Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I guess I really need a psychologist to understand the mindset that drives a golf club board of director’s. In my experience, I can only anticipate that a golf club board of directors is almost certain to make a dubious decision – especially when being advised otherwise by experts in the industry.

Here are a few examples (in my experience):

1.       Near Carlton, Ontario the board chose a clubhouse design that looked more like a school than a comfy golf course clubhouse – even though one of the designs they were presented with was an excellent well thought plan by an expert. One (hilarious) result of the final product placed the men’s room such that every time the door swung open there was absolutely no privacy while men were going about their business. Another flaw was that the pro shop was a completely separate building, a cost control issue, which requires additional personnel to manage as a completely separate building – even during the slowest periods. It was also a security issue. The board knew all that, but chose to overlook it.

2.       A board of directors of a club near Hazelton, PA, watched their club’s membership fall from over 350 to fewer than 200. The club was desperate for an experienced general manager with the skill to manage a country club in the marketplace of 2012. With that recommendation clearly advised, the board hired a person with no clubhouse experience, no turf experience, no food service experience, and no knowledge of the game of golf. A decision that made absolutely no sense.

3.       A board of directors at a golf club in upper New York State decided they needed a large clubhouse with 400 men’s lockers (now 90% empty), a full service restaurant and a banquet hall. With an experienced building contractor in their midst, pleading with the board to adopt a sensible clubhouse plan, they went ahead with the ‘palace’ anyway. Five years later the club was bankrupt. The board members who pushed for the monster clubhouse abandoned the club. Soon after, the property was sold at an auction for approximately 40 cents on the dollar.

4.       A board of directors at a Sarasota-Bradenton golf club spent over $1/2 million to re-grass its 18 greens without bidding the job. Instead, the board hired a contractor who set the crew to work. A few greens were re-shaped as was one fairway. However, around the same time, I re-grassed 18 greens with average sizes twice the greens at the Bradenton course for $110,000 complete! We hit with Round Up on June 14. We corrected some drainage issues, tilled, gassed, and sprigged (in Champion Ultra Dwarf). They were ready to play by August 15 - the same summer! Players raved about them too!

5.       Here’s the most puzzling board behavior: It’s my own board of directors at the club at which I am a member! I live on the fifteenth fairway. Even though I advise golf courses all around the country, which this board knows, they chooses not to ask my advice – even when it is offered completely free. In fact, when I offer to sit in meetings as a ‘fly on the wall’ I am (currently) not even invited.

Those are the board of director puzzles. It seems their apparent intellect evaporates when they meet around a conference table. What comes over them?

In the golf industry everything was fine 30-years ago when golf was still in a seller’s market mode. Private clubs had waiting lists and lots of money to work with. However, about 1995 (yes that early) private clubs began losing their waiting lists, because aging members were resigning (or dying) at greater rate than the waiting list was being absorbed. In a short span boards were suddenly faced with deficit membership rosters and financial problems. They were completely baffled. So, the big fat treasury that could do no wrong was empty – and the clubhouse needs a new roof!

Beyond the tipping point, survival of the golf course required a high level of ‘golf course’ business skill. Boards were completely inept to manage shortfalls. They tried the same strategies: Cut back employee hours, cutback clubhouse service hours, bunkers groomed every ‘other’ day, and the greens mowers will have to make it another year. However, in all they attempt to do, they seem to avoid expert golf course business advice.

I think a board of directors, collectively, is like the man who refuses to ask for directions! He’d rather become hopelessly lost rather than admit he needs help. Does that analogy sound right?

What is your experience? My email:


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