Opinion

Getting your club ‘on board’

While revenues, membership and cost controls are all important to your club, one area that is often overlooked is the effectiveness of The Board.

Boards are the sole responsibility for the viability of clubs. Plain and simple. And getting the right people onto the Board is critical to success. In a perfect world, a Board would be composed of a diverse group of individuals who (among other things) share a strategic vision for the club, and who have the necessary skills, background, time and passion to perform their duties.

Unfortunately, that is not always possible.

Don’t get me wrong. The majority of Boards out there do a stellar job. In a struggling economy, with other sports and pastimes competing for the almighty dollar, being responsible for a golf club’s viability is not an easy task.

But at the same time, there are many board members in power who are simply not up to the task. This is not necessarily the fault of the board members themselves, but rather the fact that they may not have the necessary skills or time required, in the current environment, to thrive in their position.

A club is like a small-to-medium-sized business — often with huge turnovers, and potentially millions of dollars at stake. But not all clubs select their board members accordingly. While a large business, for example, has specific protocols in place to carefully select each member for their board, a golf club board is usually selected by popular vote at the AGM. And like most popularity-based voting processes (let’s not comment on Federal Elections, shall we), people often get elected even if they aren’t necessarily the best person for that position.

This is sometimes unavoidable, however, as it may be due to the limited pool of candidates.

A Club Board is usually composed of members from that club. A larger metropolitan club would have a pool of candidates from, say, large businesses or corporations. These candidates could be CEOs or Directors of huge businesses, with significant backgrounds in business management. But just because a person is a CEO of a company, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean they know anything about marketing to women or junior golfers. And if they are successful in their business, will they necessarily have the time needed to devote to the club?

A smaller club, on the other hand, may not have the same pool of business-educated candidates. They may have a membership of blue-collar, small business owners. Being a successful small business owner does not necessarily mean they have the skills to direct a multi-million-dollar business. Nor do they often have the skill to professionally manage a committee (to reduce the red-tape and inanity of endless committee meetings that often dwell on minutiae). But what they may lack in Big Business experience, they more than make up for in passion and devotion to the Club.

So which is better?

Every club is different, as are the Boards that run them. There is no black or white answer to this…no one-size-fits-all board formula. Boards succeed (or fail) for many reasons.

But a key question to consider is: WHY are these people interested in the position?

A candidate will run for a board for any number of reasons. While many of these reasons are to improve the club, other reasons may be more self-serving. Do they have a truly strategic vision for the long-term future of the club, or do they just want their own reserved car parking space near the clubhouse?   A new President, for example, may have an agenda to spend $200k to put in bunkers, simply because in his/her sole opinion it will make for a better look. But what the club may REALLY need is that $200k put into infrastructure, like better irrigation or drainage. While this is not necessarily a “sexy” spend of the money, it could potentially have a better long-term outcome for the club.

Many people that I’ve spoken to believe that a Board must be able to balance the needs of members with the financials, and should be composed of people that have a mix of backgrounds, age groups, golf skills, etc.

Aussie golfer Jack Newton recently said that he believes golf club boards and committees should be a diverse group.

“I have suggested the structure of a board should feature different age groups so that you get a perspective right across the board. There should be board members in their 20s, 30s, 40s…,” he said at a recent industry forum. “At least with the young age groups you are going to get a perspective of where they see things are at rather than how older blokes see it.”

No matter how you look at it, a Board is a critical part of any club. And at the end of the day, it may be time to either examine how we populate the boards, or how we can up-skill them to better prepare them to run in today’s environment.

What do you think?

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