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?

Richard Fellner

Editor

YOUR SAY

We want feedback from club members, Board members or anyone else wishing to share an opinion. What do you know about your current board members? Does your club have a successful process to select board members to ensure your club continues to grow? Is your board more successful than others? Why or why not? Should it be more or less corporate? Should Boards get remuneration?

Send us your emails and let us know. Confidentiality will be maintained should you wish to keep your name/club anonymous. But the more feedback we receive, the better.

 

5 Responses to "Getting your club on “board”"

  1. Doug Perry  July 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Right on the mark
    “Your article should be the basis of a required reading paper for all prospective “board” members.
    I worry about the introduction of the wording “board” member as against the previous “committee”.
    A lid needs to be kept on capabilities against responsibilities.
    Some clubs have the good fortune of corporate leaders to call on that make themselves available.
    Most, however, are made up of good meaning, caring “committee members” at best. I say that with the greatest of respect.
    Too many of our clubs have gone under or are currently in bad shape, due to generally good committee intentions but bad decisions on matters totally out of their depth.
    Your points:
    1. Careful, best qualified selection vs popular vote. You’re right.
    2. New C’tee/board members making their mark with change for the sake of change. Right again.
    Resisting change until every box is ticked is the required skill.
    Course/Building/Major financial decisions should not be implemented without referral to and advice back from qualified respective professionals.
    You finished posing the question “How we can up-skill them to better prepare them to run in today’s environment…”. Clubs are paying a lot of money in affiliation fees, insurance, magazines etc to Golf Australia and their State bodies. They would better serve their member clubs by providing business, club committee/ board guidance than catering to social golf clubs.

    Doug Perry
    Mt Martha. Vic.

  2. Alan Jones  July 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway
    I am a board member of a Melbourne metropolitan club, and your article was so true in respect of the type of person that is required to be on the board. We have a successful gaming venue which heavily subsidizes the golfing activities and, as such, as far as the members are concerned money is no object. The board is basically comprised of retired persons with little or no business experience, yet we are running a business with a turnover in excess of $5.0m and I am not sure how we get change. The attitude is “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”, instead of trying to improve and getting more professional!
    Jack Newton is right about a board being diversified but it really is a question of people being willing to put their hands up for a job, however in most instances it is a closed shop with people not wanting change.
    I have a board meeting this week and I will provide the article to my fellow members.

    Alan Jones

  3. Trev & Ray  July 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Board killing the club
    I will briefly outline the profound mismanagement by recent Boards at our Golf Club. Over the past ten years, successive Boards have:
    • Imposed an $8m debt on our Club. (Huge mortgages whilst repaying interest only).
    • Placed the Club in prima facie insolvency with current liabilities $1,542,050 exceeding assets of $385,045.
    • Posted substantial losses over the past two years – 2011/$458,616 and 2010/$473,148.
    Given that our Beachside Club is the jewel in this Tourist District crown, this situation is inexplicable. I am told that there is no remedy to be found against the persons responsible for this debacle. The future of many of our Club facilities is now in great jeopardy.

    The above situation would not have occurred had we a CEO with total responsibility for business and golf operations. This would necessitate a change to the Club’s constitution to give the CEO total control/veto over Board propositions/decisions. (The CEO position would need to be filled by utilizing the services of ‘headhunting’ professionals.)

    Trev & Ray

  4. Name withheld  July 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Diversity is key
    One the one hand, you have directors who try to do the best for their club and often have a thankless task. On the other hand, they have to get voted at an AGM, and often few people want to do the job.

    So the majority of board directors often end up being aged 50+. They have a lot of knowledge of the game, but usually have limited foresight due to a number of factors:

    - usually play more than 90% of their golf at their home club
    - they don’t see what is going on with junior golf
    - didn’t grow up in the computer age, so don’t envisage technology
    - find change difficult

    Jack Newton’s comments that golf board’s should be made up of a range of age groups is the way I believe boards should be. There would then be a mix of golf experience, current ideas and capacity to change.

    Golf has a major problem now in that there is a lack of players in the 20-40 age group. In the 80’s, golf rode off the Greg Norman boom, but if you look in Sydney for example, all club memberships have been reducing for a number of years. Yet, there’s been very little changes in attitudes of golf clubs to fostering juniors, ladies competitions and membership generally.

    As with directorship generally, there are often disputes in the group, and too often I have seen golf board disputes lead to favouritism in regard to team selections as some board members enjoy the power their role gives them.

    To be an effective board member you need to listen to members’ concerns, and be able to voice the board’s view in a rational manner, as well as have the foresight and vision to advance the club. A business plan can be an effective tool in growing a business, yet I know of few clubs who can foresee more than 12 months in advance.

    Golf boards need to move with the times, otherwise all clubs will be struggling with ageing memberships. A mixture of different age groups on board’s is definitely an answer, which will probably mean that some potential board members will have to be chased rather than voted for at an AGM.

  5. John Miller  July 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Experience, not popularity
    I was the Finance Director of a Golf Club in S.E. Melbourne for seven years. I have an accounting background which I found to be important in trying to get the financial message across to fellow Directors and members.

    Being a Director is a very time consuming position and requires a close working relationship with the GM and other committees for the Board to function efficiently. This is especially so with the Finance Director.

    There is no benefit in being a monthly attendee at Board meetings if that is the extent of your participation and input.

    Your comment on people often getting elected for the wrong reasons is very true. Popularity polls do not necessarily give you the right person for the job especially where there are supporting factions within the Club for particular candidates.

    You do find that some people want to get on the Board to push their own agenda and don’t balance the needs of Members with the financial requirements of the Club. They want to protect their self interests and don’t want to change what has been the practice for years.

    Getting people in the 30+ age bracket to become members is very difficult in this economic climate let alone committing to being a Board member. The trend for this age bracket seem to be more focused in getting together with a few mates and playing different courses once a fortnight or month, and especially so if there are family commitments.

    John Miller

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