I've written about my old country club before.
For a number of years now, the leadership has managed to make one mistake after another running and marketing the club. Despite offers of help by many people who actually have experience in sales and marketing, the board of directors continues to believe they know what they're doing. (Full disclosure: we are no longer members.)
Now, to their credit, the club is still open, and the golf course is in pretty good shape. However, it's no longer a private golf course. In order to keep the doors open, they have opened play to the public. They sincerely believe they will eventually turn things around and go back to being private, but I don't see it.
One of their great ideas for generating cash is to hold a fund-raising auction next month. Think about that…a "fund-raiser" for a business. They're appealing to the local community to support the auction because the club is "…not just an asset to our Twin Lakes neighborhood, but to our entire community of Federal Way and surrounding cities. This Auction should be a fun night out with a great dinner, games, raffles, silent auction as well as an interactive LIVE auction serving 2 purposes: 1) to have a great time out and, 2) make some money for the club. Bottom line: The auction is in support of the club, which in turn is a support to our community."
I asked a neighbor what he thought of the auction and he said, "Why should I give money to people who can afford to be members of a club?"
In addition to this head-scratching idea, take a look at the home page for the club. Click the screenshot below to expand the image and read the copy. I would be very interested in getting your opinion on this. After reading their "marketing" copy, do me a favor and Comment below to these questions:
- What do YOU think about their website and auction idea?
- If YOU were on the board of directors, what would you do to bring the club back to solvency?
I'm, obviously, too close to this situation and may be way off base. I am keenly interested in reading your comments!
You are not off base, they are smoking crack. There are businesses that can possibly appeal to the community based on history, etc. A country club is not one of them. (Full disclosure, I belong to one now and have for about 30 years.) A country club is not ‘part of the community’ it is an exclusive community of it’s own.
It’s hard to believe they are touting their desire to fund a “a true country club experience” and they are reaching outside of the club to appeal for funds to do that.
Country clubs all over the country are struggling to stay private. Many are offering no initiation fee memberships to get cash flow from dues and food and beverage.
The website certainly doesn’t act like you can play golf there as the general public…and who’s going to read all that copy about the history of the club if all I want to do is play a round of golf? I think country clubs need to reinvent themselves in order to survive– they strike me as rather close to another scheme that sucks your money every year whether you use it or not– the time share. It’s a time share for playing golf (I think it’s interesting how they changed the rules to let you turn in your membership…before that I guess you paid out forever unless you found another sucker to buy you out). And yes, an auction to raise money for a private club is odd– normally you do it for private schools and churches and the like, but its the members that are attending and paying.
Finally, I ask you– who has time for golf anymore? I’m lucky if I get out once a year.
Ouch! This appears to be written by a Seventh Grader complaining about a tough day of dodgeball. They cant (sic) even spell well!
Those last two paragraphs are screaming “we have no idea what we are doing” and should NEVER be included on a website for a country club. They don’t even seem to belong with the first two paragraphs, nor (I hope) the purpose of their website. There are many ways of begging for new members, but this is not one of them.
The photos of the course look nice though!
Steve, I don’t think you are off base. If the plan is to be around for the next 50 years as they so confidently stated (backed by a mind-numbing history that embellished a lot of fluff for why they are in the situation they are in now and how it is “working” for them), then they need help now and have to put their stubbornness aside. I’m not scratching my head on their fundraiser idea; I’m scoffing. A fundraiser is a grossly misused tool for their own benefit. They need real marketers and PR reps, to have them host legit fundraisers (for legit causes) at their facility to bring in a profit. Last but not least …”You can play gold anywhere but you can belong to Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club.” Ugh.
With regards to their marketing copy – they have made the club sound like it is going out of business. They sound like they are desperate and are makeing excuses for a non-exclusive environment. On the subject of a “fundraiser”, I think that is the wrong terminology to approach the customer with. That would turn off the customer – why should they fundraise for an organization that they currently have to pay to use anyway. It would be better if they billed as a special event offered to the public as a fun time out. Leave out the fundraising for the club idea.
