Thomas Hobson, a 17th century Englishman, owned a livery stable. To rotate the use of his horses, he offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door or none at all. This take-it-or-leave-it proposition gave birth to the expression “Hobson’s Choice.”
In our experience, we often see club leaders debating whether to do something undesirable or nothing at all. Usually these dilemmas involve member discipline, course care and upkeep or capital expense planning.
For example, what should the club do with a recalcitrant or ill-behaved member when it desperately needs more members? Or, when the club needs to improve its services for women and families, how does a manager navigate the golf committee that wants to rebuild bunkers to please the golfers?
Whether you call it a Hobson’s Choice, a rock and a hard place or a no-win situation, everyone wants to avoid such undesirable situations. Our advice is consistent: plan. Too many clubs function in a constantly reactive state, without a growth plan and with an urgent need for incremental member revenue. Here are three examples of how diligent planning helps you avoid a Hobson’s Choice.
What are existing members’ demographic and psychographic traits, and where do you find more people like them? The starting point is to know members and to understand what they value about your club. Each club should keep a member profile that includes preferences, as well as things they don’t like. Member surveys are easy and effective tools for gaining this valuable knowledge.
Top clubs go further by knowing their members’ backgrounds: where they attended school, where they work, which activities their children enjoy. Then they use that information to make informed decisions. Too often boardrooms are populated by members who do not have current data concerning their members and are reduced to guessing about what actions will be well received.
New members are right outside the front gate. So who are they? The U.S. Census Bureau provides valuable insights, including household income (HHI), household net worth, fair-market home value and educational level, which research shows well-educated people tend to join clubs of one type or another.
Knowing the market for prospective members suggests strategies and tactics to recruit new members. For example, clubs surrounded by families with medium-to-high HHI suggests the importance of strong junior programs. Clubs in areas with a number of men and women 55 or older suggests an appeal built around socialization. Whatever the research tells you about your community, follow it by building membership plans that match the market.
The best recruiters for a private club are its current members. Every club should have a robust member recruitment process in place.
Women are especially effective in this regard. So are friends. Demonstrate how comfortably your club brings new members on board. Emphasize how easily new members make friends. Many clubs make the mistake of claiming they are friendly without demonstrating how new members are embraced. Tell stories about the fun your members are having. Better yet, use pictures and let members tell their own stories.
Fitness is a priority for many prospective members. Emphasize activities in your visuals and show the wide assortment of choices.
Effective member communication is a requirement to reinforce value. Bearing in mind communication is a two-way process, top-performing clubs are utilizing three strategies:
Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. DeLozier joined Global Golf Advisors in 2008 after nine years as the vice president of golf for Pulte Homes. He is a past president of the National Golf Course Owners Association’s board of directors and serves on the PGA of America’s Employers Advisory Council.