‘Don’t send your manager overboard’

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 9, 2020 06:58

Having just been made redundant as the first ever general manager of a historic golf club due to the coronavirus pandemic, Chris Duffy argues that a manager is the best resource a club can utilise in order to survive the pandemic.

Your club is currently sailing on the Covid-19 seas, but does it sink or stay afloat, and who is now steering the ship, what speed is it going and which direction is it heading?

The current Covid-19 crisis is leading many clubs across the UK to review their positions.

In April I became an unintended casualty of Covid-19, with my club board deciding it was essential to ‘cut costs to ensure the clubs survival’. After only 17 months as the first general manager in its 129-year history, the general manager position was to be made redundant and I walked the plank.

Chris Duffy

The board offered feedback that it was purely financial and that my performance was exemplary having only a month earlier completed my first annual appraisal.

Covid-19 and trust

Trust is key in any relationship, whether personal or professional, and trust is something that we all know is earned through time. I reflect back on the past 17 months and maybe I just hadn’t earned enough points in the trust bank.

Putting aside the larger clubs who have the financial capability to ride out the crisis, many small and medium sized UK clubs operate with a volunteer board / committee, which often include business leaders of local industry.

Some clubs are now taking the progressive step to appoint a full time educated and qualified general manager / club manager for the very first time.

The manager, who you have chosen to lead and manage the club on a daily basis, is often certified through recognised club management bodies (such as the CMAE or GCMA), has a proven track record in club and hospitality management and a resource pool that will allow them to bring facts and data to a discussion rather than thoughts and opinions.

Club managers have a network to reach into for guidance or advice and in general have their finger on the pulse of what is ‘really’ going on at the club, with your members and within the industry as a whole.

Let the manager guide the board – and trust them!

Now is the time to let your manager guide the board. This is why you pay them the big bucks!

‘Club life’ as we have known for the past 100 years will take a long time to recover and this is where your manager will be able to guide the club board through their experience and knowledge.

Many clubs are currently thinking short term – but, even there, how will your club find creative solutions to allow the social interactions which the membership will be craving? How will you manage the membership’s expectations?

Members may have renewed their membership this year before the crisis but will question your club’s handling of the situation and not renew next year. Members may lose their jobs in the coming months and what will be one of the first things to be cut? Club memberships. What can you do as a club to help them and retain them as members?

The social cost – how does your club calculate the key ingredient to a club membership?

Club members come to the club to play golf, but they stay members at the club for the people. The club is often your members’ social club, it’s not just about playing golf or tennis, but about spending time together with family and friends in a relaxed, safe and social environment.

Has your club planned for losing this key ingredient or looked at ways to create a substitute in the short term?

Food and beverage operations in a mid-level UK clubs account for on average £4,000 profit a year but the actual cost of members not being able to socialise together will likely be much higher.

Habits like the family Friday evening Zoom quizzes, wine hours with friends on a Saturday evening and long dog walks usually take 30 days to form.

  • How is your club planning to break these new habits?
  • How are you going to entice and engage with members in the next three to six months to create events with limited access to the clubhouse facilities?
  • How will you redeploy your F&B team, or will you be forced to lay them off?
  • How will the redundancies of key staff be perceived by the membership and what is the best way to communicate these decisions?

Final thought

The club board is guiding the direction of the ship, and the speed to which it sails. The club manager is employed to make sure it stays afloat, the correct procedures and systems are in place and it operates to its full potential. They work together to ensure that all the passengers aboard have the best journey possible, even through the rough waters which we are now sailing. Don’t send your manager overboard in the coming weeks and months ahead – or your club may just start taking on water. Trust them to do the right thing at the right time and let them help in guiding the club into calmer waters.

I would be delighted to share my thoughts on some of the questions raised above and help your club stay afloat.

