Understanding Club Culture

By Gregg Patterson, General Manager of the Beach Club, Santa Monica


I’ve been traveling through Europe these last twelve months, exploring “club” and talking golf. Sweden. Scotland. England. Spain. Hungary. Holland. Eating great food. Drinking great wine. Looking at art. Visiting clubs. Talking to owners. Interviewing managers. Asking questions. Listening. Building my network.

I discovered that the issues in golf and the challenges of club are the same “over there” as they are “over here”. Money is tight. Time is short. The game is tough. The pool of golfers is shrinking. Loyalty has evaporated. And the competition—in all its hairy forms—is more aggressive than ever.

I’ve discovered that everyone’s asking the same three questions, speaking the same “language”, increasingly curious, hungry for answers.

How can we grow the Golfing Pie? How can we expand the number of players who are raving fans of the game??

How can my course grow its Slice of the Golfing Pie? How can my course become a magnet location for those who’ve become interested in the game??

How can I make those customers who taste our pie Stay Loyal to The Golfing Pie in general and to my Slice of the Golfing Pie in the specific? What combination of “course” and of “club,” of “hardware” and of “software” do I need to create to keep those who’ve visiting coming back for more, often???

The managers I’ve met——the Keiths, the Eddies, the Torbjorns, the Jimmies, the Tamases, the Austens, the Jorgends, the Kevins and the Daniels of clubdom——don’t think the American model of clubdom and golf is necessarily better, just different. And “different” is good because it exposes them to Ideas That Might Work. They see me coming and they start asking, listening, commenting, probing. They’re a skeptical, experienced bunch, wanting to see proof that “different” is actually “better”. They’re ready to experiment and to “give it a try.” I’ve seen them cast aside stuff we do here in the States as “unworkable” and steal other ideas that are worth a try “at home”, whether “home” is in Glasgow, or Lake Balaton, or Malmo, or Benidorm or Brands Hatch.

And I salute them for stealing the best and rejecting the rest.

The European professionals I’ve met have questions—and they’re not afraid to ask. They’re hungry for good conversation. And they want answers.

Exciting stuff. Loads of buzz.

Fueled by fear.

Riddle Me This

During my travels I discovered that The Big Three Questions—how to build the pie, increase the size of your slice and keep those who’ve tasted the pie loyal to the golfing pie and to your club—–are being “answered” with more questions. Here are the questions that keep getting asked:

What is “the great tradition of golf” and are the ‘chains of tradition” helping or hurting us grow “The Golfing Pie” and helping or hurting me as Manager / Owner grow “My Slice” of that pie? How can the “traditions of golf” be maintained while creating “new traditions” for a community of golfers less concerned about St. Andrews than two hours of camaraderie and fun? Is golf really about longer courses, more manicured fairways and more expensive equipment? Is that what attracts and retains golfers?

What is the right balance between the private club model of golf in the U.S. and the public course model in Europe? Can “club” be created in a public course, and can a “public” course be created within a private club?

What can I do to make my course a magnet attraction if I’ve got no money to invest in the course or to build more facilities for non-golf “stuff”? What tactics can I use to distinguish my course from every other course “out there” competing with me for players?

How can my nine hole golf course compete with “The Big Boys of Golf” who have eighteen holes to sell? I can’t grow the course but I want to “grow the slice.” Without acreage or investment?

How can I make my course more attractive to women and kids without destroying the golfing experience for my older, more talented traditional players? What kids and women want is different from what the men want. How do I get these warring tribes to “get along”?

What skills do I need to “get ahead” as a manager of a golf club—and how do I go about getting those skills? I want more money and more career opportunity. How do I go about getting the operational skills I need to smack down the competition?

How we “competing organizations”—greenskeepers, managers, owners, golfing pros—work together to grow the game of golf? There are lots of Organizations addressing niche issues in the golfing community. Each “close focused” on their piece of the golfing pie. Territorial. How can Golfdom get these tribes to work more closely together in “growing the pie?”

How do we change the perception of golf as an elitist sport? How can we go “mainstream” if people think we’re a niche sport for none but The Elite?

How do we tempt the Newbies? What programs will work in attracting non golfers to the sport?

How do we “nudge” the owner, manager, board, members in The Right Direction? Once we as managers know “what’s needed,” how do we convince our owners or our board of directors that they need to change their thinking and do what’s right?

Is a powerfully effective Hospitality Experience really needed to make a golf course successful—and if so, how do we go about creating such a thing? Hospitality and service distinguish the great clubs. Few European managers have a hospitality background. The principles of “loyalty” focus on service and the staff “bridge” between member and club. How can managers and owners build a winning hospitality culture?

Is it worth losing money to make our Food and Beverage Operation part of the “community building” solution? Will food and beverage build relationships, enhance community and strengthen loyalty?

If ideas come from the “expanded network,” how do we go about building that network? What combination of conferences, visits, multi-day educational programs, World Conferences, tweets and e-mails are needed to build a network that fosters ideas and stimulates The Buzz?

How can we add more “zings per minute” to our club and to the game of golf for more people? People want “more experience” for every Euro spent. How does a manager get “the buzz for the business” then translate that “buzz” into an enhanced golf / club / hospitality experience for players and their families?

Lots of questions. Thousands of answers.

Exciting stuff.

Time to “Do”

Owners and managers are on a mission in Europe——grow the pie, increase the size of their “slice” and get their “slice” to visit more and to play more holes more often.

They want ideas. They’re ready to experiment. They know that what works in Madrid might or might not work in Stockholm. What works in Los Angeles might or might not work in Hinckley. But they’re ready to try. They’re looking for ideas and the tools they’ll need to take ideas from “vision” to “action”.

I love visiting with European golf club managers and owners. They ask great questions. They make me think. They see clubs differently.

And because we connect, “golf” and “club” will continue to grow.

So do as the Europeans have done. Gather together. Open the bottle. Slice the cheese. Put out the jamon. Ask some questions. Listen. Give ideas a try.

And enjoy the journey————-