We all laughed at the viral Handforth Parish Council video – but it’s a common scene in so many golf clubs

The chaos of the meeting that took the internet by storm is still reflected in the boardrooms of golf clubs, writes governance expert Kevin Fish

Just a week ago if someone has asked you what you thought of poor Jackie Weaver you would have probably been a bit confused. But after seeing Handforth Parish Council in action, golfers across the country will now have a wry smile on their face, wondering whether this kind of thing still goes on in the boardrooms of their clubs.

After visiting hundreds of clubs over the last 20 years I can tell you that I have seen the good, the bad, and the highly dysfunctional in the board rooms of clubs.

The peculiar difficulty in our industry is in its governance structures, where the leader and committee change on a regular basis. This rapid turnover of decision makers inevitably results in an infant democracy. Infants grow into toddlers and, as you well know, toddlers are prone to the odd tantrum.

There is also the opposite end of the spectrum, where I sometimes see golf club committees who more closely resemble the volunteer fire brigade from the old television cartoon series, Trumpton. These willing participants come together every week and practice their familiar drills, but do not seem to do anything other than rescue the odd cat stuck up a tree. 

It simply has not hit home to some club committees that they have a business to run. Perhaps most crucially, in the last 20 years their role has shifted significantly, from primarily being there to keep people out to primarily being there to welcome people in!

In my experience committees will generally embrace the recommendations of good governance when someone can turn the spotlight on to the real issues. If your club still selects its management committee members the same way that we select people for jury service then there is a good chance that your meetings will be chaotic. The mix of characters on a management committee will sadly also include some CAVE dwellers – those who are Consistently Against Virtually Everything!

You may also find they spend considerably less time debating the merits of a £300,000 green keeping machinery renewal than the increase of a pound on the price of a sandwich for team meals. The reason for this is that committees are experience rich but theory poor. I like to remind people that while they may use the toilet every day, this does not qualify them as plumbers.

This array of familiar governance challenges can result in lengthy inefficient and ineffective committee meetings. A meeting of three hours is not really a business meeting, more a hostage situation, and believe me, your committee members do not want it that way either.

So what can you do to bring the etiquette of the golf course in to the boardroom? There is no doubt that club committee members should be applauded for their voluntary service to the club that they clearly love. It is also not their fault they are not experts in the wide variety of operations that go on within a typical club.  

I can categorically tell you that in a well-run golf club, the contemporary way to govern is for the “Directors to Direct and the Managers to Manage, which leaves the Members to Enjoy”. But how do you achieve that ?

Our 2020 Governance Study revealed that a huge 46% of UK clubs still provide absolutely no induction or training for their volunteer Committee Members. This prompted us to create a series of short, light-hearted videos to help volunteers to best serve their golf clubs.

If your club recognises “The top 10 governance challenges in private clubs” then they would benefit from accessing the best practice available on the Club Governance online platform that has helped hundreds of UK clubs turn around their performance in the board room.  

So your golf club committee could behave like Handforth or it could be more like the Trumpton Fire Brigade. Realistically, it is going to be somewhere in the middle. But, wherever it is now, what is important is that we can all get better at serving our clubs and club members.

By doing it as a team, with everyone on the same page, pulling in the same direction, with a smile on your face, you are more likely to leave the club in a much better place than you found it.  

Kevin Fish CCM is the owner of Contemporary Club Leadership Ltd, a company dedicated to professionalising our industry, by helping clubs to do the right things right. You can contact him via email or the CCL website.

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