Chris Duffy, who has written for The Golf Business in the past, is a board member of the Club Managers’ Association of Europe and the former general manager of Huddersfield Golf Club. Tel: 07706464782 or email



Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 9, 2020 06:58
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  1. Gary P May 12, 09:28

    The club will regret this and it won’t take long. What is their plan? Having an inexperienced leader will cost the club dearly. I know it’s tough to see now, but this is the best thing that could have happened to you. Sooner or later the club would have shown their ineptitude.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Eric D May 12, 08:29

    You’ll bounce back Chris. Managers like you are hard to find

    Reply to this comment
  3. AP May 11, 13:57

    Out of adversity comes opportunity. My fear is that many other ‘traditional’ clubs will follow this archaic model at a time when professionalism and marketing savvy is required. I cannot imagine that you will be unattached for long. Best Wishes.

    Reply to this comment
  4. CEO of famous club May 10, 16:57

    Committees formed by volunteers that lack experience in Club Management are the reason many Clubs struggle. No governance model.

    Running a successful business doesn’t mean you have the knowledge and skills to make decisions for a club. Among other skills, running a golf club requires very specific competencies: Agronomy, Food & Beverage, event management, finance, HR, Marketing and Sales, etc.

    Trying to micromanage a professional that has devoted his time and career to prepare to run a club is not very smart.

    Boards should focus on strategy, CAPEX, membership and appointing the right CEO.

    Member committees should not even exist. Simple as that.

    Sad to read that a club would think a GM is not necessary.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Stephen B May 10, 15:50

    Sorry to hear Chris. Totally agree- a good manager at this time will help the business survive. why not furlough you? With your added PR /Marketing event skill set.
    Quality managers get picked up quickly. Stephen b

    Reply to this comment
  6. Chris B May 10, 10:52

    Hi Chris, sorry to hear… very shortsighted,
    Typical Committee!!!
    If the club wanted to become more professional and be relevant in the future it should have binned the committee structure as a start and formed a board. Then let the actual professional (The CEO/GM) and HIS/HER team steer the ship! Good luck to that club and hopefully a far better club that appreciates your expertise and experience will value what you bring to the table.

    Reply to this comment
    • Graham R May 10, 10:58

      100% correct Chris and this is going to be a tough road getting things back to normal and as you say having Chris at the helm would have helped!!! Keep your chin up Chris…… good things will come from this!!!

      Reply to this comment
  7. Bill C May 10, 10:01

    Well written Chris! Short sighted decisions in hard times can have long term, unattended consequences. I think we will see the clubs that take a forward looking, measured approach to getting through the pandemic and beyond will be the ones that thrive on the other side of this. In the moment that can be hard to see. On the plus side more time to ride that bike!

    Reply to this comment
  8. Law Rosen May 10, 09:01

    Sad to have such short sighted views of the future. Especially from a 129 year old club. https://www.clubbenchmarking.com/strategic-response

    Ray Cronin can help. #clubbenchmarking

    Reply to this comment
  9. Chris G May 10, 08:50

    Good article Chris. Sorry you suffered from such short term thinking.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Chris M May 9, 13:01

    Professionals keep committees sack

    Reply to this comment
  11. Tim K May 9, 11:00

    Bit of a short sighted view from your club Chris. As managers we all know the risks and that life expectancy may only be as long as the next Annual General Meeting when the next committee or board is voted on . Been there , done it , wear the ‘tee’ shirt and thankfullyl I’m now at a club that has seen and realises the worth a manager can bring them. Not sure about the big bucks though I earnt 50% more as a corner shop manager but I wasn’t happy, where as now. I’m engaged, fulfilled, trusted, and empowered to use all my skill sets and have an executive that 90% of the time let me get on with ,who listen and take my council . But theres still not many places you get paid to do umpteen jobs for the price of one

    IT expert, Website Designer , Finance Manager, Marketing Manager, HR Manager , Publican, Resteraunteur, Press officer, Social Media Guru to name but a few

    Good luck in your next role

    Reply to this comment
  12. Chris M May 9, 10:27

    Confused you sound great why gone

    Reply to this comment
  13. Tim L May 9, 09:40

    Sad news. Always very interesting when the Manager role is made redundant. Good luck Chris.

    Reply to this comment
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