How the largest Management companies are getting through the pandemic

ClubCorp says pandemic is very real after employee died from COVID-19

The world’s largest management companies are used to dealing with challenges. It’s the nature of the job. But COVID-19 kills.   

It hit home for ClubCorp, the nation’s second largest management company. An employee — who had been with ClubCorp for nine years — contracted the virus and died. 

“For us, it’s very real,” said David Pillsbury, ClubCorp’s CEO.

The outbreak also caused economic pain. The company initially had to furlough half of its employees to get through the worst of it. Because ClubCorp owns many of the clubs it operates, it also had to pivot quickly to maintain its membership base.

Like other management companies, it did so through a number of innovations particularly using today’s technology. If clubs were closed, virtual options — such as golf lessons and wine tastings — were offered. ClubCorp gave members usage credits for the dues they pay. They could use those credits for any purchase, such as dining and merchandise, when clubs reopened. 

“We had concerns about a high level of attrition,” he said. “That hasn’t happened.”

But clubs got hit elsewhere, particularly in food & beverage and events. Large gatherings have been banned, affecting weddings and other milestone events, such as birthdays and anniversaries.  

However, an interesting development is happening, Pillsbury said. The firm is getting more interest in private club memberships. The reason? People believe private clubs are safer than other gathering places, such as restaurants.

A restaurant is transient, he noted. 

“We’re like a safe haven, a home away from home,” he said. 

And ClubCorp is working to make sure members do indeed feel safe. Employees are required to take temperature checks. If they are fine, they are given stickers that say, “I’m cool.” 

“Members like that,” Pillsbury said. 

Employees are also required to wear masks, a safety precaution that some members like and some don’t. 

“Certain things are controversial. It can be a double-edged sword.”

KemperSports  manages some of the nation’s top bucket-list golf courses, such as Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Streamsong in Florida. All were affected. At one point, 80% of its courses were closed.

“We’ve never been busier helping clubs,” said Steven Skinner, CEO. “We’ve also been doing a lot of learning.”

And that learning has been shared, he noted. The nation’s top management firms have been in contact with one another and offering best practices, he said. 

“We’ve rallied together,” he said.

At least one part of the business model has seen more interest, and that’s been the core one: golf. All the management companies report an increase in people wanting to play. The pandemic struck in spring, just as the weather warmed, and people saw golf as a tempting escape.

You’re outdoors. You can social distance. While governments did close many courses, the orders were soon relaxed. 

“Our saying is what better place is a golf course for social distancing,” Skinner said. “You have 200 acres and 72 people.”

Other management company leaders agreed. 

“It is a unique game,” said Tim Schantz, CEO of Troon. “It’s built for social distancing. You’re outside in the fresh air. I believe in it in terms of improving mental health as well. I’m pleased and hope it continues.”

The management companies quickly put in place new regulations to make play safe once governments allowed for the play to resume. 

“We’re seeing huge demand,” said Skinner, who expects it to continue at least through summer. 

People may have more free time because their children may not be able to participate in summer events, such as baseball, as they did before. There won’t be as much international travel, so places like Bandon Dunes and Streamsong could benefit.

His firm is marketing the courses as drive-to destinations to attract golfers itching to play top quality courses that are accessible. 

“We hope to pick up people who are traveling local,” he said.

He noted that Florida courses may do well because many of those with second homes didn’t go back north in the spring, given the pandemic. And efforts are being made to make lodging more inviting by creating innovative best-practices when it comes to cleanliness and social distancing.

While there is certainly more anxiety, guests are feeling more comfortable about staying, Skinner said. 

“They’re thanking us for taking the precautions,” he said. 

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