Achieving good governance at your golf club

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 30, 2017 22:31 Updated

Earlier this year ICSA: The Governance Institute published guidance on board effectiveness for sports boards in order to improve governance in the sector. From dealing with crises to driving revenue forward, Peter Swabey explains why good governance is vital in golf clubs – and how to achieve it

Governance is a hot topic in the sports world, and in other sectors, at the moment. The sporting, charity and corporate sectors are all reviewing their governance arrangements and good practice recommendations, and other sectors have had their fair share of adverse media stories. With the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s voluntary code of good governance and the newly introduced A code for sports governance from UK Sport and Sport England, the impetus for improving good governance in the sporting world has become that much more critical. Regulators, and the wider public, have increasing expectations of those running organisations.

Good governance is essential to every organisation, regardless of sector, size or complexity. This is the case for golf clubs too. Those responsible for the strategic direction of a golf club and accountable for delivering its aims play a pivotal role in the governance arrangements within their entity. Sound decision making, accurate records, compliance, transparency and accountability are key management committee activities. They are not always easy to get right, however, and sometimes can be seen as unnecessary or an additional burden to actually getting things done. This could not be further from the truth.

Good governance should be viewed as a business-enabler; providing structure, clarity and evidence of sound decision-making and the success of an organisation. Good governance provides a framework for making reasonable decisions, in a way that can be repeated, and delivers an audit trail of decisions taken by the management committee all the way down to delivery and effective impact at the grassroots.

While it might not be seen as essential in the good times, good governance certainly comes to the fore when a crisis hits.

Governance is not always an easy concept to understand. In golf clubs, it relates to the relationships between the management committee, shareholders and members, staff, players and other stakeholders (such as the local community and third party suppliers).

It demonstrates accountability and how the strategic aims and sporting goals of the club are achieved.

Governance might not be exciting to anyone other than a governance geek, but it is much more than just policies, procedures, rules and regulations. Its value and impact should not be underestimated, and while it should not be Byzantine in its execution, it does take ongoing work and improvement. Essentially, it depends on three inter-related factors (the three ‘Ps’):

  • Purpose: clarity of purpose – establishing a clear vision as to the purpose of the club and how those aims will be achieved;
  • Procedures: effective procedures – putting in place, and regularly reviewing, appropriate, relevant and proportionate policies and procedures to ensure decisions are made legally, ethically and in the best interests of the club;
  • People: recruiting the right people for the right role – talent management starts with the management committee ensuring they attract and retain the right mix of skills, experience, competencies and diversity around the management committee room table to make the best decisions, and cascading that approach to staff appointments.

At its most fundamental, good governance at golf clubs – and indeed any sports club – will incorporate:

  • The role of management committee members and senior leaders; role of the chairman, role of management committee members and how the shareholders hold them to account, role of managers, hallmarks of a successful management committee.
  • Management committee composition and succession planning
  • Management committee support and the role of the company secretary
  • Principles of sound decision making
  • Effective meetings
  • Delegations
  • Management committee performance evaluation
  • Shareholder, member and stakeholder engagement.

The primary arena for establishing and delivering good governance is the management committee room. It is therefore essential that the mechanics and dynamics of management committee meetings are productive, effective and challenging. The management committee’s role is to provide leadership of the golf club within a framework of prudent, effective and proportionate controls which enables risk to be evaluated and managed.

A successful management committee will develop and promote a collective vision for the club that mirrors the strategic aims of the organisation. Aligned to that vision will be the organisation’s internal operating climate, culture, behaviours and values: these will be established by the management committee, articulated and embodied in the actions of its members.

A successful management committee is not necessarily a comfortable place. Challenge as well as teamwork is essential. Diversity in the management committee room is an important factor of the management committee’s effectiveness, creating a breadth of perspective among committee members and managers and breaking down any inclination towards ‘group think’. It is important to consider a diversity of personal attributes among management committee candidates in order to avoid the dangers of a herd mentality, including         critical assessment, sound judgement, courage, independence of thought, openness, honesty, tact, humility, flexibility in thinking, the ability to listen, the ability to forge and build productive relationships and the ability to develop and inspire trust.

Peter Swabey

A high-performing management committee will clearly understand the purpose of the organisation, their role within it, the powers they have and where they are derived from. It will demonstrate trust and respect alongside constructive and robust challenge of the information presented to the management committee. It will also take time to reflect on its performance, and the performance of those who report to it, and to have courageous conversations to make improvements that are going to deliver for the golf club and the wider community.

Governance is a management committee responsibility in the sense that they report on it to shareholders and members and are legally held to account for it. However, for governance to be truly fit for purpose, it must be embedded throughout the organisation. It is a golden thread that extends from the management committee room to the 18th tee, and back again.

Peter Swabey is the policy and research director at ICSA. ICSA’s Sport Board Effectiveness guidance can be downloaded for free at For more information about sport governance, contact or call 020 7580 4741


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 30, 2017 22:31 Updated
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  1. Phil August 3, 20:43

    The article is spot on – but I regret that some golf clubs put the issue of good governance on the back burner believing that because they have done it their own way for the last 100 years their way must be right.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Phil August 3, 18:59

    The problem is that some Golf Clubs do not treat governance as a serious issue or at best put it on the backburner for another day.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Robert July 31, 15:41

    Thanks for posting, Alex.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Abbie July 30, 21:42

    England Golf have a helpful Club Governance Guide and supporting workshop for those clubs looking to review/improve their practices

    Reply to this comment
  5. Alex July 30, 21:42

    When it comes to governance there is no one better than Kevin Fish CCM for my money.

    Reply to this comment
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