Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Genius idea #3

...This would never work at your club's restaurant.  Members would rather buy a burger named after your club...with bacon.

For the full story, click on the link:


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Lost Art of Appreciation

How many personal thank you notes would you say you wrote last year?
Judging by the number I have received over my life, I’m guessing the number is (unfortunately) low.  But why?
In a recent study on employ engagement conducted by Towers Watson, less than 40 percent of workers felt like their bosses cared about their well-being?
Have you ever walked into businesses where the mood is upbeat and everyone seems to genuinely like each other?  My guess is the culture, starting from the top, is one that values appreciation highly.
When people feel genuinely appreciated, they do their best work.  They are more creative. They feel their purpose is greater even when performing (seemingly) mundane tasks.  They are also friendlier and have less stress, than those who are rarely told anything positive.
Carrots have always worked better than sticks, but Carrots have to be planted, watered, and cared for.
The stick is easy.  Just pick it up.
If we know praise and appreciation works better than authoritarian-type leadership, why do we see more of the latter?
I believe people feel strange doing it.  When cornered, they will tell you it feels, “awkward, fake, or contrived”.
The truth is appreciation can be learned and when put into practice, can have immediate and lasting benefits to your club.
Think about it?
Why would a tournament director consider going to another club if they truly felt you valued their decision to come to yours, and told them so?
Have you ever heard of an employee leaving because you appreciated them too much?
What member wouldn’t be excited to find they aren’t just another number and how many people do you think they might tell?
Cultivating a positive atmosphere is actually pretty easy.
For starters:
  1. Try and catch people doing things right.
  2. Force yourself to write at least one positive note to a member, employee, or tournament director each week.
  3. Focus more on the person, than the task at hand.
  4. Cultivate an open and honest work environment where people aren’t publicly or privately reprimanded for speaking their mind (constructively).
  5. Get in the habit of publicly praising people, it will catch like wild fire.
  6. Quit leaning so heavily on emails to communicate.  Remember Covey’s admonition, “Be efficient with things, effective with people”.
Last but not least…you’ll probably feel better about yourself by showing more appreciation to those around you!  All good things.
So what’s holding you back?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Curator or Co-designer: Your Greens Committee Superintendent

