Change – A Scary Word

“Change”. In many instances, this is a term political candidates use to motivate voters. In the world of private clubs, change is often a scary word, especially to older members seeking the comfort level and traditions they’ve become used to.

Change is also often the reason why members leave one club for another and sometimes a necessity for those clubs experiencing distress. Sometimes change occurs for no good reason and creates discontent among membership that can’t be reversed.

I’ve been fortunate to play my golf at private clubs for most of my life. I’ve been at member-owned clubs and corporate clubs. I’ve seen corporate clubs, benevolent dictatorships and board run clubs. Club politics are rarely pretty. You’ll never please all of the people all of the time but I’ve learned one principle that should be applied to all clubs.


That should not diminish the fact that many clubs have problems that need prompt attention. It could be deferred maintenance, necessary capital improvements to stay competitive or an evolution in membership indicating a change in culture. There’s no one right answer for all clubs.

The most destructive change I’ve observed is when change occurs simply because club leadership changes. If a club is successful, the membership is happy and thriving and the club is financially secure, it’s not uncommon to see a change in leadership seeking to “make their mark”. Key staff are pushed out, rules are changed (or in many cases added) and the culture of the club is changed. Sometimes, this type of change occurs simply because there is no change in leadership and those in power make the club their personal fiefdom.

The point is that “change” is both good and bad. Leadership needs to change to avoid unnecessary change elsewhere. A long range plan should be adopted and adhered to by successive leadership. Change often needs to occur to get a club back on track or to evolve and update to be competitive. It’s not at all uncommon for clubs that don’t evolve and invest to fail financially because of a lack of leadership. Conversely, there are clubs with over-aggressive leadership that create a negative environment and a change in culture that results from micro-management.

Every club should have a governance structure of leadership that is in place long enough for stability but that changes frequently enough to allow for appropriate evolution. Like in Washington, DC term limits are critical. Congress is somewhat dysfunctional because of a lack of term limits. Clubs often have the same problem (“same old crowd”).