accountability, striving toward a goal and staring down adversity or disappointment were part of their DNA.

They worked at courses in the Phoenix area, first in bag rooms, where they refined their service skills, and later in management positions with increasing responsibility. Soon they were being recognized as role models, especially for other young people of color.

In the 1990s, they both left the club life to work as PING tour reps on the men’s and women’s European tours. They became trusted friends and suppliers to the some of the world’s best golfers.

For Daryl and Derek, it all seemed a natural progression.

“We did as our parents taught us, to listen to and learn from good advice,” Derek says. “And we never lost the joy of playing the game.”

“They were brought up in the game and continue to grow as business leaders and all-around golf ambassadors,” said Phil Green, COO and Principal of OB Sports Golf Management, which manages the Papago course where Daryl is the general manager. “Their love for golf, years of experience and strong work ethic have served them well over the years, and they haven’t forgotten to give back along the way. Their story is a great example of the way golf can become the foundation of success.”

As African-Americans, Daryl and Derek stand out in most golfing circles, where black and brown faces are significantly underrepresented. But it’s their actions, not their race – as their father predicted – that have defined them.

“We never felt anyone was trying to stop us or hold us back,” Derek says, as if anyone could.

“We have been blessed,” Daryl adds.

As have we all through their actions and their friendship.

 

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.”

Planning For a Crisis

This article with authored by Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry magazine.

On March 4, 2015, a single-engine, World War II-era training plane crashed onto the Penmar Golf Course in Venice, California, shortly after takeoff from a nearby airport. The pilot, who sustained only minor injuries, was none other than Indiana Jones, aka Harrison Ford.

Coverage of the plane’s crash and its famous pilot was extensive in local Southern California markets and across entertainment and mainstream media. A New York Times story the next day quoted spokespeople for the Los Angeles Police Department, the LA Fire Department and the Federal Aviation Administration – but not from the Penmar Golf Course. Public relations professionals would call that an opportunity squandered.

What if Indiana Jones landed on your golf course … or your data system was breached and hundreds of members’ credit card numbers were exposed or, heaven forbid, an employee died after being infected with COVID-19? Are you ready to deal with major media opportunities and crises professionally and in a way that, depending on the event, either enhances or protects the club’s and the course’s reputation and brand?

We like to say that you can’t predict a crisis, but you can – and definitely should – plan for one. The same goes for an opportunity to shine your brand. Here are four important steps to do both:

1. Designate a spokesperson.

Everyone on staff – especially at the management level – should know who has the authority to speak to media regarding these types of events. Usually there is only one person with this authority. Consolidating official comments and responses through one spokesperson – ideally someone with media training – keeps messaging consistent, reduces the likelihood of inaccurate information being disseminated and clarifies sources for media. Everyone at the course and around the club should know to direct all media inquiries to the appointed spokesperson.

2. Establish communications protocols.

The media react and report on their schedule, not yours. That means that you should have an established protocol that identifies and prioritizes what must be done, when it should be done and by whom. Having anticipated the media’s needs – including their first and most logical questions and the steps you’re taking to respond – puts you in control of the situation and keeps you from playing defense as the story unfolds. Other protocols include:

– Knowing which emergency responders should be notified. (Keep their contact information handy and updated.)

– Knowing who will notify the course owner, club president and board members.

– Knowing who will notify staff and what they will be told. (All employees must be notified of dangerous on-the-job conditions.)

3. Prepare for the unexpected.

Plan your work and work your plan. Knowing that unforeseen events always seem obvious in retrospect, develop an after-action perspective to anticipate circumstances that could arise:

– Request that your insurance provider conduct a risk assessment of the course, clubhouse and all club amenities. Conduct what-if evaluations with experienced professionals whose advice can be incorporated into your plans.

– Request a site review and evaluation from police and firefighters to anticipate problems that can be prevented or lessened.

– Assign key managers at your facility regular check-up actions to mitigate risks identified by the experts.

4. Inform and educate staff. 

Knowing what to do is critical. That’s why the military calls it training. Assume direct responsibility for training your team; do not delegate this important duty. When you thoroughly educate team members, they’ll understand that this is a mission-critical topic.

– Conduct department training meetings. Put the collective knowledge and intelligence of your team to work by asking line-level staff to identify any threats or risks.

– Rehearse the unexpected. Stage situational training during off-season or slow periods to help your team focus on preparedness.

What are the odds of Harrison Ford dropping unannounced onto your golf course? Or of a cyberattack or COVID-19 victim at your club? Not good, right? But is that a bet you want to take?

Menu