Has the ProV1 destroyed your golf course?
Are bogey golfers with loopy swings suddenly dropping their handicaps by four with the same loopy swings, and one or two shorter clubs into every green?
Are mini-tour pros coming in twice a year and shooting mid-sixty scores in their sleep?
No worries, you have Beautification Bobby and Go-Low Larry on your membership roster.
Never heard of them?  Sure you have…
  • Have your fairways been pinched in over the last several years?
  • Have you lost a bunker or three?
  • Have you extended several tee boxes?
  • Has Bermuda taken over your once lush, but penal rough?
  • …and of course, new trees.  We can never have enough trees!
My guess is, your course has had at least four of the above items imposed onto it over the last few years and should add one more to the list to be fair:  A new Co-Architect.
My question is…why and more importantly, how did you go about determining any and all of the changes made to your golf course?
The answer should (hopefully) be linked back to 1) your original course plan, 2) the type of membership you currently serve, and 3) who you hope to attract in the future.
Is (and has) the membership traditionally been fifty-year old mid to high handicappers or younger, long-knocking low handicaps?  Do you want to host a mini-tour event some day or does your club prefer the income the major disease tour scrambles provide every other Monday?
The problem, in truth, is the misconception of people like Bobby and Larry who don’t see themselves as Curators.  Ask them about a few of the design principles outlined in, Tom Doak’s, “The Anatomy of a Golf Course, Donald Ross’s, “Golf Has Never Failed Me”, or Alister Mackenzie’s, “Golf Architecture” and I bet you’ll get a blank stare?
So why do clubs allow these well-meaning amateur architects to put their “stamp” on their course(s) every few years?  If your answer is, “He has been a member for thirty years and is here as much as anyone”, then read on.
Misconception 1:  Trees should be plentiful and penal.  You want to start a war in your club?  Try cutting a tree down.  You want to be featured in the local newspaper? Plant ten new ones.  Politics aside…no course architect every designed a single hole with a single tree in mind.  
Please don’t preach to me about the “integral part your fifty-year old oaks play on a few narrow par 4’s or how dog legs wouldn’t be dog legs without a cluster of trees hanging over the fairway”.  You want to scare your members to death?  Put a 15 x 15 bunker where your trees overhang, and watch them avoid it like cargo shorts.
Trees should be the background to your course canvas, never the focal point.
They should not block sunlight from your greens and from the fairway, should rarely, if everaffect play. If the playing strategy of a hole is altered in any way by a single tree or cluster of them, get a chainsaw.
Don’t cut trees, buy fans!
Alister Mackenzie stated, “there are more mistakes in designing a golf course by attaching too much importance to the element of luck and there is too much of that very element in having to negotiate with trees.
Harry Colt put it this way, “a tree is fluky and obnoxious form of a hazard, because a tree can obstruct and/or stymie one ball without even affecting another ball located just a couple of feet away.  A tree’s primary function was merely to distinguish between those players who had good or bad fortune”.
Turfgrass and trees don’t mix!
Misconception 2:  Wide fairways = Choppy course.  I can’t figure out which is more fun to watch:  Professionals hitting three woods into eighteen yard wide par 4’s, missing the fairway by two inches, and chopping out or three hours of C-span?
Does anyone in their right mind think Augusta National is more exciting today, than in years past?
Do yourself a favor and study the routings of Donald Ross, Alister Mackenzie, Perry Maxwell, C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and A.W. Tillinghast.  What you’ll find is allbelieved in the principle:  Wide fairways, exacting iron play.
“But wide fairways make the game too easy”.  
No, wide fairways create options and interest for the better player and really…don’t appreciably reduce his score.  When a better player sees a wide fairway he engages his mind.  “Should I attack from the left or right to give myself the best angle into the green”?  “Swing out of my shoes and try for birdie or play it smart”?
For the higher handicap, wide fairways equal enjoyment and a fighting chance to shoot a good number, since many have a tough time hitting a twenty yard fairway with any consistency.  Is it any wonder we can’t keep new players interested in the game beating them to a pulp each time they hit a drive?
Did I mention wider fairways mean faster play, which is the number one reason people don’t play or stay in the game?
So why did fairways shrink in the first place?
  1. The invention of single row, in-ground sprinklers.  Guess the radius of most of these?  Bingo!  About twenty-five yards.
  2. Cost – Narrow fairways mean less impact to the maintenance budget.
  3. Green speeds – in a race to see who could get their greens rolling like Augusta every week, green undulation has been severely reduced, in conjunction with a reduction in fairway acreage.  Today we see long runways, boring green complexes.
  4. Course design philosophy devolved – Robert Trent (Bowling alley) Jones/the U.S. open set-ups circa 1970’s all focused on the straight tee ball as the pinnacle of golf proficiency.  The classic architects (pre-1950) believed par was earned on the approach shot.  Think about the last time you saw a cross-bunker in the fairway?  Sadly, most amateurs see them and say, “obviously bad hole”…but think of the options?  “Should I aim left or right, lay up short or try and bomb it over”?
  5. The bulldozer – How many modern courses give you an advantage if you play down the left “speed slot” vs. the right?  Par is no longer defended by angles.  Just add some length and give them a flat lie every time has taken the place of the naturally contoured hole.
Misconception 3:  Players are two and three clubs longer than twenty years ago.  Have you checked the latest iteration of the popular Rocketballz irons?  A 45 degree pitching wedge?!?!?!  That used to be called an 8 iron when Jack played.  Gap wedges?      Hogan didn’t need one because that was called a wedge at 52 degrees.  Have you been to a PGA tournament lately?  They don’t carry it much longer than your best players at the club…but with fifty yards of roll…Fred Funk can occasionally hit a 300 yard drive.
I agree, players are a bit more athletic today and the proliferation of launch monitor technology has made dialing in distance a breeze, not to mention the ball…but I don’t believe players today are that much longer at your local club, especially with irons when you factor in the jacked-up lofts these days.  In truth, handicaps aren’t going down locally or nationally.
Lengthening a par three by two clubs when the green is only a couple of clubs deep at best and/or killing off the short par four by eliminating the risk/reward aspect of the hole are all signs your club may be moving in the wrong direction.  Nothing wrong with a 2.5 shot par 5, when the gamble of going for it more often produces tough par or bogey.
Wannamoisett #3 135 yards/Par 3.  Too short…right?
Tidewater #3 – 138 yard/Par 3.  One of the scariest shots I have ever hit!
Camargo #11 – 135 yard/Par 3.  Par or double.
Misconception 4:  Your Greens Committee Chairperson should actively manage your Course Superintendent.  How would you like to have a new boss every one to two years over a twenty or thirty year career?  Dumb question, but something your Course Superintendent is constantly faced with.    
You can say, “it comes with the job”, but why?  Why can’t clubs simply hire a great Course Superintendent and let the General Manager, a person who is at the club 5-6 days per week, handle the task?
Answer:  They don’t trust their GM either.  How do I know?  Constant micro-management.
The reality is, most can’t leave well enough alone because the need to “stamp” the course with a tree or cluster of them, a new tee box or three, and/or the elimination of bunkers is too great.
My recommendations are simple:
  1. Hire a great Course Superintendent.  If you don’t have one, hire a new one.  If you have a great one already, let him do his job until the job he does is no longer satisfactory.
  2. Keep the position of Greens Committee Chairperson, with the caveat of focusing on membership interaction and communication, not the active management of the entire grounds crew.  He should be a filter between the membership and your Course Superintendent.  If he lacks a degree in Agronomy or isn’t a former member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, no armchair architecting either.
With regard to course changes, commit to make changes only after consulting the course master plan.  If you don’t have one, develop one…tomorrow.  It will/should include things such as rough height, mowing patterns, type of sand to be used, trees, green specifications, etc.  If your board is in agreement with it, you can focus on the fun part: Playing!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Your obsession with margins is hurting your Pro Shop sales

