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Bucking Tradition: Above all, try something.

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Bucking Tradition: Above all, try something.

I read an article back in January about a golf club that abolished Initiation Fees, with the author posing the question:  Bold Move or Desperate Measure?

I bookmarked it knowing I’d come back to it, knowing that it was an article filled with irony and purpose.  And could perhaps even be described as profound if the reader cared to dig deeper into the real meaning of the author’s purpose and insight.


Of course, apologies to Mr. Robert Thompson if I’ve got it completely wrong, but I’m thinking that at least from my perspective, I’ve got the point.  It’s a great read and one that as simple as the message appears, really takes a second read and some time to digest just how far reaching the message could be.

And I knew that at some point I’d want to write about it.  And so 11 months later, here I am to indulge myself.

Golf is a game of tradition.  Always has been.   And though I prefer to consider myself part of a younger, progressive generation, I am already 40 after all and reminded daily that the generations after mine are likely to be the real game-changers.  So I’m probably a traditionalist too, in some respects.  And as traditionalists (a.k.a. golfers) we hold to convention because for so many reasons it links us back to the good old days.  In particular for the business of golf.  And really, until the struggles of the last decade and a half, I’m not sure anyone even referred to the “business” of golf, at least not in the harsher sense we refer to it today.  Then it was still just a game.  A widely popular, at times exclusive, and most definitely profitable, game.  Any concepts of business, fiscal responsibility, and forethought were often jaded with waiting lists, under-supply and over-demand.
So, of course, as business-people, we collectively made an effort to accommodate.  We met demand with supply.  And more supply.  And more supply.
Then came the recession of 2008, failing infrastructures, and changing socio-economic demands and the “business of golf” would (almost overnight it seemed) flip to over-supply and under-demand.  Now, I understand that I’m not identifying a problem that you can’t find in every consultant’s report conducted in the last half dozen years in Ontario.  (And trust me – consultants have not been suffering from that same under-demand, clearly.)  And further, this isn’t professed to be an earth-shattering epiphany in the year 2016.  It’s more what followed all these shifting trends that struck me.
Faced with this complete reversal of business economics, as golfers we simply reverted to what we knew.  We turned back to tradition, to the glory days.  We looked at patches and band-aids and bailing buckets, thinking that the sunny shore was just ahead in the distance.  That we’d hop off this Titanic and wake up to a waiting list of membership and packed tee sheets.  And maybe you can’t even blame us for thinking so, it’s how we were raised, it’s all we ever knew.  And we were really slow to change. 
The problem is much like the Titanic, you have to veer your rudder long, long before you see the iceberg or it’s too late.  And as an industry as a whole, the worst part is, we are still making the same mistakes.  And then we dole out blame.  We blame time.  We blame family commitment.  We blame culture.  We blame economics.  We blame UnderPar.  We blame GolfNow.
But we should blame ourselves.  It`s us that keeps pushing toward the iceberg.
And so we get back to the article.  And I’m hoping that before you finished this one that you’ve clicked over to read Mr. Thompson’s view on The Summit’s decision to abolish Entrance Fees.  If you haven’t please do.  When you get back you’ll see why I’ve stored this one away.
As golfers (a.k.a. “traditionalists”) we continue to look for a path back to the Treasure Island.  A way back to the good old days of waiting lists and huge entrance fees.  And wondering why we just can’t find it.  But here’s the truth:  it’s not there.  It’s gone.  And it has been gone for a long time.
The old model is dead.  It’s time to stop looking solely at metrics, marketing, and membership drives  and start looking at the model.  The model has been on life support since 2008 and we’ve buried our collective heads in the sand ever since.  We need to try new things.  It doesn’t even matter what it is, we need to try new things.  And we need to be ruthless.
And please don’t misunderstand me – I know clubs have tried various new approaches and concepts – but I’m not talking about soccer golf or larger holes or 12-hole facilities.  I’m talking about the economic and business models that underlie whatever products we choose to put out there.
And whether you, I, or the other clubs competing with Summit for new members agree with Mr. Leggatt’s strategy, you have to applaud he and their management group.  And not for removing Initiation Fees.  For taking steps to try new things.  To change.  To go against the grain.  It’s refreshing.  And my guess is this is only the beginning for them.
And, while our model at Kawartha isn’t perfected just yet, I applaud our Board of Directors for two years ago seeing the trends, stripping it down, and trying, testing, and tweaking new membership and corporate models to move into the future.   I applaud the membership for overwhelmingly supporting, voting for, and embracing, radical change.  For going against tradition.  It’s certainly not without its headaches, but neither is muddling through the same model for five more years until you’re staring down the barrel of receivership.  I prefer the headaches, and I trust our members do as well.
And for the clubs like Kawartha and Summit that are making significant changes, for adopting new traditions, the future holds real possibility.  For the rest, well maybe I should just leave well enough alone.
FDR had it right:  Above all, try something.
And while I can attest to the positive trends in membership numbers at Kawartha since our changes, I’ve yet to sit down and talk with Ian or Robert about how things have gone at Summit since January.  But I sure intend to.

