Club Decision-Making – What are your options?

In the world of private clubs, especially member-owned clubs decision-making is a complicated process.  Often run by member-elected boards of directors, there are usually enough opinions on each and every issue to fill a political debate stage.  Accordingly, there are those of us who provide consulting services to clubs to interject objective thinking into the process and help clubs make the right decisions for their future planning.  While those of us who practice as independent consultants can never know your club like the members, we do approach the challenge with no emotion and a breadth of experience and knowledge gained from experience at numerous clubs.

There are a wide variety of issues which board members are charged with deciding.  These can vary from membership plans and programs to golf course, clubhouse and other facility renovations to the addition of buildings and amenities/activities intended to enhance the club’s offerings.  There are also decisions to be made about addressing deferred maintenance, how to do so and club management and staffing personnel.

Since the club’s objective is to achieve its mission in an economically feasible and financially viable manner, as can be plainly seen, there are numerous areas of expertise required to make it all work.  If the club seeks outside advice, building the right team is essential since few (if any) consultants can provide all the answers.  Not being a trained golf course or clubhouse architect, we at Golf Property Analysts wouldn’t advise a client on golf course or building design issues.  Accordingly, it would only seem logical that a golf course architect would avoid providing a market analysis or economic feasibility study on a project, other than to contribute cost estimates.  Below is a guide for developing the advisory team needed for specific skills:

  • Golf Course Renovation:  Golf course architect
  • Clubhouse Renovation/Space Planning:  Clubhouse Architect
  • Market/Economic Feasibility Analysis or valuation: Golf Specific Appraiser/Consultant
  • Turfgrass Issues:  Agronomist
  • Irrigation:  Irrigation Consultant
  • Food & Beverage: F & B Consultant
  • Membership:  Membership Development Consultant/Membership Attorney
  • Financial/Tax Issues:  Accountant/Attorney/Real Estate Appraiser
  • Facilities/Systems Analysis: Architect/Engineer/Agronomist
  • Operations:  Management Consultant
  • Staffing/Human Resources:  Club HR professionals
  • Long Range Planning:  Several of the above

Most proficient consultants in the above disciplines not only know experts in other fields, but also know where their expertise stops and when to bring in the right people for a specific job.  One size does NOT fit all situations and hiring the “one-stop shop” consultant can end up not being the most cost-effective, but rather the most costly decision.  Design professionals can certainly advise you on needs and costs, but are usually NOT qualified to evaluate the economics, market impact or financial feasibility of a proposed project.

These professionals should strive to work together to understand the club’s unique culture and develop recommendations that are best for the long-term interest of the club in fulfilling its mission, practicing fiscal responsibility and establishing long term membership stability.  Clubs are complex and I have yet to meet a consultant who can provide all these services.  Most clubs develop long range plans that include projections of membership and the development of facilities to service those members, in consideration of both present and future members.  Understanding the market, competition and your club’s culture is critical to that analysis.  It’s nothing more than common sense that the same guy who’s offering design services should not be advising on the long term feasibility of the project.

When interviewing potential consultants, we advise clubs to beware of consultants who claim expertise in too many disciplines.  The best consultants should be able to assist the club in building the right team for the job that will provide the highest level of professional expertise and package it in a cost-effective manner.