Some things never change…at your local pro shop.
$55-75 dollar shirts don’t sell, they collect dust.
Trying to move twelve new r17s Drivers a month after the local Dicks Sporting Goods store received an entire rack with every loft and every shaft available…is a tough sale, made tougher knowing they have a new launch monitor and digital simulator on hand to razzle-dazzle your members.
Did I mention they take trades?
When are you going to stop trying to make 40-60% (only to have to mark it down a few months later) on the same shirt Golf Galaxy, TGW, Edwin Watts, and the aforementioned Dicks sells…at a discount?
Buying power schmuying-power…you can compete with the dot coms and jumbo nets, but you will have to forgo the circa-1960 merchandising model.
Here’s how:
1. Going forward, you need to think of your Pro shop as an extension of your marketing. By that I mean, margins aren’t as important as getting your name out into the public space. This isn’t a trick question…but would you rather make $110 profit in twelve months on four shirts or the same amount on eight shirts? Eight shirts x four hundred members = a lot of exposure. If you give your members a (financial) reason to wear your clubs logo every other day, I bet they will.
2. Start taking trades. Before you start thinking of what a pain this will be or how your employees will screw this one up…remember, the local jumbo net shops already do this with people they hired the day before. If you take late model, high-demand equipment (i.e. Cameron putters, last year model drivers, or current model irons) and add 10-20% to the ridiculous value the PGA guide allows, you can turn the items around at worst for cost and at best for 20-25% on ebay. A listing on ebay takes about two minutes to create, roughly the same amount of time it takes an employee to “like” a few posts on facebook. The goodwill and pain you save your member(s) will more likely equal increased sales of hard goods that are today, increasingly harder to move.
3. Stock brands the dot coms, jumbo nets, and mall stores don’t commonly sell.I’m half-embarrassed to include this one, but you would be shocked to see how many Pro shops sell the same brands everyone else sells (for more money). Peter Millar is my favorite high-end brand, and they only sell to green grass shops. Check. Cutter and Buck produces a great line of mid-priced apparel, as does Page and Tuttle. I would both on my short list. What about Gear for Sports? They make a fantastic lower-priced line of clothing that doesn’t look low-priced.
4. Creatively cross-market to drive even more revenue. Creatively what? Have you ever bought a new driver and got a free thirty minute lesson on how to use it? Me neither. Have you ever purchased a set of irons and received four free cart rentals? That would be a new one to me. When you bought your last shirt at full price, I’m guessing you received a free lunch right? I could think of ten more of these, my guess is..yours would be better.
5. Use email, facebook, or signs in various places at your club to promote hot items. Did you just get a load of new shirts in? Why not post pictures of them on facebook? Did one of your members get a hole in one with a club purchased in your shop? Congratulate them via email and everyone will know where they got their seven iron. Do you change your signs in your cart or above the urinals frequently? You should. People read them. And if the call to action is compelling enough…they will buy.
6. Partner with your brand manufacturers twice as often. I’ll bet you get a sales rep every week wanting to increase his/her sales in your Pro shop, but how many actually actively help you sell? One demo day per year (if that) isn’t going to cut it any more. Wouldn’t early spring be a great time to have a trunk show with the Peter Millar rep? If your Footjoy rep really wanted to move more shoes, why not have them bring in a shoe fit specialist with multiple sizes and colors to stimulate the register?
The truth is, you probably aren’t going to see the big boys go away any time soon, but to have your members buying from them…that has to stop, and can, with a few tweaks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Relaxed standards...membership boom or bust?

