Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course at Pearl Valley. Picture: SUPPLIED
Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course at Pearl Valley. Picture: SUPPLIED

For many golf clubs Covid-19 has had a similar effect to that on people: it was particularly dangerous to those clubs and golf businesses with co-morbidities such as a narrow revenue base or shrinking membership.

The fact that the lockdown closures and resulting revenue losses were unnecessary for most clubs is sadly spilt milk and we shall need to move on.

Joining me in this discussion is Damian Wrigley (DW), who is the golf GM at the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course on Val de Vie Estate.

JC: I have been consistently critical of many golf management programmes, which do not seem to be preparing graduates for the reality of the new golf business environment, the pressures in which saw the pandemic as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We need a new breed of managers who are innovative and creative goal scorers and not the custodial goalkeeper type that were the mainspring of the industry in the past.

DW: I would agree that for all of us overcoming the effects of the pandemic will involve some real innovation and agility. At Pearl Valley, like most clubs, we are looking at what is in effect a completely lost year in revenue terms.

JC: It has been a double blow for many clubs, especially those that rely on international and regional tourism. Is it just a case of trading out of this period or will there need to be more radical structural changes?

DW: It was initially very scary, but now we shall need to see what opportunities have arisen, while finding ways to mitigate lost revenues through the lack of international travel. Doing more in the local market and identifying potential new revenues while rationalising current operations is the immediate need.

JC: We shall deal with the curse of micromanagement by boards and committees further on. However, this aspect of club operations has often proved to be a serious obstacle with the regular turnover of committee members and the pursuit of ill-advised short-term projects, leaving important decisions unmade, because of the system’s inherent inefficiencies and the fear of failure and legacy concerns that can arise.

I often wonder if boards are really au fait with their key responsibilities. I recently observed that a board’s role was not to keep an eye on their management team, at least not at the level many become involved, but rather as asset managers. In this their focus should be in making sure their estate is well run, providing the high-level oversight that a board should offer its management team and to see that property values were protected and enhanced.

DW: It is a real shame when any committee, or certain members of it, feel it necessary, or that their role is to become “over-involved” with established management processes. It becomes more distressing when this happens to good management people, especially those with successful business records.

The end result of this can be that the management team has its energy sucked away by people, often with much less knowledge, intent on second guessing their activities, especially as this often happens on a one-to-one basis and without the official approval of the committee itself.

JC: One of my favourite descriptions, from many years ago, is that a “camel was a horse designed by a golf committee”. Given the travails with the pandemic, this same analogy can now be applied to many governments and often explains the flip-flopping that goes on with boards, especially with strategic plans, which results in a mishmash of contradictory ideas cobbled together and seen as some sort of plan.

DW: I am very fortunate at Pearl Valley where I have the confidence of my board and a unified team, so we are not prey to some of these issues, which I also hear about from colleagues at other facilities. I must agree with a comment you made some time ago about the main failure in the committee structure being its impermanence and each successive committee not being required to stick with adopted strategies and processes. This should be the norm, unless of course, some radical intervention is required because something is patently not working.

JC: In this type of planning who should be involved?

DW: It is key for senior management to be involved in developing these solutions so that they can “own” them and have the related accountability.

JC: I see it as highly inefficient when you have a management team and then effectively do not trust them, as evidenced by micromanagement. However, I also often wonder when I see a person is in a certain position, when their skill sets are so obviously unsuitable, so a final thought from you on this.

DW: I believe these issues are also largely the result of inconsistent planning. How can one know who to appoint to a role and what skill sets and resources will be required if you do not have an established and deliverable plan in place?

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