Pecanwood leads the way
Some would have us believe that the winds of change are blowing through golf11th Feb 2019
Muirfield’s decision to drag itself into the 21st century by allowing women to become members of the club, a mere 270 or so years after it was founded, was only achieved after a positive outcome to the voting process was encouraged (could this be the first recorded case of the donkey being beaten with a carrot?) by The Royal and Ancient’s veiled threat to remove Muirfield from the roster of Open Championship venues.
Sadly, this moment in most other sports would hardly raise enough air to ruffle the pages of a Sunday newspaper on most golf clubs’ terraces, and for history buffs there is the added irony in the fact that the R and A, which was holding the proverbial gun to Muirfield’s head, has been guilty of some heel dragging of its own. As recently as the first decade of the new millennium, the R and A clubhouse had a sign outside on which it was stated that the facility was out of bounds to dogs and women!
Nonetheless, it is true that we should only measure progress by following those in front, and there are real efforts being made across the board to bring the game up to date and relevant, accessible and so on, albeit that some of the supposed standard bearers in this march forward make Rip van Winkle look like an insomniac.
In parallel, there is also the need to revise the way that club committees, boards and golf estate HOAs deal with the process of changing the way facilities are managed. I asked Francois if it would it be fair to say that the days of genteel, custodial stewardship are officially over.
Francois: Definitely! There are no longer queues around the block to play or join most clubs, as most have membership vacancies and struggle to fill the competition fields. A new attitude and new breed of management is needed to face this new trading environment, one that can combine the prudent and custodial needs of any business process with innovative and entrepreneurial flair and the willingness to take the chances necessary to effect the changes that will secure the game’s future.
John: All well and good, but we are risk averse to some degree, so how much risk is involved?
Francois: No legitimate business environment is risk free, so the task for management must be to evaluate the needs and opportunities and then adopt the required actions and ensure that any attendant risk is mitigated as far as possible.
John: This need would apply to all areas of an estate’s interests, and in all of this, can I smell a ‘RET’? This would not be the same RET portentously announced by the country’s leading (at least currently) political party in an increasingly large bowl of alphabet soup, but one where the initials stand for Radical Estate Transformation. Are there any guns (or carrots!) that need to be wielded?
Francois: No weapons please – this will just frighten everyone, so the process must be inclusive, with everyone understanding the needs and outcomes. The first step must be to recognise that there is a need to change and therefore an equal need to modify the existing management and thinking patterns. If anything, I would want to see the carrot at the front!
John: We live in a world of instant gratification and everyone wants quick wins and immediate results – are these achievable and what are the potential downsides?
Francois: This is a big question, but also a perfectly fair one. Yes, there are quick wins to be had for golf, such as creatively packaging up and selling distressed rounds’ inventory and promoting more effectively. Align these to a critical evaluation of operating processes and proper financial management, and changes can be effected almost immediately. However, these must be balanced with both mid and long term goals across a range of areas where immediate results are largely not possible.
John: I have found that many clubs don’t understand their members’ needs, nor what they want. In a recent discussion with a facility wanting to get to five-star levels, I pointed out that a coffee shop doesn’t have a doorman and courtesy car, so that it might be that these elements are not relevant to the customer and the inputs required to get to these levels will not achieve either the ROI or the anticipated customer satisfaction. I suggested that profiling the members and guests would be a better way of assessing what goals should be set. Are these things within the grasp of every estate golf facility, and is it true that there is no gain without pain?
Francois: These can be achieved by every estate and club, and I really believe that the pain levels can be managed. I totally agree that business intelligence is essential to making any informed decision. Just because I might feel that a red carpet and a doorman are necessary, an evaluation of the needs of the club’s members and guests might show that a completely different set of objectives needs to be set. The problem that we have, as you alluded to at the outset of our discussion and in other articles, is that the majority of our staff capability and skills sets are custodial and so not only do we have to upskill or rewire our staff and management capabilities, but the journey to reach our mid- and long-term goals will not be an overnight process. The good news is that we can work on the bigger goals and changes to our skills sets and attitudes at the same time.
John: Yet if we haven’t got staff wired to be effective in this type of environment, then where will the skills come from?
Francois: Experienced consultants like you are an excellent route to take, especially when things work out and we can take all the credit for the achievement. If they don’t, then we can blame the consultant! Joking aside, external resources, inputs and experience can play a key role in getting a clear, unencumbered and fresh view of what the problems actually are and a new perspective on how to tackle them. Golf estates also need to break down the old barriers that seem to isolate us and be prepared to share common challenges, problems, successes and failures we may have had, in order to develop a communal pool of expertise and information.
