2020 Gary Player Educator Of The Year


Someone once said that if you need to have something done, make sure you give the assignment to a “busy person.” That seems to aptly describe the lifestyle of Tom Wallace, who is the recipient of BoardRoom’s Gary Player Educator of the Year Award.

I first met Tom when he was the assistant manager at The Country Club in Pepper Pike, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Tom picked me up at the airport and was driving me to the club, where I was going to do a presentation at the Ohio CMAA Chapter meeting. During our conversation and while answering the series of questions I was asking him, it became evident that he not only had a sincere passion for the private club business but also a strong desire to continue to learn and share his knowledge with others.

I continued to observe his career when he was hired at the age of 28 to be the general manager of the renowned Oakmont Country Club. While serving 10 years at Oakmont, he pursued his CCM designation and was also presented the Excellence in Club Management Award from the McMahon Group. Tom oversaw the 2003 U.S. Amateur, 2007 U.S. Open and 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont, which some USGA tournament executives claim were some of the very best events they have held. It set a new standard for the major USGA events that followed.

It was during Tom’s tenure at Oakmont that I noticed his attendance at CMAA educational programs, both locally and at the annual world conference. I will always recall his interactive engagement with me during one of the programs, where I was the presenter during the CMAA World Conference in Hawaii. I was impressed with his questions and contributions to the session. (Even though I was a little put off by his not wearing socks to the meeting, something I still kid him about today.)

Tom had a reputation for developing very good employee teams, and I could see that his interest in educating his team leaders was a major factor in his management philosophy. He shared his knowledge of the club business not only with his subordinates but also with other club industry leaders. It’s likely the reason he was often asked to speak at CMAA meetings and conferences.

When Tom continued his management career at Mediterra in Naples, FL, he became even more engaged in presenting leadership programs and seminars to his peers in the industry. After joining Kopplin and Kuebler, soon to become Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace (KK&W), he initiated his teaching in the BMI programs developed by CMAA. Over the years, he has instructed hundreds of managers and he continually ranks as one of the highest-rated presenters for CMAA. In looking at some typical comments from the attendees, many of them note that he delivers not only great content but does so in an entertaining manner with a base of personal knowledge. He knows of what he speaks.

In addition to writing numerous articles on a variety of club management and governance topics, Tom has traveled the country to present educational programs for CMAA chapters and private club boards. In a typical year, Tom works with 20 to 30 general managers and their boards at annual retreats, discussing the best management and governance practices in the private club industry.

While actively engaged in his writing, teaching, and executive search work, Tom also balances his busy travel schedule by spending time with his family.  Additionally, Tom serves on the National Club Association Board, functions as the managing partner of KK&W and contributes his energy to the Club Leadership Alliance.

Education is his passion and the foundation of his very busy schedule, making Tom Wallace a truly worthy recipient of the Gary Player Educator of the Year Award.

Contributed by Richard Kopplin

BoardRoom Magazine – 2021 July/August

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2020 Gary Player Educator Of The Year2021-08-25T19:12:54+00:00

Creating Alignment: The GM/President Relationship


If you are not already registered to attend, we encourage you to consider joining us for the 2021 President’s Council being hosted by Carmel Country Club on Monday, November 15th.  This unique networking and educational event will bring together Club Presidents, Board Members, and Executive Level Team Members to learn what the highest performing clubs are doing to stay relevant and vibrant in today’s competitive market. [Learn More and Register]

General managers should discuss with their new presidents how they are going to communicate for the year ahead. This includes deciding on the frequency of communication (specific times or days or just as needed) and what forms are best (in-person meetings, phone, text, email). Every president is different, with different preferences and availability, so getting on the same page is essential.

General managers should have a conversation with their president about how they are going to disagree. Simply asking, “How should I tell you when I disagree with you?” can be an immensely powerful and honest way to set the relationship up for success.

