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“A baby has brains, but it doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”

Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

As the yellow brick road of the pandemic continues to surprise the private club industry at every bend, it’s imperative that we look back on what we’ve learned and stay present to what we’re still learning, so that we can continue to move forward. The path has been humbling – a twisting and turning journey that has required fast thinking as much as thoughtful contemplation. At its height, no other crisis in our lifetime has ever demanded the collective time and energy as the COVID-19 pandemic has. The most recent extension of the “scary coronavirus” family has forced us to rewrite the rules on how we support the facilities we manage in how to successfully operate a private club. And at the same time, it has impacted our hearts in a deeply human way that may not likely be matched in our lifetime.

The global pause initially created by COVID-19 gave us all time think and establish new routines. To some degree, fear continues to challenge us as human beings. Isolation during the crisis (and the hanging threat of having to do so again) forced us to recognize latent anxieties, which sometimes resulted in feelings of confusion and desperation. Pre-COVID, spending all of our time looking backward or forward kept us from being present to building meaningful connections and contributing meaningful work. The pandemic strong-armed us into having real conversations of real consequence, in order to make critical decisions in real time – in a situation none of us have ever encountered before. But we learned that consciously choosing a happy and healthy outlook has the potential to make us better individuals for our families, friends, colleagues, and members.

As our clubs around the world locked their doors, we used the time to improve internal processes and systems and, in working with our club teams, this translated into a deeper connection for collaboration on new ways to deliver a valuable experience, despite the restrictions. We no longer had to be limited by “the way we’ve always done it,” because nobody had ever done it before. Suddenly, there was an opening for creativity on how to refresh, rebuild, and reignite. Technology in the form of online ordering, apps, and video conferencing ended up saving the day in many ways, yet utilization of these same tools had proved challenging prior to the crisis.

Once we adapted to shifting on the fly, “micro” reforecasting and planning that focused on seven-day intervals quickly became the new norm. Faced with the prospect of financial devastation, we looked for ways to create and maximize revenue that otherwise would have been lost, such as food and beverage delivery models that borrow from services like Door Dash and Uber Eats, and in prioritizing 10 functions at the appropriate margins rather than having 60 events that barely break even.

The pandemic pulled back the curtain that was keeping us from seeing a whole new reality. We learned that culture determines everything, connection doesn’t just happen face to face, food does more than satiate an appetite, every moment matters, and the simple act of playing golf now provides a sense of normalcy in an otherwise challenging time. While our clubs once delivered value by offering an exclusive estate bottled wine in the dining room, members may now savor a sip at home, plus make it even better by pairing it with complementary cuisine available for take-out, delivery, or preparation in their own kitchen. Members now enjoy virtual meet ups, fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and even bingo. The new ability to purchase commissary goods such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, milk, eggs, and butter initially provided a much needed lifeline, and now are delivered as an incredible convenience.

Although we now know we must create and promote safe spaces for stakeholders, there is no club or organization that can fully guarantee a virus-free environment. As members rightfully expect the sanitized door handles and golf carts that come with enhanced cleaning practices, they’ve developed a new fondness and appreciation for safely distanced human beings in unexpected places, like the staff member whose only job it is to go back and forth between comfort stations to change out bananas and restock cookies. Because members may sway from the established guidelines for distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing, we’ve learned that we cannot ask our club teams to enforce the unenforceable, and that delivering high trust, interdependent messaging that speaks to a collective responsibility for keeping each other safe and well produces a better result in the end. And with a surge of new members at nearly every one of our private clubs, we’ve recognized the need to connect them to their club and to one another, or risk losing them again in the future. This same attention is being directed at associates as well, ensuring more than ever that the employee experience is mutually respectful among the team and in interactions with members.

As much as we may wish to learn that this pandemic was just a crazy dream brought on by a bad bump on the head, it has been and continues to be very real. Our clubs have survived the flying monkeys of COVID-19 because of the collective and hard-earned knowledge that came from going through the experience together, not because of ruby slippers or a mustached man behind a curtain. And, as it turns out, having brains comes in handy. But so does having heart and courage. So we’ll continue to carry on, knowing that we now have proof beyond reasonable doubt that our true overarching business principle is and always will be our ability to make people happy, and we are humbled and feel fortunate every day to be able to do what we do.

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