For clubs, that means helping them recognize
that they’re in the membership dues business.
For golf courses, it’s about showing them how
to generate enough rounds of golf to balance
At Fargo Country Club, Charest says bring-
ing in Steve Graves and his Creative Golf
Marketing team “may be one of the best deci-
sions this club has ever made.”
Golf Inc. invited golf course consultants,
attorneys and other advisers to share their
greatest successes of the past year. Here are
three who engineered some outstanding turn-
Creative Golf Marketing
Steve Graves’ seven-person company specializes in a small niche of the golf business. Manhattan, Kan.-based Creative Golf
Marketing has worked with 1,400 member-owned private clubs in the United States.
“We want them to stand the test of time for
the 21st-century consumer,” Graves said.
During the past five years, Graves has
helped many clubs make important changes in
their membership policies, such as restructuring their age brackets and categories. When it
comes to age, he believes 60 is the new 40 and
40 is the new 30. To meet the changing needs
of different types of members, he advises clubs
to adapt their messaging to a target audience.
“The private club leadership is so afraid of
making the wrong decision that they’re just
not making any decisions,” Graves said. “That’s
where we come in.”
While every club thinks it’s unique and faces
completely different challenges than other
clubs, Graves has concluded that, by and large,
private clubs have many similar issues.
For example, Fargo Country Club had experienced 10 years of net membership loss. Its
$8,500 initiation fee included a $7,000 refundable certificate, so the club had significant
liabilities on its books from resigned members
Following recommendations from Graves
and his team, Fargo established a non-refund-able initiation fee, restructured its junior membership categories to include a tier for ages 35
to 39 and changed its monthly dues structure.
Soon after, the club added 71 new members, including 21 families in the under- 40 age
group. It collected just over $202,000 in non-refundable initiation fees, decreased attrition
by 50 percent and found an average of $70,000
in annual savings by eliminating future certificate redemptions.
“Everyone wants to talk about the beauty-
pageant clubs in the industry,” Graves said,
“but the other 90 to 95 percent of the pri-
vate clubs in the United States, such as Fargo
Country Club, are the true bread-and-butter
clubs that every city and community needs to
flourish — not just to survive, but to thrive.”
Another recent success story for Creative
Golf Marketing is Oakmont Country Club in
Glendale, Calif., where exiting members were
required to continue paying dues (at $900 per
month) until their $21,000 membership equi-
ties were resold. With 125 names on the res-
ignation list, prospective new members were
being scared away by the thought of never
being able to leave.
“For the people in the game at the club, it’s
very, very emotional,” Graves said. “For us,
it’s simple, and not emotional. … It took an
outside, objective third party to come in and
calmly say, ‘Let’s talk about this, and let’s look
for solutions where the members don’t feel that
we’re trying to cheat them and that we’re actu-
ally trying to help them.’ That’s the ultimate
The vote to change the requirement was
nearly unanimous, and in two years the club
sold 150 memberships.
One of private clubs’ biggest mistakes,
Graves said, is using dated strategies to sell
memberships. Instead, he advises that club
members promote their clubs and extend invitations to prospects. Ultimately, he said, it is
the responsibility of members to help grow the
membership, even if a club has a membership
Kevin Stark and
Club Specialists International (CSI)
Throughout Club Specialists International’s 12
years in operation, 100 percent of its business
has come from referrals.
“That’s what continues to drive the engine,”
said Chief Operating Officer Kevin Stark.
Combining their experiences in the business and hospitality industries, Stark and
Chief Executive Officer Jim Riscigno formed
the Tallahassee, Fla.-based company in 2005.
“We’re very different from the other man-
agement companies out there,” said Riscigno,
who retired from ClubCorp as an executive
vice president before joining Stark. “We work
on our own and provide what clients need,
which are solutions to their problems.”
CSI promises its clients that they’ll get prin-
cipals instead of associates, and that they’ll get
all the time that’s needed, whether a project
runs for six months or three years. Stark and
Riscigno aren’t in the business of buying or
managing, which allows them to offer some-
thing different — working alongside the club
and assisting with its goals.
OF THE YEAR