By Rick Jenkins

CLIFTON, N.J. The NJSGA hosted its inaugural Golf Summit today at Upper Montclair Country Club. Over 110 guests were on hand from member clubs and courses to participate in presentations on a number of issues relevant to the golf industry in New Jersey – and beyond.

The program was made possible through the generous support of Zurich Insurance, who approached the NJSGA last year to create an education forum for club decision makers in New Jersey. Today’s audience included club presidents, general managers, PGA professional staff, superintendents, committee chairs – in short, all of the decision makers in the club environment.

The day’s first topic was risk management, and Zurich’s Roger Mooney kicked off with a presentation focusing on the different areas of a club’s operation that present risk and the possibility for losses and liabilities from accidents and misuse. He covered a wide range of risks to be aware of – such as general clubhouse conditions that can lead to fires and other safety concerns; inadequate club policies that don’t protect members, guests and employees; security in parking lots; cart operations and cart paths; swimming pools; course maintenance practices related to pesticides; lightning detection systems; and the list goes on. Any club operation is a virtual hornet’s nest of risk and potential liability, and Mooney stressed the need for awareness and an eye for detail so these risks can be properly insured and any losses minimized.

On a lighter note, keynote speaker Brad Klein followed. Klein is a senior editor at Golfweek magazine and is in charge of its course ranking program. While Klein’s style is on the lighter side, his message always hits home on the significant concerns in the golf industry, like the 6% decline in play since 2000 and the cultural shift that seems to be fueling it. In spite of multiple initiatives by practically every governing body in golf, the game is not growing; in fact, it’s shrinking. Klein cites the missing “next generation” not taking over for golfers for whom the club was the center of leisure and social activity and a real status symbol. Today, all kinds of societal influences are contributing to a shrinking game: less disposable personal time and more emphasis on family time, less disposable income, a proliferation of entertainment and restaurant alternatives, the decline of corporate golf, etc.

The main program for the day was a panel discussion that included the heads of the four major golf associations doing business in New Jersey: John Murray, President of the NJSGA; Bryan Jones, President of the NJ Section of the PGA; Michael Lusk, President of the NJ chapter of the Club Managers Association; and Paul Dotti, President of the NJ chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association. As Murray noted, this “may be the first time the heads of these four associations have been in the same room at the same time – and this is a good model for the future.” The panelists addressed a set of questions prepared in advance and their discussion was moderated by Evan Broadbelt, an NJSGA Trustee and officer and a former municipal court judge. The panelists dealt with a variety of questions, like how clubs can better attract and retain members; labor organization efforts going on in the state; the direction of golf course conditioning and maintenance practices; junior golf and its role in the future of the game; softening clubhouse rules on dress code and electronic devices; and the necessity of long-range planning. The discussion was wide-ranging, but the panelists generally agreed with each other and stressed the importance of communication and sensible reasoning in working through these issues.

Brad Klein made a return appearance during lunch to discuss Golfweek’s course ranking process, which he created 16 years ago and still manages today. The course rankings produced by the major golf magazines have been controversial for years; Klein does not deny this and even acknowledges the rankings are limited in what they are trying to achieve. “We’re basically taking a subjective sensibility and trying to quantify it,” he said. “That’s hard to do, especially when you’re trying to boil down 16,000 courses in the country to the top 100 or so” he added. The Golfweek process is less rigorous quantitatively than Golf Digest’s process because it tries to capture more of the experiential element of playing a course. “I like the whole feel of the club to factor in,” he said. He took a few questions after his rankings talk – but refused to answer the one, “What’s your favorite course?”

Related links:
Zurich/Affinity Agency Group: http://www.affinityagencygroup.com/
Golfweek magazine: http://www.golfweek.com/

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