Who’s Doing What?

Who's Doing What

Experience trumps theory and what works in one industry does not in another, even if both appear similar in the face.

You learn a lot over the years. Notably, experience trumps theory and what works in one industry does not in another, even if both appear similar in the face. In our experience developing strategic plans for member-owned private clubs, we’ve found that a key takeaway is that the club’s board must take ownership of the issue. They must identify the vision that will drive the club forward and then implement the plan when it is complete. If not them, then who?

I recently heard a relative newcomer to club planning espouse the virtues of forming an ad hoc planning committee to lead a strategic planning effort. This may work in the corporate golf business, but it fails every time in member-owned clubs. Not only does this present an early insurmountable learning curve as you try to bring a slate of neophytes up to speed, but at the end of the day, you have to ask, who is leading the club? Look at it this way, if the board is not working on the strategy, what are they doing? Often criticized for micromanaging, this approach just feeds that mentality. All of this got me to thinking, if that’s a proven no-no, what are the “dos” in strategic planning at member-owned private clubs?

The “dos” in strategic planning at member-owned private clubs:

  • Board/General Manager Partnered Planning: When the board and general manager develop the club’s strategic plan, there is greater clarity among these two key parties that need to live the club’s mission. There’s also increased alignment between the strategic and operating plans.
  • Really Know Your Internals: Conduct a membership survey or focus groups so the planning partners have an accurate understanding of the membership experience and a real sense of the
    important issues that need to be addressed. Many are willing to pontificate on what member’s want. Smart leaders are willing to ask the right questions and let the data tell the story. Speaking of storytelling data, complete Club Benchmarking’s financial model comparative exercise to know, without a doubt, where your money is coming from and where it is going. Their 15-point dashboard tells the real story.
  • Understand External Marketplace Trends and Conditions: It is important to have an accurate understanding of your club’s environment so you can incorporate addressing these emerging
    issues into your strategic plan. Many clubs think culture and characteristics offer immunity from societal trends. They don’t. Embrace these evolving demands and present them back to the community in ways that showcase your core values to achieve market relevance.
  • Approach Strategic Planning Primarily from an Internal Position: It is critical to understand your membership, governance, facility, financial and quality issues to customize your plan to drive your club’s success.
  • Use a Non-member Third Party to Lead Your Planning Process: It is essential to plan for the good of the entire club, not just one department or activity, like golf. Left to governors or corporate golf experts, your plan will take on a form and focus that is too limited and off target. The private club experience is unique and your planners need to have deep experience in the entire club environment.
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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
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