Another best practice continuing to emerge is the educational partnership of the general manager/chief executive with the board of directors. This kind of collaborative education provides private clubs with the strategic thinking necessary to meet current and future member needs. Recognizing that volunteer leaders must be aligned with paid leaders is critical. This educational partnership can be achieved by incorporating an educational component led by the general manager or board president during every meeting. Examples of meaningful insight could be industry reports produced by respected industry associations and consulting firms or details of trending club issues and supporting case studies. Experts on local issues can also add tremendous value at board meetings. During COVID-19, leading clubs invited a panel of health professionals to share and engage in Q&A to guide decision-making and forward-thinking clubs in California invited experts to offer insight on water management.

General managers are expected to be experts on club business and operations. Bringing in outside knowledge to support their recommendations can encourage a unified understanding of circumstances.

Contributed by Richard Kopplin, Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM & Thomas B. Wallace Ill, CCM, CCE, ECM

CLUB TRENDS – Summer 2021

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Creating Alignment: The GM/President Relationship2021-09-23T19:50:04+00:00

Committee Orientation


As KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE works with hundreds of clubs each year, we have discovered there is a big disconnect in the industry: Boards get all the education and training, and committees get very little, if any, education or training. This is a serious oversight because committees need to understand their area of focus and level of input. Just as board orientation is essential to the effectiveness of the board, committee orientation is essential to the effectiveness of committees, the board and the staff. When committees function properly, they are outstanding resources to be utilized while moving the club forward. When commit- tees are dysfunctional, they cause headaches for the general manager, department heads and the board.

When it comes to committees, volunteers should not enter their committee term thinking “What are we going to fix this year?” It should be explained to them, “This is the priority for the year ahead.” To guide committee members’ thinking, education and training are crucial.

Each year the outgoing board should set the annual goals for the incoming board and committees. The board should set the goals for the general manager. The general manager should set the goals for the department heads.


By conducting a board-like mandatory orientation session for all committee members at the beginning of the commit- tee year, every person sees what the goals are for the committees, how they will be held accountable, deadlines for when things need to be achieved and so forth. This way committees are not setting their own agendas, getting too involved in operations and setting their own initiatives, and there is much greater overall alignment throughout the club. Instead, committees are tasked by the president and the general manager, with the support of the board, what the goals are for the year.

It is a mandatory orientation and if you cannot make it, then you cannot sit on the committee.

If people do not come to the orientation, they do not take their role seriously and that’s when things can go off the rails. Furthermore, it is an ideal time to allow incoming committee members who have not yet served to shorten their first-year wonderment of how, when and where they need to focus their time. The dynamics of involving both new and returning committee members in the orientation experience is impactful and allows those new contributors confidence in what they need to focus on and how they can contribute.

Sometimes when committee members find out their roles are strictly advisory, and they do not have decision-making power, or they do not get to make certain changes (per their personal agenda), they do not want to be on the committee anymore. Those members with personal agendas are often the people that should not be on committees; that is why proper committee orientation and training is so important. Additionally, arming all committee members with factual data and not allowing unsupported opinions, no matter how well intended, to prevail is done at this stage of the orientation process.


When committees understand their advisory role, they also understand that they are tools for the general manager and board to use, not the other way around. It is essential that committees recognize that there is not a lot of extra talent lying around the club with nothing to do and that they are there for the general manager to use as tools for getting things done, versus the general manager running around trying to make committees happy. Committees must be educated and trained that their role is to do the work of the board and the general manager, not vice versa. When used effectively in this manner, they are outstanding conduits to and from the membership.

Clubs should hold detailed committee orientation sessions at the start of the committee year, just as they do with the new board of directors. A mandatory orientation session should include a review of the club’s mission, vision and strategic plans. Carefully explain the “responsibility matrix” (see sample in Board Orientation article) and how each person’s role fits into the organization. Consider making copies of the responsibility matrix for committee members to take home with them so they can review it after the meeting and use it for reference throughout the year, or even having them sign off to acknowledge that they understand their role and how it fits into the decision-making process.

