something he said has changed the culture of
n General Manager and Chief Operating
n Baltusrol Golf Club
n Springfield, n.J.
Although Baltusrol had a
long and sterling reputation,
it was in need of changes
when Vitale arrived 15 years
ago. Under his leadership,
the club came back to life
and made a lasting impression, which the world saw
when Baltusrol hosted the
PGA Championship in 2016.
“When I came to Baltusrol 15 years ago,
I said, ‘Let’s find out who we are and who we
want to be and what we want to do,’” Vitale said.
“As in any business, we wanted to have a long-
range plan, a mission statement, capital plans
and financial models before trying to make
improvements. Strategically, we wanted to be at
a higher level.”
The club had deferred maintenance on its
historical property to avoid raising dues. But
that meant buildings were crumbling, the food
and beverage operation was in poor shape and
the golf courses needed work.
Vitale convinced members and directors that
the landmark property needed upgrades, and
he led a crusade that resulted in $55 million in
improvements. The changes were paid for with
profits — without going into debt and without
special assessments on members.
The 80,000-square-foot clubhouse and the
two golf courses underwent renovations. A new
restaurant and new locker rooms were added.
Twenty-five guest rooms were renovated, as was
housing for 55 employees who live on the property. There is a new two-level golf performance
center and renovated landscaping. An additional $5 million in improvements is underway.
“You need membership with a vision and
staff with a vision” to accomplish all that, Vitale
n Chief Operating Officer-President
When it came time last year for the largest club
ownership and management company to select
a new chief operating officer and president, they
didn’t have to look far. Mark Burnett, who had
led ClubCorp’s efforts in reinventing many of
its 133 country clubs and alumni, business and
sports clubs during the previous decade, was
waiting in the wings.
In announcing the change, CEO Eric Affeldt
said the company was fortunate to have Burnett
available to lead future efforts to improve the
company’s many properties. After all, Burnett
had already been a key player in the largest
acquisition ever made by the company: Sequoia
Golf, which added 25 golf and country clubs to
Burnett has spearheaded far-reaching
improvements at dozens of ClubCorp facilities,
focused in many cases on the food and beverage
area, adding patio space for outdoor dining and
giving inside dining rooms a more comfortable
and casual look.
“There is a lot more media, a lot more light
entertainment and much greater use of sports
bar themes,” he said. “Aquatics is a big focus:
splash pads and slides for the kids and new out-
door bars for their parents who are at the pool
to watch over them.”
The company has introduced cabanas around
pool areas and charges users a fee.
On golf courses, new family tees have been
introduced for kids and seniors. The fitness
areas have been enlarged and now include more
group exercise programs and classes. Expanded
business space in clubs includes small meeting
rooms plus areas where people can use their
laptops and power up their electronic devices.
There have been no assessments on members
for the improvements, but members have been
closely involved in the changes.
n President and Founder
n Creative Golf Marketing
n Manhattan, Kan.
Creative Golf Marketing, a consulting firm for
private clubs of all kinds, including sports, yacht and ski clubs, is
known for focusing on the basics
and improving club revenues, marketability, efficiency and long-term
Graves is a popular inspirational
speaker in the private club industry
with a special knack for identifying
upcoming trends and helping others
turn clubs around. He has worked
with 1,300 of the 3,400 member-owned private
clubs in the United States.
“Private clubs used to be for the blue blood,
but now they’re for the new blood,” Graves said.
“Newer members used to have a father who was
a doctor, lawyer or company president. Now
their moms and dads are plumbers or teachers.
They’re dual-income families with income of
$100,000 to $200,000. For many of them, this is
the first time they’ve ever joined a club.”
Generations X and Y are pouring into pri-
vate clubs that have the right focus, Graves said.
Today’s members are older when they join, per-