Planning That Results in Private Club Excellence

Cheerful father and daughter leaning at the tennis net and looking away with smiles while both sitting on tennis court
Cheerful father and daughter leaning at the tennis net and looking away with smiles while both sitting on tennis court

One of the chief promises of club membership is access to a special set of facilities and programs. Just thinking about clubs, our mind jumps to visions of a special golf course or classic clubhouse, and more than ever, to a broad set of wonderful amenities for fitness and wellness and places to gather with families and friends. Of course, great programs are difficult to pull off without the venues to house them. This makes clubs capital intensive entities, and by extension, means two of the chief duties of the leadership are to maintain the physical plant in top condition, and to develop and execute planned improvements that support a relevant membership experience. 

These are heady responsibilities that take thought, planning and funding. Many clubs struggle with them, often underfunding normal capex and pursuing a random set of projects that lack guidance from a strategic plan and the cohesion of a multi-phase master plan. There are many reasons for this, such as the ebb and flow of emphasis found among rotating boards or personal agendas from strong-willed leaders who want action now. This often results in spending a lot of money on plans that don’t come to fruition or building things that fall short of member and market needs. 

With over 30 years of experience in the private club arena, McMahon Group has developed a planning process that surmounts these challenges. Clubs are community assets, where leaders confront a complex set of internal opinions and desires, with many voices that want and need to be heard. On the other side, many members have entrenched usage patterns which may not align with the desires of prospective members. 

When club leaders recognize that their capital plan is not working and the physical plant is becoming dated, there is a tendency to think first about a specific building project as in “let’s fix up the pool” or “renovate the main dining room”. This often leads to forming a committee of construction professionals from among the membership, selecting an architect and contractor, and developing an improvement plan for a select area of the club. This is rarely an effective starting point.  

Over the next several issues of The McMahon Report®, we’ll take you through the key phases of club planning, from the initial stages of building consensus to act among your leadership, to identifying or updating your club’s mission and vision, enrolling your members into refining and adopting the plan and, ultimately, forming that Building Committee and constructing your improvements. But let’s start at the beginning, which is forming consensus among the leadership that there needs to be a plan and then embracing the process that fits your club’s profile and position. 




First Impressions Are Lasting: A First Impression Visit is a one-day site visit from McMahon to review your club’s positioning and facilities, understand its challenges and spend time with the board to discuss key trends in clubs and begin building consensus about both the need to plan and, more importantly, the process that leads to success. We provide a First Impressions Report and outline a customized planning methodology for your club. 

Strategy Refresher: For clubs with an existing Strategic Plan a Strategy Refresher can jump start the planning process. In order to develop a truly effective long range plan, the first order of business is to develop clarity about why your club exists and what it needs to become in the future. This workshop identifies the strategic premise for the club and thus, the type of physical plant that will be necessary to support the vision. It allows the board to set the agenda for the Planning Committee, assuring that their work is in support of the overall direction of the club. It can also identify those near-term issues that should be cleared up before dealing with bigger-picture issues. 

Both of these programs are available at very little cost. They are part of McMahon’s commitment to building a strong club industry. They will help you start the process of refreshing your club and positioning it for success. Stay tuned to The McMahon Report® over the balance of the year as we take you on your journey toward Club Excellence.  

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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