One of the funniest (and true) stories that often gets thrown around when the topic of Country Clubs is discussed is that of Groucho Marx, who famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”
Long, long ago, before the Great Recession and the Tiger Boom, supply and demand as it relates to pricing and the number of golf courses, both public and private…was at its equlibrium. I say this subjectively and with some data to back it up when you look at the estimated golfers per capita over various decades from 1940-1997 (give or take a few years).
Back in those days, there were few “semi-private” courses available, as many public and private clubs were born out of true demand, not to sell homes…”and out of the leftover land we’ll create a golf course”.
One of challenges many private clubs have faced since the great recession started has been the adoption of relaxed standards/rules in the admission and retention of its members.
I say this, not as a nod to reinstate the world view of the the Judge Smails’ of the world, but more to the sheer number of people that believe, “I paid my money, I can do what I want” mentality that has permeated many clubs since few have the guts to have current members sponsor new ones.
“Seriously, we have a hard enough time getting members as it is, surely you aren’t suggesting in a down economy we go back to the dinosaur age”.
Actually I am.
On my way to a tournament this spring at Musgrove Mill in Clinton, SC, I had the fortunate experience to ride with a member of Biltmore Forest, a wonderfully preserved Donald Ross Classic. We got on the topic of conduct of varying degrees and how his club handles incidents between members. The conversation was eye-opening to say the least, in large part because 1) Biltmore Forest still has an initiation fee, 2) Prospective members are sponsored by at least two current members, and 3) They have zero tolerance for unruly behavior, especially between members.
Is that to say all members get along like ladies and gentlemen at all times? For the most part…yes, at least within the confines of the property.
Does this practice sound too “old school” or “Stepford”? I’d like to think of it as simple courtesy. Following a code. It is acting as members should act, with decency and respect towards one another, even if they don’t break bread every Sunday over brunch.
Could reinstating the practice of sponsoring new members bring back the exclusionary days of private clubs? Without a conscientious board of directors and written policy for the interview process, I suppose, but what is the alternative?
I read through countless club newsletters every month and am always…intrigued, by the number of times I read the friendly, “for the sake of our club, please keep carts 50 yards from all greens and refrain from driving on par 3’s” requests. Do you think a club like Biltmore has to waste space in their newsletter to discuss this?
Aren’t you tired of members throwing clubs and acting like they are on a Naval ship being bombed every time they miss a green?
What about members having to be separated in the grill room because a $10 skin was won by a well-known sandbagger?
When established members are tied, literally, to new members, both act more responsibly…for the good of the entire membership.