Industry Standards: Wrong Way to Managing a Private Golf Club

by Mr Business Golf on July 11, 2011

At a dinner gathering last evening a few of women golfing members of a private country club reported on the latest policy changes made to club’s summertime tee times.  The reason given for the strange policy change for tee-times on weekends was based on ‘Industry Standards’.  The question for the rest of the evening became…when does industry standards override logic?

The policy this private country club felt was needing to be changed dealt with the seasonal ‘Double Tee’ starts in the mornings. Teeing off on both sides of the golf courses during the summer months was to accommodate more members to play in the early morning before the heat of North Texas days becomes unbearable.  This has been more than a tradition for this club to offer members split tee starts in the morning.  This process of split tee starts included a crisscross after 9 holes to crisscross and play the other 9 holes of the golf courses.  This has worked for years.

Nature of the Problem

However, the club was experiencing a problem for which they felt a drastic change in policy was needed.  It seems many members were falling out after nine holes.  The fallout at the turn was causing gaps on the course after nine holes.  These gaps, the club manager assumedly felt, were a waste of club resources.  The unpredictable and random open slots could have been filled with ‘Golf Cart Renting’ members.  Obvious, this seemed to be a ‘missed revenue’ opportunity which resulted in the only solution the club’s management team could make to capitalize on greater revenue was in changing the policy on how the split tee-times would be managed.

So out of the great wisdom of the club’s management team they mandated, by change of policy, that the tee-times booked on the back nine portion of the double tee-times starts would be for 9 holes only.  This meant the tee-time requests for the few members (approximately 75 to 80 members from 7:30am to 9:30AM on each golf course) who requested weekend morning starts on the front nine of the golf courses got to play a full round of 18 holes, while the same number of members who selected to tee off on the back to beat the heat only got to play 9 holes. 

Yes, the ‘WTF’ statement was used several times during the dinner gathering. 

Lack of Communication Causes Problems

Amongst a number of  major concern these members of the private club had was in the effort the club made to communicate the policy change to the membership. The gaps in communication from the club management to the membership was again a contributor to the problem the membership was having with accepting the policy.  The only forms of notification of change of policy to the the members was a notice placed in the clubhouse and on the online tee-time program as was also assumed there was a notice in the club newsletter sent to all members in their bill. 

For private clubs’ who have very weak connection to their membership, ineffective communication on changes in policy will work against them. 

Weak communication produces;

  • a membership who has a lack of confidence in the club’s management
  • low morale amongst employees who catch the blunt end of the lack of communications from the members who are angry
  • an intolerant atmosphere resulting in members eventually leaving the club out of discuss

This seems to be happening now as a result of it this issue.  However, there are a few contributing factors related to why  policy changes are not communicated effectively and why written notices are not read..which results in the policy changes not being readily accepted.

Here are three of the top reasons communications breakdown at this private country club..

  1. Approximately 60% of the golfing members, of this particular private country club, do not come into the new members’ clubhouse or locker rooms, before or after a round of golf, due to those facilities no longer being accommodative to most members’ needs or interests.  Seems the recent multi-million dollar remodel of the layout of the clubhouse’s gathering places, to be more of a ‘Resort’ feel instead of ‘Private Club’ feel, is pushing more members, of all ages, to not be interested in going into the clubhouse…not to mention the price gauging the club administers to those members who do come into the clubhouse for after round socializing and drinks.
  2. Almost 50% of the golf members who use any online tee-time request system do not read any of the notices posted on the system since most systems are marred with a large number of erroneous messages.  Most golfing members prefer to use the traditional, more personable, method of calling the pro-shop to set up a tee-time for the weekend.   Resentment to being forced into using a non-personal, online method of requesting tee-times also results in the lack of interest in the notices being made online.
  3. A growing majority of the membership do not read the newsletters or notices provided in the monthly dues bill mailings.  The notices provided with the monthly bills have become marketing promotions for functions and events of no interest to most golfing members.  So the notices are passed on to the trash can like most direct mailing promotions.  There are also a significant number of members who have their bills paid through a trust fund provider or CPA’s for which the member would never see the newsletter under any circumstance.

Root Causes

This club’s Online Tee-Time Request system was put in place due to the club’s very large golfing membership and to manage the large volume of play over three golf courses.  Over half of the members prefer to play golf only on the weekend and nearly all of them want the early tee-times to keep from playing in the heat.  The rotation style selection for tee-times allowed an opportunity for every member to eventually obtain the tee-time they preferred, or requested, for the weekend. 

The concept seemed fair enough until the the club places tee-times too close together for the average golf skill level of the members who play on the weekend.  Too close tee-times, and unmanaged pace of play naturally is going to cause slow play.  Compound the slow play with 100 degree temperature in North Texas and you have a flammable (pardon the pun) situation for which members leave after tolerating only nine holes as part of their ‘anger management’.

With only half of the membership not being aware of the change in the split-tee tee-time policy for those members who won the honor of playing on the back nine were treated to a very rude awakening when they finished the back nine to now find a line at the first nine holes was filled with members who had booked tee-times.

Adding Fuel to the Fire

This is when the ‘stuff’ hit the fan and this group of livid member’s started emailing the club manager to state their dissatisfaction of the policy change and the lack of communication on this change. 

After getting back to my office to read the email exchange one of the members had with the club manager I was very concerned with the reasoning the club manager used to approve the change in the ‘double tee’ policy.  Making policy changes in the private club sector based on so called ‘Industry Standards’ is a very poor position to take especially when the policy change the vast majority of the private country club industry should be made from the interests of the membership base.  Private Club Policy standards are set by its members since the members are who pay the club’s bills.  Even basing a rule on what is presumed to be accepted by ‘society’ is very risky way to manage a private club.

‘Oop’s, I Take That Back’

As the evening wound down I was told the change to the double tee policy had been recently rescinded by the club management team and was done so, coincidently, after several of the prominent men members of the club (who financially support the club heavily through elaborate social function with huge bar bills) were given the back nine tee-times on the weekend and did not know of the policy change.  The policy change came immediately after those men made the turn.   Funny how money and the men of private clubs get so much attention over the women concerns (I wonder if that too is done by ‘industry standards’).

Ultimate Solutions

What could the club have done to avoid this situation?  After reading the reply the club manager made to these dues paying members I would take it that any practical solution offer this club’s management team would probably be seen as not part of their ‘industry’s standards’

The biggest measure this club could make towards solving future problems is in putting forth an effort to reverse the trend in their business downsizing and to immediately hire more people to be the mouthpiece of the club.  Then assign these employees a number of members to represent.  These club’s employees’ assignment would be to become concierges for their assigned members.  Their sole responsibility would be to get to know these members…what their attitude is towards thing are..what their likes and dislikes are…and then be the person who communicates immediately with these members, face-to-face..or by phone..,to tell them there is going to be a policy change.  At this point this action is the only way for this club to do damage control.

This method of beefed communication would also provide feedback to the club’s management on what reaction to expect from a change to a policy.  Plus it would also give the club a profile on each member to know what level of Golf skill each member has so they can administer their golf policies, training, golf schools and activities according.  This process would also set an ‘Industry Standard’..wink, wink!

There are a number of solutions a business golf consultant could offer if the club management is open to real solutions and not just stop gap fixes.

Let’s hope this club makes the right decisions in the future before they find themselves losing more members than they are gaining…again.

Mr Business Golf

Scot Duke, aka Mr Business Golf Located in Addison, Tx, the capital of North Dallas. CEO/President of Innovative Business Golf Solutions Founder of the: -Business Golf Country Club -Business Golf Advisory Group -ClamBake Cafe Author of: How to Play Business Golf

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