Taking Mitigated Risks

The ‘loner’ DNA type, that is essential in the make-up a successful tour professional, can be counter-productive in a management environment where teamwork is so essential.

Tour players now often refer to ‘their team’ and it is one comprised of a range of specialists from the ubiquitous caddy, to coaches, nutritionists, managers, psychologists and physios.

However, no matter how sincere they may be about the value and inputs of this team, when it comes to the business end of the ‘team’s’ performance it is all down to one person.

This ethos simply cannot work in an environment where so many activities are taking place simultaneously.

Nowhere is this more evident than at residential golf estates like Val De Vie. This operation involves a multiplicity of activities including property development and sales, facilities’ management, a hotel, country club and, of course, its centrepiece – a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course.

In this discussion I am joined by Damian Wrigley who is the GM at Pearl Valley.

JC: Apart from you at the Country Club and managing the golf portfolio and Ryk Neethling handling the marketing for the whole operation, who else makes up the team that continues to make Val De Vie such a successful development.

DW: This is very much a team effort and involves many key role players.

These can be broken down from our developers and shareholders, to our management company and the various heads of department. The success of what we are able to achieve is 100% the result of a shared common goal. 

JC: While discussing an event project, I was bemoaning the processes that govern decision making at too many golf clubs. This would be a scenario where the GM might present a business or event opportunity, only to have to wait for a month for the golf committee or board to hear the proposal, examine the detail and then respond.

Given the multiple operational sectors at Val De Vie, how do you manage your communications to ensure that decisions are discussed and actioned with the minimum delay.

DW: Effective communication is a key part in this process, both in terms of presenting a business opportunity or project clearly and succinctly, so that any other sectors affected by the initiative are able to respond effectively and offer advice or comment. Our Board of Directors are very clear in terms of their brief and through the medium of an empowered EXCO, we are able to clearly manage the processes and day to day business decisions.

JC: A pyramidal management structure quickly results in log-jams as information fights to make its way to the apex of the structure, only for the management layer below having to wait until it gets there and then for the results to filter slowly back down from the top.

While having someone in overall ‘charge’ is common-place, the need for the various layers, which make up any complex business’ organogram, needs to have individuals in them with some degree of decision-making authority.

DW: Yes, this can be a challenge. We have largely overcome this issue by having an effective communications structure in place and having capable and autonomous decision makers at these levels.

Another big benefit of our company is that we are director-run through a board. This alleviates many of the common stumbling blocks that committee-run clubs can experience.

JC: We are now facing another uncertain year, so what would be your wish in management terms for 2021?

DW: Two themes that you reference consistently are the dangers of micromanagement and the importance of ‘trust’ – the latter most recently in your podcast with Talking Golf UK.

I would want club committees and boards to have trust in the abilities of the people that they have put in place to manage the various components of the business, be it a country club, golf club or golf estate. Second guessing management at every turn just creates unease within managers and often manifests itself through a nervy and demotivated staff.

JC: The fear of failure seems to drive many committees and boards’ actions and is often allowed to stunt decision making, especially when change is needed, but where everyone seems to prefer to delay rather than to take decisive action.

DW: Absolutely – almost all decisions and change involve some degree of risk.

An important key must be to mitigate risk by having professional staff and the right structures to analyse this risk and put it into its correct perspective. Chances often have to be taken to grow a business and push boundaries, but you can do this without being reckless. Culture and brand principles must always be at the core of any strategic decisions and business initiatives.

JC: Peter Dros at Fancourt made the comment last year that golf got used to not having to market itself. This was through the ‘fat’ years and many seem to be still in this mind-set in a marketing sense – are we seeing the same in management terms?

DW: This is certainly very true about golf marketing and to some extent in management terms. However, it is pleasing to note that there is a growing realisation for the need to adapt, rationalise and update management processes.

This past year has also really showcased how important it is to invest continually in marketing activities. It has also forced managers to be adaptable and think out of the box in their approach, especially in terms of the recent challenges we have all experienced.

Reactive initiatives were the difference between success and failure and I honestly feel that traditional custodial type of club management is a thing of the past. Today, many more club professionals and club managers think innovatively in a trading environment where the urgency to envelope, create and stay abreast of ever-changing trends is a necessity.

John Cockayne has been a Professional Golfer since 1977 and is a fully qualified founder member and Life Member of the PGA of South Africa. He is a former Head Professional at Royal Oak, State Mines and Benoni Country Clubs and Director of Golf at Southbroom, during which period he was involved in the organisation of golf tours, numerous professional and amateur tournaments and as a consultant on the Sunshine Circuit.