"Club Politics" with Bruce Williams of Bruce Williams Golf Consulting

November 21, 2011

Isn’t it funny that many of the most important things we can learn are the things we don’t learn in a classroom, rather from practical, real world experience? Such is the case with club politics. When it comes to club politics, you won’t find a course or seminar in the PGA's Professional Golf Management Program. Trial by fire is usually how we’re going to learn to manage an area as sensitive as club politics.

Bruce Williams of Bruce Williams Golf Consulting brings with him over 30 years of experience in turfgrass management and golf industry consulting. Bruce was a Michigan State University turgrass grad and has served in various leadership positions in the PGA of America and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ameria. With successful tenures at Bob O'Link Golf Club and Los Angeles Country Club, Bruce has experienced his fair share of club politics. His insights resonate with golf professionals, so hopefully you can learn a thing or two from them.

Keys to Long Term Success

Understanding club politics is essential to long term success and employment at a club. Bob Ford has been the Head Professional at Oakmont Country Club for more than 30 years. Don’t think for a second that it hasn’t been his ability to smoothly maneuver around the clubs politics that has played a part in allowing him to maintain his position.

When speaking of the keys to long term success, club politics is right in the thick of things. Bruce aptly states:

When I think of those that have been employed by their clubs for a quarter century of more, I find that the common denominator is their ability to understand their membership, communicate clearly to them, and provide operations that are acceptable to a majority of the membership.

Keep Perspective

As golf professionals, it’s important to recognize that club members spend a lot of their hard earned money to belong to the club and because of that they want to be a part of the decision making process if it effects their pocket. Bruce continues on this subject:

Politics is an art and a science. People are passionate about their clubs and that is why they belong to them. In most scenarios, members of a private club are equity owners. It’s important to think of each and every one of them as an owner of the club. While they have no official authority over operations, they surely have influence as a shareholder in the business. 

Movers & Shakers

Every club has a handful of members that, regardless of whether they are on a committee or not, they make themselves heard and they ultimately make things happen, which isn't so much a bad thing. I can already think of two or three at my club that fit this bill. It's important that we know who these members are from the onset so we know how to approach them. Bruce explains this dynamic a little bit more:

Some members have more influence than others and it is important to understand who these “movers and shakers” are. Every club seems to have a handful of members who can and do exert influence over the elected board and appointed committees.


One of the biggest components of club politics is communication. Bruce expands upon this:

In your position, you will spend a fair amount of time developing plans, schedules, and alternatives in a changing golf business environment. You will be most most effective when you spend the time to communicate with as many members as possible and educate them on the business side of golf operations. Today this can be accomplished through blogs, email updates, newsletters, town hall meetings, and overall interaction with the membership. Each and every year, new members join the club and new faces appear on the committee and on the Board. No two people are alike and intuitive golf professionals find out quickly the best way to deal with each member, particularly those within the governance structure.

Take an Active Role Today and Ensure Your Future at the Club

Taking an active role in even the most non-descript of circumstances can make a difference down the road. For example, never underestimate the influence of any one member at your club. It is important to treat all members as though they could be your boss in the future. Bruce hits a home run with a great example:

I had a summer job at a very nice private club while I was in college. The golf course was surrounded by homes and many of them were residences of club members. Just outside of one property line, there was a tee that each weekend would be littered by empty beverage cans and such. I suggested to the golf course superintendent that we speak to the father (a club member) of the kids who were having parties and littering each weekend. The superintendent told me to take 5 minutes and clean it up. He followed that comment with “If you plan on staying at a club for 20 years or more, that kid could eventually become your green chairman and he won’t forget.” I surely never forgot that lesson in club politics and I have always tried to treat every member as though they might eventually be the person I report to.

Managing club politics is something that is difficult to learn as an assistant professional. We’re just not as heavily involved with the behind-the-scenes issues as our Head Professionals and Directors of Golf are. However that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to familiarize ourselves with the ins and outs of club politics so we are at least somewhat prepared when we become Head Professionals. Hopefully this installment gave you some perspective on the subject of club politics as you move towards becoming a Head Professional, and you can now go into your current clubs issues with better care and a sounder game plan.