CMAA 2023 – What Was Learned?

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) World Conference & Expo. As usual, there was the networking, education for CMAA members and conducting of the association’s business. But this year, there was also, in many instances the chance to see friends and associates not seen since before the pandemic. It was good to see so many old friends, even though I found later that I had missed a few.

I learned a great deal, heard some not so flattering stories, and met some new friends I’ll be following up with to learn more about a variety of issues within the club industry.

We all know about the challenges clubs (and everyone else) are having finding quality management and staffing. This was certainly apparent at the CMAA job fair, where numerous prominent clubs had a presence but also there was a constant buzz of activity that seemed larger and busier than usual. Having recently assisted and currently assisting some clubs in identifying new management, this was no surprise. There are numerous opportunities but not enough candidates to fill them.

Among the interesting offerings I observed were a firm specializing in club safety issues (Club Safety Solutions), a focus from the club architecture and design community on sustainability (both environmental and economic), longtime golf supplier Toro and their efficient irrigation offerings and autonomous maintenance equipment development. Each of these will be explored in later blog posts in more detail. I also had a chance to speak with the folks from Caddie Now, a service that provides caddies to clubs seeking a more traditional golf experience and will explore the state of caddies at clubs in a future post.

Unfortunately, I also heard some stories about clubs where racism, gender bias and discrimination is alive and well on both the membership and staff sides of the ball. That said, it is abundantly clear from professionals throughout the club industry that clubs are evolving, mostly in a positive direction. It’s no longer “your father’s country club” and most clubs, including the most prestigious, are relaxing or eliminating dress codes, softening and/or reducing rules for the club and generally recognizing that the next generation of potential club members seek a different environment than decades past which is more relaxed and less stressful than the daily grind club members want to escape.

I continue to hear many club industry professionals speak of the “value proposition”. People rarely join private clubs for prestige or status anymore. It’s a value proposition. Will access to facilities for members and their guests be easy and unhindered? How crowded will it be? How comfortable of an environment will it be? Are members seemingly “looking over their shoulders” all the time? Will I be able to get away from the stress of everyday life? The vast majority of professionals in the club industry recognize that it’s a hospitality industry. Members want to have FUN!

One particular area of interest to me was the dichotomy that exists between those who believe the Food & Beverage (F & B) operations at clubs should be profitable and those who perceive that F & B should lose money. There seems to be no consensus on this issue. While not an expert in F & B, the recent dramatic increases in the cost of membership would suggest that clubs need to find a way for F & B to stand on its own. There are professionals who say it can. I’ve always wondered whether F & B “minimums”, an ever present factor at many (not all) clubs were useful or counter-productive.

What I am most interested to observe is the near (post-pandemic) future of clubs. While most think that the COVID surge in golf and club membership is only partially sustainable at best, there are those who suggest that COVID has re-energized the club industry for the long term. Time will tell.