Strategic Planning Comes in Many Packages, But It Must Start With a Comprehensive Plan!

SP 2023 article 3

There is strategic planning for goals and strategic planning for action, but strategic planning’s most important objective is to “assure a club knows its Mission and is continually achieving it.”

With the great rebirth of private clubs as more and more people join them, our clubs have had a terrific opportunity to make a significant contribution to the quality of life for our society. But this club opportunity will pass if we don’t plan for the future with a comprehensive strategic plan. No longer can clubs live in the past when our society is accelerating into the future. The best clubs have insightful strategic plans guiding them. Be sure your club is one of them.

Historically for golf and country clubs, it was all about golf for their missions, i.e., the course tournaments, course access, the pro and on and on. For the urban city club, it was all about business and athletics. 

Even before COVID hit, the changing culture in society was upon us as members wanted something more than specialized golf and business clubs that are only for adults. It became even clearer during and after the pandemic that the club world had changed. Those clubs that have embraced the changing society have prospered and continue to do so. Clubs whose leadership did not change with the times, who did not have a strategic plan, whose facilities stayed old and did not spend money have all struggled. 

Clubs that do not strategic plan and get with the times will have declining memberships, poor facilities, low initiation fees and crisis management problems. Simply put, the clubs with strategic plans prosper while those non-planning clubs with non-planning Boards do not. With McMahon’s experience involving thousands of clubs, we saw the best and worst of clubs and how they weathered the pandemic storm. 

Innovative clubs such as Club Pelican Bay in Naples, Florida, The Briar Club in Houston, Texas, The University Club in Chicago, Illinois, Quaker Ridge in New York, New York, etc. all planned, built and improved to achieve outstanding success. Other laggard clubs in Florida, New York, Chicago, Denver and California that didn’t plan have little to show for what should have been the greatest period in their club’s history, all because leadership failed to lead and act. One of our clubs in Chicago actually had done its strategic plan and was ready to act when the pandemic hit, but its new Board took the “head in the sand” approach to do nothing in waiting out the pandemic. Today that club is in poor condition while its rival clubs are prospering like never before.

What this all proves is that having and implementing a sound strategic plan is essential for having and maintaining club success.


Today, we have as many types of strategic planning as there are different consultants selling different consulting services. This surge in clubs doing strategic planning has resulted in confusion, as there is now strategic planning associated with club governance, operations, facilities, human resources, financing, golf, dining, and on and on. And there is nothing wrong with having special strategic plans for addressing specific club needs and problems, as long as each sub-component is in sync with a club’s overall comprehensive strategic plan. This is in reality a part of comprehensive strategic planning in which individual club goals have their own action plans for achieving them. 

Just what is an overall comprehensive strategic plan?

Comprehensive strategic planning for a club is the investigative process whereby a club’s leadership and management work together to identify a club’s purpose (its mission) and its critical characteristics of a club’s membership and marketplace to provide a club experience that members want and are willing to support. At McMahon, our comprehensive strategic planning addresses the big four strategic questions that are the heart of every strategic plan. 

  • Question 1:   Who does the club serve as its members? (i.e., men, women, families, golfers, businesspeople, youngsters, oldsters, etc.)
  • Question 2:  What does the club provide? (i.e., golf, tennis, pickleball, swimming, social activities, health/wellness, year-round activities, lifestyle centers, etc.)
  • Question 3:  What quality level should a club strive to achieve in all it offers? (i.e., premier, world-class, best in region, etc.)
  • Question 4:  What makes the club unique and special in its marketplace that separates it from all other clubs? (i.e., its members, golf course, history, culture, facilities, location, dining, etc.)

When a club does the research to answer the big four questions and has a competitive analysis of its club’s marketplace, then it is ready to develop its overall, comprehensive strategic plan for assuring it is achieving its members’ expectations, which drive maximum success. With a comprehensive strategic plan developed and followed by a club’s Board and management, a club can establish Mission and Vision Statements, can identify goals to achieve its Mission (for membership, governance, management, finance, communications, facilities, golf, dining, recreation, social activities and other areas) and can create specific goals for each club offering.

Then with goals identified, the Board and manager establish specific action plans for each goal and prioritize them for implementation. It is only when a club’s overall strategic plan is developed that the most important goals and their action plans can be implemented. Examples of individual club goals and action plans that can be acted on include changing bylaws, spending millions of dollars on improvements, opening satellite locations, merging with another club, etc. Only by having a comprehensive strategic plan supported by the members, Board and management can a club make the big decisions that will affect its future. 

And remember that clubs doing nothing and maintaining the status quo is an action plan that in the right circumstances is as worthwhile as building a new clubhouse. It is only by having a good comprehensive strategic plan in place that a club and its Board will be in the position to do the right thing. 


So as your club shapes its destiny, be sure you have a comprehensive strategic plan shaping that destiny. Only by understanding the long-range vision for a club can you plan its ongoing goals and action plans.

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About Bill McMahon, Sr. AIA, OAA

Bill is a strategic, financial and architectural planning consultant to clubs throughout North America. He established McMahon Group in 1983 as an affiliate of the family architectural firm his grandfather founded in 1906. Over the ensuing years, the firm has expanded its club consulting services beyond clubhouse improvement planning to a full range of services for all aspects of private club challenges. To date, the firm has assisted more than 2,000 private clubs across the United States, Canada, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. McMahon Group provides a unique approach to developing club facility projects first establishing design and financial feasibility so membership approval is achieved. Thereafter final design and construction firms are selected to build the member approved project.

Mr. McMahon is unique among club consultants in providing an integrated strategic, financial and architectural approach to solving club problems. His personal involvement with his own clubs in St. Louis (serving in the roles of president, board member and committee member) has allowed him to bring unparalleled experience to each client. Mr. McMahon’s club memberships have included Bellerive Country Club (St. Louis), Racquet Club Ladue (St. Louis), University Club of St. Louis, Spring Lake Yacht Club (Michigan) and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

Mr. McMahon is a graduate of Washington University School of Architecture in St. Louis and holds architecture licenses in 44 U.S. states and in Ontario, Canada. He is a featured author in industry publications and a featured speaker at the annual conferences of the Club Managers Association of America, the Canadian Society of Club Managers, the National Club Association and the Hospitality, Financial and Technology Professionals. He serves as a visiting lecturer at continuing education sessions offered by regional CMAA chapters and at Michigan State University. Bill is a co-author of McMahon Club Trends®, the comprehensive research reports on strategic issues facing private clubs published with the National Club Association. He is also founder of the Excellence in Club Management Award.

Mr. McMahon is a member of the American Institute of Architects, and the National Club Association. He is a former president of the Missouri Council of Architects, AIA and has served on various charitable boards in the St. Louis area.

More articles by Bill McMahon, Sr. AIA, OAA
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