Cherokee Country Club: Turning the Flywheel of Success

CherokeeCC 2023 - 1

Founded in 1907, Cherokee Country Club has long been dedicated to enriching the lives of its members and their families by providing the finest golf course, private club dining and social and recreational activities to be found in Greater Knoxville, Tennessee. The Club’s willingness to respond to changing member needs and evolving lifestyles has been key to its longevity and success. 

While a focus on continuous improvement has been a hallmark of the club for well over 100 years, a 2011 – 12 updating of the Club’s Strategic Plan paved the way for transformative investments beginning in 2015. Cherokee’s renewed focus on capital investment aligned perfectly with the changes taking place across Knoxville, one of the ten fastest-growing U.S. cities with one of the best employment outlooks in the country. When the Club developed its strategic plan in 2011, there were just over 500,000 people in the area. Today, there are over 700,000 and projections are it will hit 800,000 by the year 2030.  

Between 2015 and 2022, Capital Improvements at the Club Included: 

  • Reinventing the clubhouse dining experiences to include spaces for adult casual, family casual and upscale dining.
  • Outdoor dining leveraging the Club’s commanding view over the Tennessee River.
  • Expanding the fitness facilities to offer a more comprehensive fitness experience.
  • Rebuilding the pool complex to create a more dynamic swimming and poolside experience.

Impressively, while finishing up on the clubhouse piece of the improvements launched in 2015, the leadership embarked on the process of updating its Strategic and Master Plans. This is a best practice General Manager Shawn Wilkes, CCM, ECM, observed firsthand early in his career when he was the AGM at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, another practitioner of the flywheel/continuous improvement mindset.

The Strategy Refresher process began with member focus groups, followed by a clubwide survey. With fresh data in hand, the Board and Planning Committee, which included a cross-section of club leaders and members, updated the Strategic Plan to set the Club’s direction for the next decade. The directives of that plan informed the goals and objectives of the Planning Committee as they evaluated the existing facilities and prepared solutions for future improvements.  

Importantly, the next cycle of improvements would not have been possible without the vision to acquire properties adjacent to the golf course. This will allow the Club to improve the golf practice facilities in the next few years, which was one of the top member priorities in the member survey.  

The golf improvements, designed by Tyler Rae of Tyler Rae Designs, focus on practice facilities, except for the modifications to hole 14. By moving this hole, it opens the land area to accommodate a first-quality, short-game area and par 3 course. The tee for the new hole will be on the highest point on the property and create a stunning par 3 with views across the entirety of CCC’s Donald Ross-designed golf course. These investments also align well with current trends in country club activities. Golf play is changing in ways that are very positive for clubs. Members practice more than prior generations and they are embracing new ways to enjoy the game, including putting courses and short/par 3-style layouts. This increases participation and opens the game to a wider demographic, including new younger players. The Cherokee experience is currently lacking in these areas, but the land acquisition strategy and innovative planning will allow the membership to enjoy a more robust practice experience. In terms of other recreation, the Master Plan adds pickleball indoor and outdoor courts and modernizes the tennis complex, sports that are currently enjoying their own renaissance.  


As a result of the improvements that Cherokee has made over the past decade, the Club has a larger membership and more use than at any time in its history. This growth allowed the Club to outperform on the financial projections supporting the 2015 projects and position it to support some $11 million in aspirational projects over the next decade, all without an assessment or increase in the monthly capital fee. 

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About Frank Vain

Mr. Vain provides consulting and planning services to private clubs throughout North America. Through use of specialized services including membership surveys, strategic planning, operational analysis and facility long range planning, Frank assists club in developing individualized strategies for their unique situations. 

Mr. Vain joined McMahon Group in 1988 and has more than forty years of experience in the management and development of hospitality properties including country clubs, city athletic and dining clubs and residential communities. Frank is Past President of The Country Club of St. Albans, a 36-hole country club located in Missouri, and he is a former partner in Concord Sports Club, a 1,700 member family athletic club in St. Louis. Frank was elected to the Board of the National Club Association in 2011 and served as Chairman in 2019-20. 

Mr. Vain is a native of Philadelphia and graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a featured speaker at the annual Club Managers Association of America World Conference, National Club Association National and Regional Conferences, Major Golf Associations and a regional chapter meeting of club managers and leaders. 

Frank is a regular contributor to industry leading publications like Club Management, Club Director and BoardRoom. He was named the Gary Player Club Educator of the Year for 2012 and 2015 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021 by BoardRoom. He is also a co-author of McMahon’s Club Trends, a recognized industry benchmark on the trends and issues affecting private clubs. 

More articles by Frank Vain
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