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“Who made that crazy decision?”

10.11am 18th December 2015 - Opinion

Golf Consultants Association member Jerry Kilby shares his views on club governance …

Jerry Kilby
Jerry Kilby

“Who made that crazy decision?” and “How did our committee possibly agree to do that?” are just two questions that are frequently heard around golf clubs.

Everyone involved in golf, whether as a golf course manager, pro, greenkeeper or member, will each have their favourite stories of the strange decisions that golf clubs have made down the years.

Club governance is the topic that explores who makes decisions in a club, if these decisions are made in an open and transparent management structure, and if they have been made in the best interests of the members/stakeholders. Club governance is also a subject frequently overlooked when clubs try to find out what they need to do to attract and retain more members, increase visitor revenues or any other golf management challenge.

Over a number of years, a number of very knowledgeable and experienced people have been pondering on what might be the ideal governance structure for both member-owned and proprietary golf clubs, and in my opinion, the best model is that which is advocated by the Club Managers Association of Europe (CMAE) in its Club Governance Handbook.

The handbook states: “Authority and responsibility go hand in hand, and, given a club’s reliance on willing volunteers who by the rules of the constitution change on a frequent and sometimes annual basis, it is no surprise that the governance in our clubs often becomes cloudy, and even ineffectual. Clubs can, of course, govern themselves as they see fit, but with a struggling economy creating challenging trading conditions for us all, the reality is that for clubs to be sustainable and of service to their many different members, effective relationships between volunteer leaders and paid management are essential to provide effective governance.”

The document – which is available as a template in MS Word that a club can adapt and personalise – has some key principles running through it, which golf clubs would do well to apply to their own decision-making structure. They are:

  1. The over-arching theme of the best governance structure is:

Boards (or committee) govern;

managers manage; and

members enjoy.

The ‘governing’ role is very different to the ‘managing’ role and an acceptance by both the board members and the managers that board members do not try to manage the club and managers do not try to govern the club will ensure stability and a positive working relationship between the board and the club manager.

In this structure, boards (or committees) must restrict themselves to their main purpose of ‘governing’ – by which we mean agreeing and setting the strategic direction for the club, agreeing policies, budgets and medium and long-term planning. Their other main responsibilities of course are to appoint a general manager and monitor his/her management of the club against pre-agreed key performance indicators and achievements of the objectives set, and to oversee the work of sub-committees to organise events, competitions etc.

  1. All roles, whether volunteer positions (on committee), employed positions or contracted service providers (like golf professionals and caterers) must have detailed and comprehensive job descriptions, detailing what the role entails, what is expected of them, the role within the organisation as a whole and their responsibilities. This includes club captains, presidents, chairmen, etc, on all committees and sub-committees.

This ensures volunteers who get elected or appointed to positions of authority have a clear, documented description of what they can (and can’t) do during their period of office. When I see a club that allows the club captain to be the managing director of the business for a year, I often see the club lurching from one extreme to another, as different individuals feel obliged to ‘leave their mark’ on the club as a legacy of their time. They have little or no guidance as to what their role entails, leaving them free to decide for themselves what type of role they should adopt.

  1. In the same way that when a new employee accepts a position, they sign an agreement accepting the job description and the roles and responsibilities of the post, volunteers standing for election to committee positions should be asked to do the same, signing an agreement stating they agree to accept the conditions attached to the position to which they are being elected or appointed.

The roles and responsibilities of committee members should be clearly outlined in documents given to candidates BEFORE they agree to stand for election at an AGM. If they do not agree to accept these roles and responsibilities in the event that they are elected, they should be informed that they should not stand for election.

Boards and committees can, of course, change these roles and responsibilities from time to time if they wish, but this has to be after discussion and careful consideration of the possible consequences of such changes. Without a clearly written ‘role descriptor’ for volunteers, the committee members themselves are frequently left free to decide what the role entails, and this can end up with either the committee member not undertaking the tasks expected of them, or over-stepping their responsibilities and taking on tasks that are either assigned to someone else or outside their role.

Club captains, in particular, should have their own role descriptor, which should ensure that they focus on the task of being the club’s figurehead and ambassador for their term of office and not the club’s managing director. The club captain should be playing golf, presenting prizes, making speeches, representing the club at functions, events and in club matches and generally making sure they enjoy their year as the club’s figurehead. Such posts should be awarded to long-serving members and those who have served on committees and in voluntary roles.

The chairman of a management committee or board should be the person who has responsibility for overseeing the management of the club as a business, and this person would be a different person to the club captain, elected perhaps for a three or four-year period of office, with a committee responsible for medium to long-term financial planning and investment. The chairman (not the captain) should be the line manager for the club’s general manager / club secretary, who should in turn be responsible for all other employed staff and contracted service providers.

There is no reason why these same principles would not also apply in a proprietary club, but of course, the shareholders (or their representatives) will always have the final say.

I would recommend the CMAE Club Governance Handbook to any club committee member, owner or manager seeking to improve their governance structure. This is available for any club official or manager to use, totally free of charge.

 Jerry Kilby is a consultant at Kanda Golf Marketing Services and a member of the Golf Consultants Association. The non-profit Golf Consultants Association is an organisation with a wealth of expertise in delivering honest, practical advice and solutions to golf developers and operators around the world. GCA members can offer specialist skills in any number of aspects of golf operations, including buying, selling and financing golf developments; golf marketing and media relations; designing and building golf courses and driving ranges; environmental golf development; golf market research; and much more.

Golf Consultants Association

Kanda Golf Marketing Services

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