Golf Business News.com is starting a new series titled the ‘Business of Golf Discussions’.
As the name suggests, we shall be exploring a range of key issues, opportunities and challenges facing the golf industry today. Its reach will be inter-continental and give the opportunity to share thoughts and problems across borders.
John Cockayne, who is the author and host of the series, is a business consultant and a Founder and life member of the PGA of South Africa.
The discussion series tees-off with Eddie Bullock. Eddie is no stranger the golf business in the UK having been Captain of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland and as a 40-year veteran in the golf business.
The first Business of Golf Discussion is in two parts and explores the importance that effective governance plays in management processes and how it can affect a golf club’s overall wellbeing.
Governance featuring Eddie Bullock (EB) and John Cockayne (JC)
Governance is becoming an increasingly important theme with a significant number of clubs’ boards and committees addressing this key issue and understanding how ‘getting it wrong’ can impact adversely on their individual club’s well-being.
This self-examination is not before time and it is not only about structure, organograms and tenets, but encompasses what is of equal or, perhaps, even more importance – the need for attitudinal changes
JC: Looking at golf in global terms, it is becoming increasingly obvious that many of the strategic and management challenges faced by golf facilities and golf businesses are very similar, irrespective of where they might be located.
The phrase; the ‘business of golf’, can also often create a confusing image, when too many club’s boards and committees adopt a less than business-like approach to running their club’s affairs.
As a former ‘full timer’ at the grass face and now as a consultant I also, far too often, come across the cult of personality, where a small influential group or an individual with influence (not always from a point of self-interest it must be said) can skew and impair a club’s strategic thinking and governance.
Someone commented recently that it must be wonderful for me having to face different challenges every day. Unfortunately, what I am finding increasingly is that the same mistakes are becoming a recurring theme.
It has now become almost like a golfing ‘Groundhog Day’ but one without the benefits i.e. the ‘view’ of an Andie McDowell and the fun of a Bill Murray!
EB: Yes – if you believe that ‘variety is the spice of life’ then don’t become a consultant, but in truth the cult of personality can indeed also be a problem here in the UK.
Many of us, involved in golf club life, will have experienced facilities that have been operated by domineering boards or committees, or by powerful cliques and personalities who have pushed their personal agendas, not dissimilar to what can happen in the running of a family business.
An added factor is that many golf clubs historically adopted and have not yet shaken off Victorian methods of governing their respected clubs.
These methods have never been the most productive or efficient. Now faced with what is a very changed trading environment, the continued use of such outmoded management styles is ineffective at best and positively harmful at worst.
JC: Before we go any further, perhaps we can try to summarise what we believe corporate governance to be? For me it is system of rules, declared ethics, practices and processes by which a business is managed and controlled.
Essentially this involves balancing the often disparate interests of a business with various stakeholders and publics, from the shareholders and management, to customers, suppliers and financiers and then on to its broader responsibilities to government and the community.
We can substitute a golf club’s publics virtually one on one for the above, with the greyer areas, for example, shareholders becoming the members and visitors and members representing the customers.
EB: Many clubs have fallen foul of the legacy of previous generations who were blinded to what was happening outside their fiefdoms.
This leads to little or no communication, a lack of coordination and a very inefficient governance system and the result, in brief, is that they were not being operated in the most effective, most efficient nor fiscally responsible manner.
Governance at many clubs today divides members against members, volunteers against volunteers and volunteers against the salaried managers. This general malfunction leads to chaos and all kinds of operating inefficiencies.
Non-proprietary clubs are non-profit businesses, hopefully dealing with a harmonious work ethic between volunteers and paid staff; with this in mind the customers are also the owners and employers – a unique business relationship!
The underlining effect and complexity with this structure is those volunteers can find themselves entangled and unable to “see the wood for the trees”.
This creates the difficulty for many clubs today of a lack of clarity in leadership roles and in terms of the respective responsibilities of the volunteer boards and the professional paid management.
Role clarity reinforces the position of the volunteer as one of establishing the club’s direction and the role of staff as the professionals in charge of the day to day management of the club.
This also prevents the volunteers from falling into the trap of becoming unpaid management and management not taking ownership of the club’s business.
JC: In dealing with my golf clients and to get these types of key points across, I often use analogies or business parallels to try to break up the chain of thinking and jog people onto a different thought mode when it comes to building a successful business foundation.
My current favourite, when it comes to the daily needs of governance in general and marketing in particular, has been to reinforce the iterative nature of these activities by asking (innocently) whether the board, or committee would be happy if the golf course’s greens were cut once a month!
Does this or something similar work for you?
EB: Yes indeed – I like to compare managing a golf club for the long term to being like managing a garden.
