Does the Club Appreciate ALL its Members?

It’s not uncommon for some club leaders to become visibly disturbed when a member goes against the grain to avoid (but not violate) a club policy.  I recently observed this when a member waited to play until after the caddie requirement expired for the day.  It was a classic example of a dynamic that occurs at many clubs where some members (often club leaders) become passionate about all things club related to the point where even appropriately avoiding (but not violating) a specific club rule can spark a negative reaction from those members who have (literally or figuratively) assumed the role of club watchdog.

Conversely, I know of another club that recently gifted each of its members a personalized bottle of a specially blended, upscale whiskey complete with the member’s name and club logo embossed on the bottle to show appreciation for support of the club.

Certainly, all of us privileged to play golf at private clubs, especially some of the more prestigious or well-known clubs should appreciate how fortunate we are to enjoy the access, golf course playing conditions, other recreational activities and social opportunities enjoyed by private club members.  However, sometimes the politics of club governance creates an “us versus them” scenario where the members feel unappreciated by the board or club ownership and club leaders become frustrated with members who don’t always agree with their vision for the club.  Given that most club members are busy and successful people who regularly encounter stress, conflict and challenge in their daily lives, the club is certainly no place to have to deal with more of that.

At member-owned clubs, do board members receive preferential treatment from the staff?  I actually once had a bartender tell me “a board member is waiting for his dinner”.  It happens.  At investor-owned clubs this is less likely but there are club owners who aren’t as hospitality oriented, show limited appreciation for their members and reinvest only a minimum into the facilities.  The reason many members join clubs is to simply get what they want and not be constrained by the “rules of the road” often experienced at the office.  They join a club for recreation and relaxation.  For sure clubs need rules but nobody wants to be looking over their shoulder all the time.

Members are the lifeblood of any club.  It’s not uncommon for club leadership to focus on the preferences of only those members who use the club frequently and often ignore those members who visit and use the club on an infrequent basis.  Those are the members that make the difference between success and failure.

Let’s say there’s a member who plays golf maybe 6-10 times per season, usually with business guests and is ignored by club staff and leadership.  Suppose he/she wants to bring a group out and either an event or some scheduling policy prevents their use of the club.  Maybe they were unaware of some obscure rule about something and an overzealous board or staff member embarrassed them in front of their guests.  That is just the member that will calculate the cost of membership and begin to consider alternatives.  That’s when clubs begin to struggle.

Take a look around your club.  Are there “member police” who make some members and guests feel uncomfortable?  Whether a gift, a member appreciation day or event, or simply an attitude fostered by club leadership or ownership that makes ALL members feel welcome, showing appreciation is good business, whether the club is “for-profit” or even if it’s a member-owned club which may pride itself on its exclusivity and prestige.

The best way to foster a pleasant and mutually beneficial culture is to show appreciation.  Many clubs have parties for their staff, in some cases with members doing the serving.  Caddies get to play the golf course on Mondays (or more) and often the club sponsors a tournament for caddies,  Sometimes, members serve as caddies.  Member appreciation ideas can include a gift from the club, a day of fee-free activities and food, a party or open-house where members can bring guests (prospective members) and always a sincere solicitation of ideas from members.

Far too many clubs are considered “stuffy”, especially by those who resign from clubs, those who avoid joining and more and more by the next generation (millennials) who represent the future of our clubs.  Clubs (even the most desirable) need members more than the members need the clubs.  The days of Judge Smail-like characters from the movie Caddy Shack are waning quickly and no club is “bulletproof” when it comes to the impact of economic recession, changing demographics and evolving family dynamics.