As part of the announcement of the planned renovations and new construction of Morris Park Board President Brian Hull sent out a letter to all members outlining the process and the results of the overwhelmingly votes which were cast in favor of moving forward with the project.
President Brian’s letter can be found below:
Dear Fellow Members,
In a letter to membership in January, 2017, I posited the following goals for our long term strategic plan:
“We have a beautiful club with wonderful people of which we should all be proud. The club’s mission, and staff’s passion, is to provide members with a superior private club experience.
The Board of Directors has been working with…Club management to develop a plan that addresses… improvements to clubhouse facilities and amenities.
The purpose of this plan are several-fold:
- To provide you, your family and guests with the best possible experience at the Club;
- Replace aging assets and infrastructure;
- Improve the aesthetics of the Club in order to increase member retention and
- Aid in recruitment of new members;
- And enhance Morris Park Country Club’s position of prestige in the market, befitting its rich heritage.
We are fortunate to have such a wonderful legacy to build upon and a committed membership to see the plan through – in whatever form it may take.”
Well, it is my privilege to tell you that the Board of Directors’ long term strategic plan is complete…for a second time. The easy part of the process is done. Now the hard work of approving it, funding it and executing it begins. Thank you to all members that contributed to the plan’s final form, and especially the current Board of Directors who put in significant time and effort developing the plan. I am proud to say that the process was uniquely Morris Park, as it was fully member driven, debated and decided. So much so that, as I mentioned, this is the second long term solution the Board has approved in the quest to formulate our long term strategy. To its credit, as fiduciaries of the Club and its best interests, the Board determined the initial solution crafted with The Signature Group and Kuo Deitrich Architects was too costly to present to membership for approval. So the Board regrouped and enlisted the help of Ancon Construction and Arcos Design to develop what we call Plan B, a plan that will satisfy all our needs – to create new amenities that will drive membership satisfaction and club growth – in a financially responsible manner. But that is for membership to decide.
The initial step to finding out if we have a viable long term strategic plan is for the Board to present the entire plan to membership. Subsequent approval of the plan will allow the project team to solicit donations and attract investors to fund the project. If it is a popular, positive course for the club to take, members and investors will support the plan. If it isn’t a viable plan, those same members and potential investors will not provide their support and we will not move forward with that plan. However, the Board firmly believes that the plan presented will meet the goals we deem necessary for a viable Morris Park future and should be supported.
Why Do We Need A Long Term Strategic Plan?
In their wisdom, the previous Board realized that the club was on an unsustainable course for the long run. Golf membership has declined since the recession of 2008, and the only growth in membership we’ve realized is through deeply discounted promotions. As a result, we ran financial losses for several years and lived deep into a line of credit. However, through the great work by Elena with her banquet business and member programming; Chef Brian with tremendous food quality, menu variety and service (as well as his cost management in food, beverage and staffing); Robert’s exceptional growth into his role and rolling out the best golf course in the area year after year, and doing it on a limited budget; and Rusty’s steady leadership throughout, we have been able to realize a profit for the last three fiscal years. However, it is a fool’s errand to believe we can remain the Morris Park Country Club we know and love without major changes to our club facilities and offerings to attract new members and new sources of revenue. If we stay on the current course, without a new value proposition to offer and create a buzz, membership will decline (our average golf member age is 65), facilities will continue to degrade and the losses will mount – thus a death spiral will ensue. As members it’s important to understand that our dues are subsidized by the profit generated from the banquet business – approximately $85 per month for every member. Without improved facilities and a vibrant banquet business golf dues will increase significantly, with no additional benefit to members. These are the brutal facts that we need to confront, as I referred to in my first annual address in January, 2017. You don’t have to believe me to believe my message. This is why we enlisted the help of a professional firm that prepares private clubs for success through reinventing themselves. The Signature Group conducted extensive research of our club and married their observations with what they know are effective strategies for similar clubs, and offered a comprehensive solution to our challenges. The Signature Group’s recommendations were incorporated into our long term strategic plan. Before we share the plan with you, I’ll share some context from TSG’s extensive experience in the private club industry.
Current Reality Of Private Clubs
According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golfers peaked in 2003, and total number of rounds played have declined every year since 1999. Additionally, the total number of golfers today is that same as it was in mid-1990s. Considering population increase, the golf industry is 33% smaller than it was two decades ago. This does not bode well for the traditional country club that focuses on golf. Something has systemically changed in our society that discourages interest in traditional country clubs. The NSG is suggesting that an average country club will need to be more like a recreation center, surrounded by a golf course, if they want to keep the doors open. It has to become a community networking, family-centric, entertainment and health-minded facility. All of this holds true for Morris Park as our challenges are not unique.
The Signature Group’s Recommendations
TSG provided a comprehensive report to the Board. The solutions are wide ranging – financial discipline and restructuring, redefining membership categories, emphasizing membership recruitment, changing our marketing tactics, expanding our member programming, employee training, and facility improvements, to name a few. However, the essence of their recommendations is focused on the membership – membership needs to be the main focus of our project. In order to grow our membership, the club must acknowledge the changing private club trends, especially since 2008. One of the profound societal changes during this period is that discretionary time is valued more than money by families today (prospective members). Moreover, families spend a lot more time together as a unit. So the two big themes are: discretionary time is precious; and time will be spent as a family. Familiar member recruitment efforts aren’t going to solve MPCC’s membership challenges. The club has to look introspectively and answer some difficult questions…what is the future of MPCC and what are the facilities needed to increase membership to sustainable levels? What mixture of membership categories will lead to sustainability? Who are the available demographics?
TSG’s research tells us that the best way to turn around membership is for the club to invest in non-golf related aspects of the overall membership experience. If we are to succeed as a Club, we need to Invest in a more family centric, all-inclusive membership that benefits from improved value and offerings beyond golf amenities. MPCC cannot survive by being just a traditional golfer’s private club with crumbling infrastructure.
The prospective golfing member today can only justify the membership in a country club if they are going to derive a package of benefits, products and services for their family. This is very different from prior eras when the father’s leisure interests were primary. If MPCC can deliver on social and recreational experiences, the prospective golfing members can justify the expense. Without that, they have many options in the market place to spend their leisure time and money. In many cases, other private clubs aren’t Morris Park’s competition. It is more about the club competing with the prospective member’s time and money.
However, we should take the analysis a step further. The focus to this point has been on delivering the services, amenities and experiences that prospective members seek. I believe just as important to growing membership is retaining members through their continued satisfaction. The prior discussion of reinventing ourselves to appeal to prospective members applies just as much to our current members’ wants and needs, and are no less important to them, nor is their satisfaction any less important to the Club. Member retention is further justification for the need for our long term strategic plan. For without continued support from current members, failure comes more quickly. It is not enough to churn membership – adding a few more than we lose. We must have a two prong success factor –retain members and appeal to new members. TSG agrees, stating that changing the paradigm of what it means to be a private country club is going to be the single biggest determinant of whether MPCC succeeds and thrives well into the future, or maintains that status quo and atrophies into something unrecognizable and undesirable.
Today we vote on our new paradigm – one that will set the course for Morris Park Country Club’s future as the private club of choice in the Michiana community. Thank you for your support and the opportunity to lead this great club. It has been a privilege and an honor.