During orientation, detail the committee responsibilities, charters, the role of the committee chair, code of conduct, member grievance flow chart and any other documents vital to the club’s governance. Include core values and guiding principles that are the foundation of how you will operate. Just as you told the board, tell committees, “This is how we get the work of the club done,” to ensure they understand their role on a deeper level. These orientations should also include a full tour of both front and back of the house of the club in all areas, not just those under the purview of a particular committee. An educated member, often done in this manner, can be the best supporter of the club in the long run!

It might be overkill to provide the committees with some of the information that is provided in board orientations (such as the club master plan) but the more information committee members have up front the better. It is also great for other committees—the Finance Committee, for example— to hear what the goals and objectives are for the Tennis Committee, House Committee and Golf Committee during the orientation. When committee members know and understand their role in the organization, they are more effective and more efficient. Too many clubs are being managed by their committees and it’s because the industry doesn’t match committee training with board training.

Contributed by Richard Kopplin, Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM & Thomas B. Wallace Ill, CCM, CCE, ECM

CLUB TRENDS – Summer 2021

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Committee Orientation2021-08-03T01:43:35+00:00

They Key to High-Performance Boards

Clubs known for their good governance and overall success have one thing in common: a great board orientation. A common complaint heard during club visits by KK&W is that board members feel they could have been better prepared for their role on the board. The perfect opportunity to start board members off on the right foot, set them up for success and foster greater efficiency is by holding a mandatory board orientation at the beginning of a new board’s term.

Board orientation is a one-time annual event that explains responsibilities, goals, expectations and sets the stage for constant learning and education throughout the year ahead. To create a high-functioning board of directors, a comprehensive board orientation must occur.

Remember the last time you were a “freshman” or first-timer at anything where there is already a group in place that you were then joining? No matter how long someone might have been a member of the club, becoming a board member is not something to be taken lightly. Shortening the learning curve through a well-organized orientation allows them to become positive contributors more quickly and feeling comfortable doing so benefits all involved.

The ingredients for a successful board orientation include the necessary time and commitment to do it right. At a minimum, a board orientation should be a one-day event, where all board members (new and existing) are required to attend. Mandatory attendance is critical, and the involvement of returning board members is equally important to help convey the dynamics of how business is done and to help reassure new board members of the desire for a fully participative board.

There is a lot of information to include, and an organized and detailed approach is the key to getting board members quickly up to speed. Proper education and perspective are important as board members must understand that clubs are a different kind of operation and therefore, they are often ran differently than most of their own personal businesses. The highest performing clubs also take reflecting on how they are doing as a board very seriously. They make it a priority to objectively assess themselves through an anonymous board self-evaluation process, to understand how they are performing with respect to connectivity to the membership, strategic direction, board structure and process and the board’s relationship with the club manager.


Orientation should start off with a welcome and overview of the day by the general manager and club president. Then the general manager leads the group through an explanation of the club mission statement, club organizational structure, overview/background of the club and the roles and responsibilities of the board, management team and committees.

Responsibility Matrix – One of the most important elements in board orientation, the responsibility matrix, is essential for board members to understand their roles, responsibilities and how they connect to the overall organization. This is crucial for creating board members who are productive and confident. The responsibility matrix details who is responsible for what, thus creating the foundation for a high-functioning board. When managers “manage” and directors “direct” or governors “govern,” that is when we see clubs operate efficiently.

Governance Documents – The general manager should walk through the details of club governance by explaining the following: committee responsibilities and charters, the role of the committee chair, board member code of conduct, recently amended bylaws, member grievance flow chart, nominating committee description and responsibilities, member conduct and disciplinary actions and any other documents pertinent to the club’s governance and policy manual. Include core values and guiding principles that are the foundation of how the club operates and ultimately makes decisions. It’s important to explain how the club functions to help board members understand their role on a deeper level. During this section, it is also wise to present supporting industry publications, articles and other outside sources to help validate your explanation of club governance and provide other opportunities for further education.


