How to make a golf club self-sustaining; 5 tips from outgoing Karen GM Sam Mwai

  • July 2, 2021
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It is an open secret that many golf clubs in Kenya are struggling to stay afloat. Even before the advent of coronavirus last year, many clubs were in distress as revenues began to dwindle, thanks to declining corporate sponsorships and members’ inactivity. These scenarios have seen clubs survive on development levies or in some cases hiking of annual subscriptions to the chagrin of members. And the situation is bound to get worse, as the realities of the post-coronavirus dispensation sink in.

Amidst this hullabaloo, one club has stood out; Karen Country Club.  Not only has the club kept its pristine golf course in perfect condition, Karen has also diversified its revenue streams by investing in world-class accommodation facilities. Sam Mwai, the club’s General Manager who has been at the helm for the last 10 years, offers some invaluable tips on the basics of managing a golf club:

Appoint a knowledgeable manager

Being a long standing golfing member l knew quite a bit about the club which helped in interacting with and understanding the membership. Armed with this knowledge I was looking forward to making the necessary changes and improvements to take it to the highest level, in line with the vision “to be a world class golf and country club”. Karen is a great club, has been and will always be, however certain things needed to be modernized and up scaled, new facilities such as the Residences were built, the greens were redesigned and built, course machinery modernized, staff trained and new ones recruited to go with the best club in the country and to enable us to handle major events and activities.

Diversify your revenue streams

Golf in Kenya is growing, people are demanding more outside spaces and activities so it has a good future here. At Karen our proposition is around offering a premium golf experience for members, their friends and visitors. The club has a family orientation that is a one stop shop for sporting, leisure and community connection. This has made us a sustainable club with a strong brand that is internationally recognized and offering consistent high quality experience meeting members culinary, sporting and entertainment needs.

Strategic planning is key

Good financial and strategic planning is important in addition to a supportive Board and membership who are desirous of success. Good governance is a cornerstone of club management, the board and committees must meet regularly to monitor club and management performance. Annual budgets and regular monitoring and evaluation of the same are necessary as the club must maintain healthy cash flows and prudence in financial management. In the case of golf you must have strategic plans for golf activity around your club, make sure there is sufficient/adequate funding for maintenance. It costs over Kshs. 50,000,000/- per year to run a golf course like ours. It is important to have a master plan. This will guide you long-term on physical development of facilities, people, funding etc. We were able to establish this early and are now looking at endowment planning for the club.

Motivate your staff

Appreciate your staff and the work they do to keep your facilities in top shape. Motivating staff in these uncertain times has been very challenging. Over the years, we have invested in competitive staffing systems and culture change programmes which saw us attain ISO certification. I have a hands off, but eyes on approach allowing my staff great latitude in delivering service and this has led to a great and confident team. The Board has also been very supportive in allowing us the freedom to do our job, without undue interference.

Invest in programmes to encourage junior membership

Make programs to develop junior membership as that is the only way to ensure sustainability of the club. This includes the golf section and generally for Kenyan clubs. We established the “Karenites” which is made up of our members between age of 18-35 as a path for their transition into full membership and responsibility within the club. We now have 350 members in this category.

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