Their website seems to be modern enough. I think the could add a photo tab, as we all photos speak louder than words. As for the auction idea I think that is very unprofessional. I see this a today with the websites such as gofundme.com, kickstarter.com, and so forth. While these websites are great for new start up they should be used to sustain a company or for personal things. I have an acquaintance that has a gofundme page for her honneymoon. Really!! Maybe I was raised on the value of earning what you want not begging for it. But I guess that just goes to show how the leader of this country is leading this country. We now live in a i deserve a free ride time. The people who work are for their money are having their money squander to these self righteous sucker fish. Anyways on to question number two. Two things I would do. Separate the golf and the club. Meaning make the golf course, driving range, pro shop and so forth its own public golf course. And then the club can compete as a normally fitness club that is open to the public. The prices seem high for a golf club that can’t be used all year, so I would allow for summer memberships and winter membership that grant access to both golf and club. Thus becoming public but still offering a membership.
These comments are brilliant. I love the comparison with time shares, Bill. (You need to get out more, though!) I agree the website tone sounds desperate, as does the fund-raiser. And I deliberately didn’t comment on the spelling and grammar, so I could hear back from you all. Keep the Comments coming!
The K-Mart of Country Clubs? Tiffany’s discreetly tucks prices away while K-mart strongly pushes. The basic premise of a country club is the element of exclusivity and elegance. Obviously the fundraiser is self-serving twaddle but I find the whole presentation lacks class.
As an artist I have been part of a lot of silent auction fundraisers for local charities and non-profit organizations. These type of fundraisers are difficult to earn money with even for those with incredibly valid causes. I don’t consider a golf club a valid cause especially considering its for profit status, shinny website, and membership costs. Why would I “donate” my money to people who seem better off than me? It’s not my problem that you can’t manage your money effectively. The allure of a club is exclusivity. None of their current tactics support that allure. They do quite the opposite.
Selling art I have to convince people they need a luxury item they could live without. Undervaluing those items is a quick way to go broke. Instead of seeing a deal people assume there is something wrong with the work. I’m honestly not sure how they can re-establish their image. I guess that is why I read your blogs 🙂
All your comments cut to the bone. I get no satisfaction with the club’s plight, as we had many happy years there. I want it to succeed. I’ve just been frustrated by some of the moves, like the auction and the website. And like Katie and Rhonda, I’m not sure they can pull it out of the fire. I hope they do, but I don’t think this is the answer.
With all that hot air, they seem to be trying to convince themselves of something. It is unfortunate about all those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The question for them might be, “To be or not to be?!”
All of this hits rather close to home (and yes, Steve, I should get out more…), as I was asked to offer some marketing advice to a local golf course(long story why). Contrary to the country club model, this is a public course that offers seasonal “memberships” to heavy users but doesn’t have initiation fees, monthly dues or food minimum requirements. The offer tiered menu of options so you can buy what fits you…they even have corporate rate packages. It’s basically for people who want to play golf. The restaurant stands on it’s own and survives off friday fish fry and private events. It’s not intended to be a social club, it’s basically a place to play golf. Which is probably what people mostly want these days, I’m not sure people “aspire” to join a club anymore. So it’s a question of understanding the available target market. Golf already suffers from an elitism problem, you sure don’t need play into those stereotypes with your marketing. Reminds me of Caddyshack where Judge Smales says to Danny “There are some people who don’t belong.”
I’m afraid this sounds like management trying to explain to the board why the organization is struggling, rather than using the website to market the club.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you say that people need to understand (a) who you are, (b) what you do, and (c) why they should do business with you – but it was enough times for me to remember.
They do a little on the home page to tell us who they are – but not enough to tell us what they do (not just golf – a lot of other things, from digging into the website) and why we should do business with them.
I work for a web design company and I know there’s a lot they could do with images to communicate why this is a distinctive club, but I just don’t see any compelling pictures that say this is a great place.
If I’m thinking about golf, I don’t need to know the full history on the front page – I need to have them convince me that I should golf there.
I can only imagine your frustration, Steve. As one of your faithful students, I wish someone there had listened to my teacher.