Strategic Plan – It is also crucial to offer an overview of the history of how the multi-year, rolling strategic plan has been developed and guides annual goals and objectives for the entire club, including committees. Articulating the primary focus of the boards from past years helps to maintain clarity of purpose and provide a scorecard of success. It is a best practice for the outgoing board to set goals and objectives for the incoming board and committees.

Finances – Including a review of the budget, budgeting process and overall financial status of the club is beneficial. This portion may be conducted by the chief financial officer and should include a description of what it means to be a truly private club and how it impacts tax-exempt status (if applicable). Detail legal issues pertinent to the club and review any other local or industry issues that are specific to your club. It’s also important to emphasize and remind board members of the high level of fiduciary responsibility they have both legally and morally.

Membership – Have the membership director provide an overview of the membership process, how member recruitment works, an update on the club’s membership status/ growth, membership pricing philosophies and any member recognition efforts. This is also a great time to remind board members that member recruitment is part of their responsibility as well.

Club Organization Chart – Another key element in board orientation is having the general manager walk through the organizational structure, main positions and their backgrounds/previous experience, any human resources initiatives, employee handbook updates, scholarship programs, internship programs and any other pertinent staff issues or information that would be beneficial for board members to know. High-performing clubs allocate half a day to building trust and confidence between the board and key department heads. Staff leadership should be encouraged to share their professional background and unique capabilities, club tenure, the details of their role, the number of people within their team, the level of interaction the board can expect and interesting facts about their department.

Club Tour – This also presents a great time for a detailed tour of the club property—both front and back of house. Have each department head stationed in their area and allow him or her to show board members around, introduce essential employees, discuss the department layout and overall operations. Consider adding unique ways to provide information on the tour. For example, consider parking several high-dollar pieces of equipment in a visible location during the golf course/grounds building tour. Include a “price tag” on each piece of equipment so board members can see just how much one mower may cost. The same may be helpful with equipment in the kitchen. Give department heads the opportunity to answer questions and showcase their recent achievements. This is a great way to build rapport of department heads and recognize their contributions to the success of the operation.

Goal Setting – Dedicate time to discussing goal setting, which is essential for a high-performing board. This is a great opportunity to correlate the board’s own self-evaluation results from the outgoing board responses with the goals presented and design a focused action plan for the coming year.

Meetings – Include a review of how board time should be spent by giving them an agenda. This can help them to understand the significance of their impact on strategic vs. operational issues. Below are the three key areas of focus for boards to channel their influence:

  • Fiduciary – Board actions that involve annual accounts, budget directives and initiative, auditors’ reports,
    planning and committee review.
  • Talent – Measuring and acting on talent reviews, setting talent objectives for the year, reviewing top management, and utilizing a club engagement survey.
  • Decision – Focus on decision making for budgets, investments and nominations, while approving a yearly business plan utilizing a balance scorecard approach.

Plan appropriate breaks, meals and allow time for questions and answers as you go along. The key to a successful board orientation is engaging board members, keeping things light and informational and not getting too mired in details. Review pertinent topics and then provide resources or hard copies for a more in-depth analysis on an individual basis. Allow time for questions, discussion and bonding between board members and department heads in order to further build confidence, trust and focus on results.

Contributed by Richard Kopplin, Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM & Thomas B. Wallace Ill, CCM, CCE, ECM

CLUB TRENDS – Summer 2021

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They Key to High-Performance Boards2021-08-03T01:45:14+00:00

The 5 Key Disciplines Of Club Management in 2021 & How To Be A “Unicorn” GM

Kurt Kuebler joins Jim Hope & Roger Kingkade on the The Engaged Club Podcast, a club management and marketing podcast, for conversation on….

