Shaking the Tree, Burning the Forest, and Making Room for the Next Generation


Burn Baby Burn

In the club business, cash is the match that lights the fire that burns the forest that makes room for the next generation.


My club just assessed the members $17,000 each to buy a half acre of beach front property. A big, dramatic, strategic statement was being made by the board about our club and its future—and the membership knew it. Some cheered the decision. Others tore their hair, ripped their shirts, beat their chests and howled. The Tearers, the Rippers, the Beaters and the Howlers were very, very unhappy and they let the world know.

When the assessment came due and the checks got written, the yowling intensified and the resignations came pouring in. The Stayers said “Good riddance, we’re glad the old geekers are gone. Onward and upward!” The Goers said “The yuppies have destroyed the club, trampled its history, and erased the love. Time to exit.” And they did.

I’ve known the Goers for decades. I feel their pain. I commiserate. We embrace. We weep. The “Ugh Factor” is big and wide and rips me in two.

But the rational me knows that our club is better served if the Goers go. Not to say that the Club will be a “better” club—“better” having as many definitions as the club has members—but the community will be less fractured, less divisive, less corrosive, and more focused on its remaining “values.” At some deep subliminal level The Stayers and The Goers know this to be true. So some stay and others go. And they’re right to do so.

Cash was the match that lit the fire that illuminated our culture. The heat tempered our club and affirmed our values. The wind blew, the trees shook and the low hanging fruit fell away. The forest burned, the undergrowth was consumed, and there’s now room for the next generation. Strategic moves. Creative destruction. Painful business. Healthy stuff.

We hope…..

Cash is King—Who Are We???

When it comes to money, everyone is a strategic thinker. Change the prices and the members will ask—“who are we?”

Cultures are, in part, defined by the way they spend money—on what, how much, and when. Send the cash down a different road and the club will end up in a different place. Cash decisions are markers for the club’s strategic vision.

Boards know this. Managers know this. Members know this. That’s why cash causes such a tussle at home and in the club. Cash matters. While one generation may pull in the belt and wait for better times, the other goes to the bank and takes out a loan. Insults are hurled by the aggrieved and the club will fracture along financial fault lines. Healthy stuff. Necessary stuff. Strategic stuff. But painful.

Every time your Board or manager changes the dollar signs—the cost of drinks, the price of admissions, the pay rate for employees—the culture will change. Sometimes the change is instantaneous and the feedback immediate, as with an assessment, and sometimes the change is slow and the feedback muted, as with the price of Chilean sea bass in the dining room.

Sometimes you think you know where the changes will take you—an increase in the admissions fees will reduce the pool of applicants—and sometimes you get fooled—the increase in admissions fees inspires more rather than fewer to apply. But change the culture most assuredly will.

When Cash speaks, the membership listen—and the questions will flow. Everyone becomes a strategic thinker. Who are we???

The board needs dollars to fuel the expanded operation—so it increases the size of the membership. Members will ask—“Are we going to lose that wonderful sense of neighborhood and community that we’ve always had?” Who are we???

The board needs more members to fill the dining room—so they mandate a food and beverage minimum. Members will ask—“Why not eliminate the dining room altogether and save us the bucks?” Who are we???

The board wants a new clubhouse—so they assess. Members will ask—“What’s wrong with our wonderful old clubhouse?” Who are we???

If the board wants to tell the members who should stay and who should go, they need only change the numbers and the message will be sent. Every dollar adjustment is saying “yes” to some and “no” to others. Every assessment is saying “stay” to some and “go” to others. The members will get the message. The staff will get the message.

They’ll follow the cash and they’ll know who the club is, where it’s going and what it wants to be.

Cash is a cultural marker. Forget mission statements and vision statements and marketing blurbs. Show them receipts and they’ll know the club.

Cash is King—Who Am I???

When it comes to money, every member thinks strategically. Change the prices and a member will ask, “what’s this club worth to me and my family?” Who am I???

For every member, the Club Adventure has a dollar sign attached to it that screams “How much is this stuff really worth—to me?” Every member has a tipping point when utility and cost intersect. Charge a nickel more and they’ll squeal. And they’ll begin to ask— Who am I???

Over the years and decades, a member’s needs and expectations change. What’s valuable to a family of pre-schoolers is worth less to a family of “empty nesters.” Ages and stages. Either the club satisfies those needs, or the member moves elsewhere to a club more “right” than the one they’re leaving. Creative destruction. Healthy stuff. Good for the member and good for the club.

Sometimes members use cash controversies to justify a personal “strategic” decision they’d already made but have yet to announce—“I play golf once every six months and paying $1,200 a month in dues, food minimums, locker fees and debt service is really dumb.” Wanting to “be the victim,” they lay the blame for their going on “the board” or the “yuppie members” who’ve increased the prices, who’ve abused their trust, who’ve made their lives a living hell, and whose decisions have forced them onto the streets, forsaken by Their Own Club!!!

Don’t believe them. Fact is, members often use a heated financial issue—dinner prices, an assessment, a renovation decision—as a convenient “victim excuse” to do what they’ve wanted to do for some time, which is to exit the club. Most have already made a “value calculation” and found the club wanting.
Good stuff. You hope——-

Shaking the Trees and Burning the Forest

Money inspires boards and members to think strategically. When it comes to money, boards need to ask “What is this club and where is it going?” When it comes to money, members need to ask “Who am I, what do I want, and is this club the right club for me?”

Cash is king. Want to purge the culture of the “old geekers” who talk lots and spend little? Cash works. Want to shout that the future is about kid pools rather than pool rooms? Cash works. Cash is a provocateur, a prod to strategic thinking. When Cash speaks, members listen. And it works.

Healthy cultures occasionally need a good shake to rid themselves of low hanging fruit. Healthy cultures occasionally need a good burn to remove the undergrowth and make room for the new. Change the dollar signs and things will get shaken and burned.

Healthy stuff.
You hope.

And enjoy the journey………….

Gregg Patterson became the General Manager of The Beach Club in 1982 and spent 34 glorious years as their GM, stepping aside for the “next generation” and his next adventure as a full time speaker and writer with his new company “Tribal Magic!!!” in 2016.  

Gregg has been a featured presenter at various club management seminars, assistant manager conferences and hospitality forums around the world; teaches club management courses at BMI-II and BMI-V; was an Adjunct Professor in the Collins School of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly University, Pomona for fourteen years; and is a visiting lecturer at various universities both in the states and around the world.  

Gregg also writes for Board Room magazine, Club Management magazine, Club Management Perspectives, Golf Retailing magazine and The St. Andrews Management Center and is the author of Reflections on the Club Experience, an anthology of essays on club cultures and operations. In acknowledgement of his efforts as an educator in both the university and the corporate worlds, he was awarded the 2002 Gary Player Private Club Educator of the Year Award by Board Room magazine, the Club Executive of the Year by the Club Management Association of America in 2015, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Asian Pacific Hospitality Summit in 2015 and the 2015 Board Room magazine Award of Dedication “for his timeless, energetic and dedicated service to the private club industry.”


Leave A Reply