Refresh Before You Reinvest in Your Club

Money house on stack of dollar bills on wooden table, close up

When McMahon Group was spawned from McMahon Architects some 36 years ago, the initial intention was to provide architectural services for clubs looking to renovate their facilities. Clubs typically own multiple buildings for social and recreational purposes, making them a good market for design services. What immediately became evident was that it was difficult to create solutions for clients that did not have a clear understanding of their current and prospective members or a vision for the future. Their rotating system of governance and other factors lent an urgency to completing one-off projects, often without a lot of thought on longer term needs or synchronicity across the campus.

Our experiences made two things very clear. First, it is very important to address your facility improvements within a strategic context. Second, improvements should be considered within an overall Master Plan instead of discrete projects. Without these two elements, the tendency is only to fix depreciation and aesthetics while undershooting the larger issues related to changing societal values that will impact demand for membership. It is critical to visualize where your club wants or needs to be five to ten years into the future before you start developing an improvement plan.

Thus, your initial conversations about facility improvements shouldn’t be so much about buildings and grounds as they should focus on changes in lifestyles, values and target markets. This environmental scan sets the stage for reviewing or developing mission and vision statements to clarify the organization’s purpose and aspirations. These, in turn, provide the clarity that is required to identify the physical environment that would best serve the type of club that will be required by your end users.

It is important for club leaders to invest the time and resources to develop or refresh their Strategic Plan before forming a committee or hiring an architect to start designing improvements. This exercise sets the direction for the entire club and provides the insight the Planning Committee ultimately needs as they evaluate the existing plant and begin creating concepts. It provides the insight they need to create the transformative and enduring investments that create clubs of excellence. 


Read another facility article – Understanding Your Club Facilities is Key



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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