Surveys & Strategic Plans Go Hand-in-Hand in Driving Success

The strategic planning process for any club should be a major event for any board undertaking it.

Club strategic planning should never be done by anyone other than the board itself and the general manager as a partnership. This planning should be a joint effort to truly understand what a club’s true mission of service is so that it can be achieved. To begin the strategic planning effort, it is critical to involve the members first. Without a good background on member satisfaction and strategic direction on where they want the club to go in the future, board strategic planning flies blind or just guesses what the real challenges are. Countless times, we have seen boards take on large, multimillion dollar facility projects with no strategic understanding of their club’s real challenges. They spend enormous sums on golf course projects, formal dining areas and locker rooms serving members over age 65; but, spend little to nothing on critical facility areas that attract the under age 56 group, from which 75% of all new members come from. Then afterwards, they wonder why they didn’t they attract new members.

Fortunately, more and more clubs are conducting membership surveys first before strategic planning.

A good membership survey clearly shows member satisfaction with all club offerings across all age groups. A good strategic issues survey tests all aspects of a club including membership, dining, communications, recreation, governance, management and facilities. However, facilities are the least important aspect when a club is strategic planning. A club must determine its mission and its big goals as a whole. Only then should boards try to resolve the facilities issues – when they know what is needed to accomplish quality and quantity. Too often we have seen architectural and interior firms pushing their facility agendas without any understanding of a club’s real strategic objectives which determine club success. Years can be lost and millions of dollars can be wasted by not having essential member input and a sound strategic plan directing critical upgrades, bylaw changes, dining program improvements and making a club family-friendly with affordable membership plans. Here is an example of the dos and don’ts we have seen:
The Maryland Club (Baltimore, MD)

This thousand-member club in the city’s urban core is an example of taking a classic city club and re-positioning it for a bright future.

Two years ago, the Board surveyed its members to learn why the membership numbers were continuing to decline. The members spoke clearly that they wanted casual dining, more squash facilities and expanded fitness programs. With the survey results in-hand, the Board developed a comprehensive strategic plan resulting in 11 individual task forces to attack the critical Club issues. Just recently, the Board proposed a significant improvement program to add the casual grill 69% of members wanted, expand squash, expand fitness and rejuvenate the dining program. Fortunately, the neighborhood around the Club is alive with new restaurants, one of which will be the Maryland Club’s Charles Street Grill.

Similar country club strategic planning successes are everywhere: The Briar Club (Houston, TX), The Club Pelican Bay (Naples, FL), Mariner Sands Country Club (Stuart, FL), Old Warson Country Club (St. Louis, MO), Denver Country Club (Denver, CO), Baltusrol Golf Club (Springfield, NJ), etc. It is happening more and more as surveys with strategic plans are resulting in higher and higher membership satisfaction, growth and, believe it or not, increases in initiation fees. See the member satisfaction ratings chart below emphasizing how clubs have driven their “very satisfied” member ratings!

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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.

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