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Golf has a long history of being a sport rooted in exclusivity; and none more exclusive than Augusta National Golf Club. Home of the Masters Tournament; the only Major played in the same location year in and year out, it is widely known that Augusta National extends membership strictly on invitation and membership is capped at 300 members at any given time. As promptly as the world turns its eyes to a Tradition Unlike any Other, the conversations regarding the checkered history of Augusta National’s exclusion of women and people of color blooms like the azaleas on Amen Corner. In recent years, Augusta National has addressed these issues head on, and has provided a solid lesson in club crisis resolution.
Communicate Your Crisis and Address It Head-On
Augusta National’s leadership was well aware that they were suffering from a crisis of public perception, and for many years they chose to maintain their position of exclusivity and redirect attention to the positive economic impact the Club brought to the community as a result of The Masters Tournament. The solution to their crisis of public perception seemed simple—just open membership to those it formerly excluded. However, that solution contradicts their brand of being exclusive and that appeared to be a designation that Club leadership was not ready to part with just yet…
When a crisis arises in your club, it is imperative to address the situation in a timely fashion in order to mitigate any potential fallout and limit any rumors from arising. A crisis can come in many forms; whether it be a crisis with an employee, a financial crisis, or a crisis with a member - all should be addressed in an “all hands-on-deck fashion,” as often the reach of a crisis extends past a single department. Designate a club spokesperson from your leadership who will represent your club through the crisis process to ensure the messaging remains consistent and on-brand. While a crisis brings a negative connotation, clubs that have weathered a crisis successfully often fare positively in the long run. Addressing a crisis provides an opportunity for club leadership to take stock of the current situation, how to keep the crisis from becoming a recurring event, and how the solution to the crisis will affect the club moving forward. Having a strong strategic plan can help proactively address many potential crises.
Offer an Amenable Solution
This is a topic where a lot can be learned from Augusta National and how they addressed the public opinion of exclusion. The club’s rich and storied history has been successful for Augusta National and its exclusivity, but society is more multigenerational and multicultural than ever before. Women have a more influential role in their family and in business, creating more interest in the game of golf. Naturally, the golf landscape changed – it, too became more diverse in many ways. In 2018 the golf industry started #inviteHER campaign in an effort to bring more women to the game.
It appears that Augusta National recognized an opportunity and established the Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA) Championship. The final round of the ANWA tournament was played at Augusta National, making it the first time for women to take part in competitive play at the course. Founding this tournament not only offers Augusta National an opportunity to smooth over any feelings of exclusion, but it also serves to bring golf to a new generation of players and spark even more interest in women’s golf.
When a crisis arises at your club, take stock of not only what will solve the crisis immediately, but also what will be a realistic solution long-term. The thought process should promote productive conversations with answers to questions about how you can turn a negative situation into a positive one that not only betters your club but betters the industry and/or your community.
Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open
Communication is key when faced with a crisis or need to better manage perception. In the case of Augusta National, their policy of exclusion was one that consistently arose through tremendous pubic pressure over the years. Eventually, small voices became louder ones, and it became abundantly clear that action had to be taken in order to keep up with the times and no longer be perceived as a closed-minded boys club - - - enter extending membership invitations to women, the establishment of the Drive Chip and Putt Tournament, and the ANWA.
Most clubs do not have the communications professionals on staff that Augusta National has, but they do have leadership and a board of directors that should be serving as the eyes and ears in the community; always abundantly aware of how the club is perceived. It is imperative the club leadership and board members are all on the same page when it comes to addressing crisis. Keeping eyes and ears open is a great way to address the small voice that may be hinting at a problem on the horizon; before it becomes a crisis of great proportion. Catching a potential crisis early and working to address its potential is key to ensuring your club’s public perception is not tarnished.
The changing face of the golf industry is one that is very exciting to be a part of, but as the old adage says, “with great change comes great opportunity” and the changes at Augusta National have proven to be a great learning opportunity for clubs to note. “It’s just paving the way for women’s golf,” says Sierra Brooks, a University of Florida junior who’s competed in the ANWA tournament. “It’s just so special for the game.” It will be interesting to see how public and private golf clubs respond to these welcome changes to the industry. Don’t forget to spend time with your managers and staff so that they know how to #welcomeHER.
From all of us at RCS, we congratulate Jennifer Kupcho, the winner of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship, and look forward to seeing who will receive the prestigious Green Jacket on Sunday.
Whitney Reid Pennell, president of the RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services) is a celebrated management consultant, educator and speaker. RCS, the creators of the Food and Beverage Boot Camp™, specialize in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs.
For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at www.consultingrcs.com.