  • Why being fired isn’t the black mark on the resume many think it is.
  • How to broach uncomfortable topics during the interview process.
  • What managers need to focus on to be successful in 2021 and beyond.
  • What separates an elite “Unicorn” club manager from the rest of the pack and more…

May 2021 – The Engaged Club Podcast

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The 5 Key Disciplines Of Club Management in 2021 & How To Be A “Unicorn” GM2021-08-03T01:55:35+00:00

A Commitment To Best Practices


One thing is always consistent with the strongest leaders and clubs: They are fiercely focused on understanding and implementing the industry’s best standards and practices.

As I travel the country, I have the opportunity to observe many extraordinary club leaders and see many great clubs. One thing is always consistent with the strongest leaders and clubs: They are fiercely focused on understanding and implementing the industry’s best standards and practices. It doesn’t matter if clubs are running at top speed or just coming out of the starter blocks, those who keep industry best practices as the guideposts always stay on track, even during challenging times.

These practices are important and must be understood for clubs to evolve and succeed. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Your desire to change must be greater than your desire to stay the same.”

Evolution is hard but necessary for our great industry. It may seem as though we are beating people over the head with these best practices, but I’m going to keep reminding everyone about them because they aren’t as generally accepted as they should be.

Informed Leadership Best Practices

  • Continuously educate stakeholders (boards, committees, members and staff ) on industry trends, best practices and important societal trends impacting the private club industry.
  • Conduct mandatory and comprehensive orientations for all stakeholders.
  • Adopt the fact-based private club business model and related financial best practices. Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and use them to drive decision-making.
  • Embrace data-driven leadership rooted in strong governance principals. Ensure transparent communication to all stakeholders.

Informed leadership creates the best possible stakeholders who fully understand their role and the role of others in the organization. Every club should strive to create a culture of constant learning from service to governance through education and training. Constant learning for every board member, committee member and the entire staff is the foundation for these best practices.

Strategic Stewardship

  • Develop and maintain an effective strategic plan.
  • Protect, preserve and grow the assets through comprehensive capital planning that addresses obligatory and aspirational improvements with a unified master plan.
  • Enhance member value by creating innovative club experiences.
  • Ensure seamless transitions of boards, committees and senior staff.

Keep stakeholders on target. The best way to do this is to use a strategic road map for where you are going and then constantly remind everyone to keep them on track.

Empowered Management and Team

  • Create and maintain robust systems for talent acquisition, retention and professional development.
  • Utilize proven performance management systems to set goals and measure outcomes.
  • Perform regular team engagement surveys and compare them to benchmarks. Act on survey results.

Managers and management teams who are empowered and trusted to lead the club will do so nicely with pride and enthusiasm.

Compelling Member Experience

  • Match member expectations to the club’s primary purpose. Evolve and adapt as necessary.
  • Measure member needs, preferences and satisfaction on a regular basis.
  • Provide a value proposition that cultivates highly engaged, loyal and satisfied members who think like owners.
  • Present a relevant experience that easily attracts the next generation of members.

Creating a compelling member experience and a compelling team experience is a direct result of a club that functions on the best practices detailed above.

Additionally, there are two emerging practices that would benefit many clubs: 1) Managers and board presidents meeting quarterly with the club’s past presidents to keep them informed, provide education on the “issues of the day,” and use their counsel to guide in the decision-making process. 2) We are seeing local Presidents’ Councils form (with the help of regional club managers) as a way for club presidents to share ideas and data. This has been especially important during COVID-19 but also helpful for everything affecting clubs such as water issues, labor challenges, programming and amenities. The gathering and sharing of information continue to build on the culture of education and informed decision-making in which all these best practices are centered around.

Contributed by Thomas B. Wallace III, CCM, CCE, ECM
Connect at tom@kkandw.com or 412-670-2021.

National Club AssociationClub Director – Spring 2021

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A Commitment To Best Practices2021-08-03T01:46:33+00:00
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