What Makes a Private Club Successful?

I’ll be writing soon for Golf Course Industry magazine on the subject detailed in the headline above. In that piece, I list the 10 factors that contribute most to a private club’s success I don’t want to steal my own thunder by detailing here all the contents of that piece; besides, you can be sure I’ll link you to that article, in its entirety, when it’s posted online by GCI.

But allow me to highlight a couple of those factors here, and provide some historical perspective.

Four years ago, just when the economic climate was nearing rock bottom, I wrote an article on a very similar subject for the National Club Association, “It’s All About Value”. Check it out.

I can tell you the prescription for club success hasn’t changed so much in four years. Unfortunately, the behavior of many clubs hasn’t changed so much either. In 2009, there was lingering optimism. In other words, my audience — the developers, board members and managers of private clubs — could not have foreseen just how difficult the next four years would be, and how much it would change the private club industry in lasting ways. I frankly wish I had stepped up my own sense of urgency. Maybe more clubs would have alerted themselves to a corrective path.

The single biggest factor that has curbed club success, then, and now, is a lack of investment. Some clubs continue to believe that avoiding spending money is sound financial management. It’s important to know when NOT to spend, of course, but just as important to know when to spend/invest. I’ve observed many clubs that, in an effort to keep dues low, have neglected facilities, equipment and quality staffing. They’ve essentially initiated a long, slow death spiral.

This is not so much a failure of management but of leadership, and here private clubs don’t do themselves any favors. How many successful businesses change leaders every year and have as many as 15 bosses? Not many. The best and most stable clubs have presidents for 3, 4 or more years. Many of those clubs actually install benevolent dictators who unilaterally make decisions and don’t have to answer to a board of directors with multiple agendas. That’s the ideal, and let’s be clear: Benevolent dictators are tough to find. However, it has always struck me, and continues to strike me, how many successful clubs have found them and keep them around as long as possible.