If you want it to keep it healthy and blossoming for the next 20 years, then you have to plant the seeds now and you need to develop the right maintenance plan and stick with it, only making adjustments when necessary to cope with changing conditions, in order to continually nurture the plants over the years to ensure a good and healthy return.
The same is true of the vision you aspire to for your golf club business and if you want to leave the club in good condition for the next generation, you have to start planning now.
Both gardens and golf club businesses can grow to be very old and productive with the right programme and management staff in place to manage them.
JC: Outside of the local rules, which govern business on a regional and individual facility level, most clubs face similar challenges such as the spectre of continued falls in memberships levels, the difficulty with bringing in new ‘blood’ to the game, better commercial use of facilities, and too few revenue streams outside of the staple returns on green fees and membership subs.
Given these challenges, would it be accurate to say that there has never been a time when good governance has been of more importance?
EB: Absolutely not and now is the time for golf clubs to get their act together!
I would advocate that implementing change for boards and the clubs’ general managers in order for them to work cooperatively for the good and benefit of the sustainability of the club and its membership
I have visited a number of golf clubs during the last eighteen months and have been encouraged to listen to the new wave of chairpersons who are intent or are making the required evolutionary changes within their respective clubs.
The general consensus is that they have a vision, an increasing desire to increase productivity and want to invest in a more effective board, while limiting the micromanagement of the club staff.
In brief I believe that a board’s key responsibilities are to provide leadership and direction.
This responsibility was eloquently summarised in 1995 by Sir Harvey Jones the former Chairperson of ICI when he said: “The job of the board is all to do with creating momentum, movement, improvement and direction. If the board is not taking the company purposefully into the future, who is?”
JC: Ah yes – the ongoing curse and temptations of micromanagement and this does of course bring back echoes of Brian Melbancke’s comments about having a dog and still wanting to bark yourself!
Although there are many types of businesses and activities within the business of golf, all with a variety of constitutions and a mix of commercial goals, when it comes to a question of ‘good governance’ the key elements are consistent to all of them and the primary layers of these will be the need for:
- Finding the ‘right’ staff;
- The development of the right strategy, supported by consistent and cohesive management policies;
- The set-up of a structure based on non-interference and in which the board or committee offers guidance and proper oversight to the management team;
- Clear processes and decision making with the rights / responsibilities for given areas within the operational process clearly defined;
I am never quite sure about the last point and whether it should be included as goal, or whether it should be taken as a natural by-product of all the others.
Given the recent corporate behaviour of the likes of VW with its engines’ transmissions issues, Google and Facebook with their ineffectiveness to guard against ‘unsuitable content’ and the exposure of the unethical behaviour of various multinationals in South Africa’s rapidly expanding corruption investigations – perhaps it deserves a tee off time all on its own?!
To be continued……Part Two of ‘Governance’ will be published on Wednesday 1st May 2019.
Eddie Bullock’s career path has encompassed every major sector within the golf industry.
In this process he has gained considerable first-hand experience at golf’s grass face in such diverse roles such as the Captain of the PGA of GB & Ireland and as a past GM of Woburn and he is now widely recognised as an authority on emerging lifestyle trends
Eddie uses a unique blend of creativity, personal experience and contemporary proven systems to help golf clubs prepare for success, whereby increasing their golf hospitality growth, delivering memorable service levels while coaching and motivating their teams to be confident and proud in the product they sell.
Given his track record, it is not surprising, and outside of his commitments to his own management consultancy’s clients, that Eddie is also on the board of golf industry leaders such as Goodwood as the golf president, and as a non-executive director of Colt Mackenzie McNair and Royal Norwich.
Eddie Bullock, Golf Business Consultant
John Cockayne, who will be hosting the Business of Golf Discussion Series is the originator of the series’ content, has had an eclectic career in golf.
He is a Founder and Life member of the PGA of South Africa and is no stranger to working inside the ropes having held operational roles as a head professional, director of golf, club manager, coaching director and as a tournament official on the Sunshine Circuit.
John is also a very experienced event manager, has had extensive marketing experience, worked as a project consultant on three continents and has developed and run a travel agency and two tour operator businesses.
This background has resulted in his being the first point of contact for ARC’s (Association of Residential Communities) 50 plus member golf estates in the Southern Africa region.
John’s business experience in tandem with his writing skills – he has written for numerous publications and is currently the golf editor with or a contributor to Destination Golf Travel, GolfVistaSA, Estate Living magazine and GolfWeather.com – makes him perfectly placed to identify the right story and host the appropriate industry professional to help to cover the topic.
John Cockayne, CEO: The Business of Golf