The Value of Real Pros at Your Club – A Case Study

I’ve been privileged for the past 25 years to be a member at Secession Golf Club in South Carolina. In my own experience as well as those of fellow members and guests the most consistent observation is that everyone is made to feel welcome.

Yes, the golf course is great, it’s a beautiful place and the food is good. But even more, the atmosphere cultivated by staff is what everyone talks about.

During that time it’s been my privilege to observe, benefit and befriend our Director of Golf, Mike Harmon,  a “real pro” who has positively impacted the club in numerous ways.

A “second club” for most members, Secession has navigated the challenges faced by many private clubs better than most. With a generally stable membership over the past 10-15 years, credit is due Mr. Harmon as he has been the club’s glue, its face and the “go-to” guy for all things Secession and golf in general. There are members who’ve maintained their membership simply because of his presence.  Every club needs someone like that.

All who’ve visited our golfing paradise have experienced not only the great golf course but moreso the atmosphere of comfort, collegiality and cameraderie not found at all clubs. The foundation of that often starts upon arrival with a big hug from the old pro usually followed by genuine and sincere inquiries about our kids, families and businesses.

The stories about Mike are limitless. They’re all positive. I have yet to meet someone with a bad word about him. There he was some years ago passing out divot repair tools to kids hitting balls off the porch during a rain storm when they expected to be reprimanded.  I watched the golf bug bite my son Max right there and am eternally grateful.

After 10+ years as a guest and on a first name basis he “convinced” my good friend Dr. Claude Nichols to join the club with a beer on the porch and arm around his shoulder by telling him his “guest fee was up to $1,500”.

His tournament dinner speeches (“alright, alright, alright”) are legendary and his cultivation of young people never-ending.

A former tour player, Harmon can still “golf his ball” and has afforded many of us the privilege of playing with him on multiple occasions. His interaction with members and guests alike is invaluable to the long term stability of the club and a key factor in the club’s continued success. His insight on a variety of matters and impact on club policy have been invaluable. He maintains a high level of prominence in the golf universe through a variety of activities.

Just last weekend, I learned of another good deed when out for an afternoon “emergency nine” we encountered two youngsters about 13 years old, local kids who were offered golf privileges in return for performing some jobs around the club. Both kids are learning the game and it’s most valuable lessons from “Mr. Harmon” and gaining exposure to golf and golfers because of Mike’s commitment to growing the game and doing good in the community.

Every guest I’ve ever brought to Secession says more about the environment than the golf course and they never fail to mention how the “old pro” made them feel so welcome. A pro, GM or other staff member interacting with members and guests can be the difference between a great experience and one not so great.

As one who is regularly charged with evaluating clubs, I say with unbridled confidence that the contribution of special people like Mike Harmon to that value is significant. The key positions of GM, Director of Golf and Course superintendent can make or break your club. Choose carefully – and let them do their job. The “micro-management” that occurs at many clubs is a hindrance to a warm and relaxed atmosphere and restricts the club’s ability to take advantage of the skills of the hospitality professionals they’ve hired.

Clubs are places for recreation, relaxation and enjoyment, not only for members and guests but also the club leaders. Micro-management also limits their ability to enjoy the club they care so deeply about and sacrifice for as board members. I see numerous clubs where quality professionals are stifled by overzealous leaders.