John: This has been an eclectic discussion, and outside of the generic challenges, every estate has its own specific hurdles, so in terms of the broader picture, can you share one thought for the best way forward in a macro sense?
Francois: We make great efforts to build a sense of community within our own estates, so I would like to see this process extended into our dealings with each other as individual estates. We are associated through ARC, but in real terms we very often remain isolated from each other. In doing this, we fail to share with each other and so can end up groping about in the proverbial dark, when through effective and ongoing communications we could shine a collective light onto common problems and issues and share potential solutions.
WHEN COMMUNITY BUILDS TOWARDS UNITY.
Shakespeare’s King Henry IV says ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’, and while we are not wanting to burden anyone with regal trappings, there will be many restless HOA boards and managers just like the Bard’s king as they endeavour to effect the necessary changes, improvements and good governance that will keep their respective homeowners secure and asleep in their beds.
Pecanwood’s initiatives to relaunch its estate and golf components provide a very interesting case study. In many areas they mirror the hurdles and challenges faced by every modern golf estate and, while we cannot cover all of the initiatives undertaken by Pecanwood in this forum (they are both extensive and a work in progress), a selection and the underlying philosophy driving these changes will illustrate the point, and I am sure the general terms of reference will be familiar to many other estates.
Any management team needs to ensure that all the boxes, in terms of good governance, are in place and then ticked off effectively.
Pecanwood’s HOA Chairperson, De Villiers Botha, stresses this need. “Effective leadership is key at every stage of a business’ life, but never more so than when it is restructuring, setting itself new goals and implementing essential changes,” he says.
In this iterative process, there is a dual challenge, in that while executing the longer-term plans takes time, the normal day-to-day management problems and challenges must still be met in a timely and effective manner. This is a balancing act in which the classic dilemma of putting down the necessary foundations for a secure future must be balanced with dealing with the immediate needs of the present.
Balancing these dual elements requires very effective communication, essential to impart news of the broader activities and any consequences in building the needs of the future. It is also key in imparting ongoing news about the initiatives and projects, and to ensure that the sense of community is strengthened within the estate and that individual rights are seen to be protected, while allowing the individual homeowner to feel that they are part of the inclusive process.
Pecanwood’s strategy also included the need to be in effective ownership of the golf course, addressed through the signing of a heads of agreement to a long-term lease. The effective implementation of the full lease is now only dependent on the course’s owner’s compliance with several pre-emptive conditions.
The balancing act that every HOA board undertakes now reveals itself again.
The reintegration of the golf course back into the daily life of an estate is not a challenge that has been, or will be, faced by Pecanwood alone. In this instance, securing tenure over and the management rights to the golf course had to be supported by both the agreement of the homeowners and their approval for the financial provisions necessary to making any such ownership effective and prescribed on a secure legal footing, as this ownership would require the use of HOA funds.
In broader terms, it has been argued perennially that there are three pillars which underpin a successful residential estate, and these are security, facilities and community.
In respect of security, Pecanwood has embarked on a revision of its relationship with service providers. This change will have the potential to offer enhanced levels of surveillance, while removing much of the capital cost to the HOA’s budget associated with this key element.
Facility upgrades, outside of those projects directly affecting the golf course, have been initiated and/or completed, so as to ensure that the core lifestyle attributes that Pecanwood offers to its homeowners have either been enhanced or extended.
Finally, in terms of continuing to develop and nurture a sense of community, perhaps the most difficult element to capture effectively at any estate, the HOA’s most important goal has been to imbue a new sense of total ownership by individual residents of every aspect and facility that makes up Pecanwood.
The intention with this approach is that the HOA wants to create a broader sense of communal unity and dilute the parochial senses of ownership which only relate to interest in specific facilities or matters. This will mean that while the estate will continue to offer a range of activities and events that cater to the eclectic and varied tastes of its residents, it will be overarched by the sense of total ownership, irrespective of any personal sporting or recreational choices and individual interests. On the need to develop a total and inclusive sense of community, Pecanwood’s HOA’s CEO Francois Schoeman comments that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
“I feel that John Donne’s eloquent poetry sums up exactly what makes a community work, and that in an estate the residents cannot expect to stand by and watch as major assets adjacent to other people’s single biggest investment deteriorate without being an active participant in developing a solution. If they think that changing or adjusting to this reality is difficult, then they will struggle with the results of their inaction, as this will be much more detrimental and have far more negative long-term consequences,” he concludes.