The Loop

Private Clubs Story

December 18, 2008


Golf Digest Editor:>

Your article ("How to Fix Private Clubs", by Davis Sezna) in the October issue of Golf Digest has certainly struck a nerve through out the private club industry. I have received over one hundred reactions to your article and the article in the Wall Street Journal. The comments below reflect the general tone of comments from club members, vendors and from the individuals on the management team of many, many private clubs.>




Golf Digest is a "must have" in every club I have been familiar with. Great comprehensive publication that has truly stood the test of time.

The club operations referenced in the article, however, seem to suggest an industry experts opinion. This individual is simply dead wrong. Quite frankly, neither the author of the article nor the individual credited with the remarks in the article could have been near one of the 3,000 private clubs managed by a professional club manager in the last twenty years.

The individual's remarks may truly reflect a very limited exposure to a segment of the industry which is less than 10% of the club industry, but certainly not the private club industry in general. But then again, it is only their opinion, I suppose.

Quite factually, the private clubs managed by CMAA members alone generated almost $14 billion in revenue last year, of which $4+ billion was payroll. The private club segment of the total club business model in America is stronger and better managed than at any point in the last 100 years.

Suffice it to say, there was little ''homework" done on the background of which one might base any conclusions drawn from this particular article.

The private club in every community in which it may exist is one of the most sustainable economic engines within that community. It is a single purpose business that remains on the same property and pays taxes to that community. Provides jobs for decade after decade and remains the best friend to dozens of small businesses, from the florists and linen companies to the FedEx/UPS services, plumbers and painters and purveyors of consumables on the golf course as well as within the many common areas of the club.

These two guys really need to get out of their bubble and see what has happened within this industry over the past twenty years. I would be happy to enlighten anyone with some facts.

Thank you for listening to the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say)!

Jim Singerling, CEO

Club Managers Association of America (19 years)

Jim, thanks very much for your letter. I asked consultant Davis Sezna, who authored the main piece, to comment and he replied that he thinks the story stands on its own. I won't argue that, but will add a couple of observations. I happen to belong to a club that has done it right: shored up its financial picture, upgraded its swimming, golf and tennis facilities but within reason, and, with the help of a very savvy manager, added programs and menus that appeal to families. We were tempted to spend millions on a new clubhouse but resisted and simply restored needy areas in a charming old one. But I know two clubs very nearby that did the opposite: invested in huge new clubhouses, imposed choking assessments, and had to increase initiation fees. Certainly it's not the managers who make these decisions; it's the members in most cases, owners in others. But there are shining examples and horror stories living side by side out there. And 2009 will likely tell us which is which.

--Bob Carney

(Illustration: Seymour Chwast)