Don’t Be So Reserved In Your Planning

Reserve Studies play a role in capital planning, but they are not a replacement for a strategic facility improvement plan.

Clubs seem to be falling over themselves to develop a reserve study these days. Kudos to them, and to the industry leaders who’ve shed light on the importance of fact-based capital replacement. It’s beginning to seem a little like tulip mania of the Dutch Golden Age, however. Everyone wants one, to the point that something innately good is now perceived as something it’s not, a cure-all for club success.


Reserve studies have been around for a long time in the community association world, often mandated by law to minimize surprises when folks hold assets in common. This is a good thing, as people shouldn’t be driven from their condominium complex when it’s time to put a new roof on the building. They work very well in these relatively static environments, with the debate only turning on things like price or contractor qualifications.


The questions surrounding asset replacement are much more complex for private clubs as the key issue is one of transformation, not maintenance. By the time you hit major replacement thresholds, it’s much more likely that the style, layout and design of your member-facing spaces need reinvention, not refreshing. This carries over into almost all other areas too, like your pool’s evolution from traditional to resort-style, the small starter fitness facility becoming a wellness center or transforming your golf range into a full-fledged learning center.


The success of your club isn’t determined by tracking growth in net assets over time, rather, growth in net assets is the outcome of having the type of club that people want. A club becomes prosperous by responding to societal demands and providing a membership experience that drives engagement, creates a strong sense of community and ever-growing levels of member satisfaction and value.


Sure, to be effective, capital planning requires solid information about the state of your current assets, but what a club really needs is a strategic master plan that supports their mission and aligns with the investments that will enhance the member experience. Ultimately, success is measured by fulfilling your mission. To guide your club toward a successful future, develop a strategic facility improvement plan and engage your membership in evaluating and funding it. This is how your club will compete effectively in the changing club market.  

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About Frank Vain


Mr. Vain provides consulting and planning services to private clubs throughout North America and Asia. Through use of specialized services including membership surveys, strategic planning, operational analysis and facility long range planning, Frank assists clubs 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 private clubs, athletic clubs, resorts and restaurants. Frank is a Past President of The Country Club of St. Albans, an 800-member, 36-hole country club located in Missouri and he is the former owner of 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 2018-19.

Mr. Vain is a native of Philadelphia and a 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 at regional chapter meetings of club managers and leaders.

He has written numerous articles that have been published in Club ManagementClub Director andBoardRoom magazines. Frank was named the Gary Player Club Educator of the Year for 2012 and 2015 by BoardRoom magazine. He is the 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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