Posted: 11/10/2016 3:54:14 PM by Kevin Greenwood, General Manager, KGCC | with 6 comments

Peter McDonald
Change is good particularly when it encourages social interaction. Get to know your fellow members. It takes the members to make it happen tho'. One of the reassons my wife and I joined KCC was we hoped for a social club. We entered the first Mixed event and really enjoyed it. We were most disappointed when the next one was cancelled due to lack of interest, and there were no more. My wife really enjoyed Business Ladies, but Men's night didn't work for me. I found it hard as a new comer as everybody seemed to be in their regular foursomes that they'd been in for years. Previous clubs I've played have let the pro shop organise groups at Men's night mixing people up. So some things have worked for us at KCC, some haven't. Great course!!
1/16/2017 11:09:53 PM
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Leggitt, Mr. Robert
Ver interesting. Maybe we should try some of the suggestions. I know that years ago we had dances and a Huge outdoor corn roast that was extremely well attended.
11/16/2016 9:34:34 PM
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Reid, Mrs. Yvonne
Mr Cunningham you have some great ideas. Have you considered volunteering for something like running the socials to bring these ideas to life?
11/14/2016 2:43:25 PM
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paul ryan
Well written,Kevin.I have a friend who has been a member at Summit since 1972.He is thoughtful and articulate...a man worth consulting.I think he would be a good person totalk to...If interested please let me know.
11/11/2016 4:55:54 PM
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Stanlick, Mr. Steve
Superb! We're on the right track!
11/11/2016 12:18:41 AM
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Jeff Cunningham
Well written Mr. Greenwood! that's traditional this fa and age. I thought you would appreciate that LOL. Ahh I'm a traditionalist as well and agree...for this industry, game and our very club to survive change whether looked upon as radical or not needs to be embraced. Golf will survive, but only the smart innovators will crawl out of this mess.

Members, golfers and staff who aren't in agreement are walking around with blinders on. All it takes is a little Ontario golf travel to see how other clubs (both private and public) are recreating themselves in this modern era of golf. I have been fortunate to whitness some fantastic ideas playing throughout Ontario, many of which Kawartha could truly benefit from. We especially have a great opportunity to recareat ourselves through the revitilization project and the addition of a new clubhouse.

One day (hopefully soon) we'll see things such as______ebraced at our club:
• Bonfire pits on the back patio of the clubhouse
• Flipflops, tailored jeans, brand names T-shirts, etc on the patio
• Pace of play incentives for rounds completed in 4 hours or less. Where points are accumulated and put towards rewards i.e. extra rounds, golf shop merchandise, F&B credits, etc...
• Lights over the putting green to allow for evening gamesmanship - juniors betting for chacolate bars or money games between buddies
• Glow-in-the-dark golf 1x/month
• Canada Day fireworks on the course
• Feature nights with live music on the clubhouse patio
• Invite micro breweries, wine makers, distilleries for feature days and ride on the beverage cart
• Outdoor movie nights in the summer with overnight camping
• Bocce Ball on the clubhouse lawn
• Third party business opportunities to operate on property (an assortment of options from barista bars, studio space for yoga, pilates, gym equipment, etc)
• Winter activities - groomed cross country ski trails, skating on the pond, annual pond hockey tournament
• Easter Egg hunts
There are so many options...

Looking forward to more of your posts/blogs!
11/11/2016 12:02:26 AM
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Bucking Tradition: Above all, try something.
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