I feel that the fundraiser would have better positioning if it included something that helped others such as a scholarship for a year of golf lessons for a young person outside of the club membership. Or use some of the money to fund an internship for a budding landscape designer to come in and update one of the holes. Like all other fundraisers there has to be a heart strings piece. Yes, the money does go to fund the heart string item but you can always rest assured that money also goes to the general operating fund as well. Personally I would not buy a ticket for this.
I received an email from one of my BFFs, Keith M. He shared the story of the Lake Forest Country Club in Hudson, Ohio. In his words, “In recent years this club was struggling to keep the doors open. Now it is doing extremely well with a record # of members. The group really has done well marketing the club.” Their website is: http://www.lakeforestcc.org.
Not much left to add but I will say this. There is a lot of pride and self-congratulations in the copy on their web site. Despite all of their struggles, they don’t see the problem as being with themselves. They think the problem lies with everyone else – the people who don’t hang to the outdated country club model. The reference to social media is so obviously made by someone who doesn’t know the difference between a Tweet, a pin or a like. There’s an awful lot of, pardon the racist remark, “old white man” in their tone and attitude. And while they desperately try to hide the fact that they’re dying, they can’t help but let their true colors come through. Apologies for sounding so harsh but until they recognize the problem is in the mirror, there’s little hope.
I am impressed with the organization’s hubris.
In response to your questions, Steve:
1. The auction idea is, at best, curious. To whom would such an offer be attractive?
The website, as a piece of writing/sales letter, is, at best, lame. It ignores whatever market it seeks to connect with by a focus on itself and its history without a reason to be interested in that history. They must think that such a history is impressive to someone. For their sake, I hope it *is* impressive to someone. (I just do not know to whom.)
2. To bring the club to solvency, one might consider a number of marketing concepts that would appeal to those who play golf
or hang out on or near golf courses. An analysis of golf journals and magazines would would yield a number of concepts and key words that, when used over again, would suggest adequate connection with a market segment.
It sure is a great example of “what not to do.” I find it extremely interesting to follow and I’m curious to read your next post of how things turn out after the auction?
Even if it were appropriate, it takes years to turn an event like this into a money making proposition.
From what I read here, they don’t know who they are or what their purpose is, which makes it really difficult to market in any fashion.
I hate to seem contrarian…and I don’t belong to a country club (though my parents did for many years and I benefitted.) I’ve also participated in many “charity” auctions. For example, my kids and my local granddaughter attend one of the best private schools in the south. Each year they run a gala dinner and an auction. Since the people who send their kids to the school are successful, usually business owners, they donate really nice items or services. Other people buy the items…in the case of the school usually at above the market value. Where religious organizations do this it also works (but usually items are sold below market value…a deal for purchasers.) Anyway, everyone gets a good meal, fully paid for so that the organization either breaks even or makes a small profit. People have a good time and feel good about the event.
So, here’s my take: What’s the worst that can happen with the country club’s auction? Their members will donate the auction items, the club will fill its dining room for an evening and those folks who want to attend will.
Of course, there’s the “principle” of the thing…and pride. But, my personal opinion is that folks who base their views strictly on principle rather than being pragmatic have their heads where only a proctologist should be looking.
It’s no secret that a lot of country clubs around the country are in financial trouble. This club’s board is trying what they can. They obviously aren’t marketing gurus.
But, if they are willing to swallow their pride what’s the harm in letting people from the community swallow a good dinner and reach into their pockets.
I think the Country Club is reaching out to the community, offering its exclusive membership benefits to those ne’er do wells who previously couldn’t afford the amenities the club offered, they are humanitarians if you ask me akin to Mutha Therasa!
Dale, I’m glad someone took the other side of this discussion. Like I said, I’m too close to this and wanted to hear what others think about what the club is doing. I’ve been personally involved with many charity and school auctions over the years. I was even the auctioneer for a local private elementary school once and I’m proud to say we raised $46,000. The country club has every right to hold this auction and I wish them well, but I can’t help but wonder what type of message both the website and this auction are sending to the community and prospective members.
Oh Lord, the grammar! “not enough homeowner’s interested” and “We cant ask,” are very off-putting. Hosting an auction/fundraiser is great, but how is that going to sustain them for the next 50 years?