Club boards must listen to their key staff

By Andrew Whiley
A voice from the south

Recently, a PGA golf professional publicly criticised the golf club he was leaving.
This is a rarity and was quite controversial, especially when it was covered by the local newspaper. There were some key points that grabbed my attention and I was really interested when some of my golf friends commented on it. I also thought it was absurd.
The quote was “the course was in decline’’ and the pro had never been invited to provide “input’’ into golf operations, despite having represented New Zealand and played in the New Zealand and Australian Open Championships.
To be honest, I was staggered but not surprised at these comments, as I have heard it frequently from some of our country’s top club pros struggling with their lack of input at their respective golf clubs.
Why wouldn’t any organisation engage with someone who has expert and daily operational knowledge of and strong relationships with its key customers? Why wouldn’t they also engage with someone who could assist to make the facility better and more profitable?
In any governance role, one should be most concerned about making the best informed decisions as possible. So why a golf club board does not seek input from its professional and key staff on all golf related matters and actually engage with them at the board table is absurd to me.
I know many people that read my column in this publication will know that I frequently drum on about the quality of our PGA professionals, the direction of golf clubs and how club boards can affect the direction and fortunes of a golf club. I cannot emphasise this enough and will reinforce this message again and again. Why? For the betterment of the game and to enhance the success of your golf club.
I am conscious that many golf clubs around New Zealand do not have their own golf professional or at least have a professional affiliated with their facility. Today, there are many options available to golf clubs to get the best knowledge and to assist them to be more profitable and run more effectively. New Zealand Golf has done some great work in this area over the last few years, with golf club development resources and in creating a team of experienced professionals that can assist all golf clubs to be more successful.
I have talked to many leading NZPGA golf professionals that have some amazing talents to offer, yet often their golf club or the local clubs in the area don’t even ask for assistance.
One PGA professional I was recently talking with had been at his golf club for many years but couldn’t even get a meeting with the chair of the board about his role and the direction of the golf club. Meanwhile, he was active with the club membership, was running a successful business and talking to many potential new sponsors for the club. He saw some parts of the club that were struggling which the board was trying to fix. But board members just wouldn’t engage with him.
I also see many successful businesses and golf clubs that actively take time to engage with key staff members even if this may only involve a small presentation to the board at every second or third meeting. This type of presentation is a great time for boards to grasp the issues and get a feel for positive and negative things happening in the business or at the golf club. Personally, I believe at larger golf clubs, the golf course superintendent should be an integral participant at the board table on a regular basis.
For smaller golf clubs, I strongly suggest that they liaise with the team at NZ Golf, the local regional sports trusts and also with local golf professionals and green superintendents — they are all folks that can provide independent advice.
What I do not recommend, however, is engaging these professionals from another club that is in direct competition with you. I am certain, though, that there are some amazing talented individuals that you can find to assist your golf club to help make it thrive!
To be a successful golf club today you need great leadership, the strength to tackle the key issues, the foresight to listen and engage with key staff, a strong communication link with the membership and the ability to nimbly adapt to the changing market.
I hope your golf club and board is ticking all these boxes rather than drowning in debt, lacking direction or appearing in the newspaper for all the wrong reasons.