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2020 CMAA World Conference: CEO Reports Back

Tuesday 25, Feb 2020
Paul Vardy - GMA Chief Executive Officer

Attending a CMAA World Conference is a great learning and networking experience for GMA members. GMA Chief Executive Officer, Paul Vardy, provides us with some insights upon his return from the 2020 event.

Arriving at the Gaylord Resort and Conference Centre gives you the feeling of something “big” happening inside.

The resort sits on 125 acres, has over 1,800 guest rooms and 100 meeting and break-out rooms. Like everything in Texas, it prides itself on being big.

After leaving the reception you enter a sky-high enclosed atrium with channels running through it and half a dozen restaurants dotted in all directions.

A miniature western town with a model train running through it is the feature of the atrium. A closer look reveals CMAA’s “Focus Forward” conference theme and conference sponsors appearing throughout the town. Someone with small hands has spent hours setting this up.

Even though the cowboy life could not be more removed from a temperature controlled hotel and atrium, there is the mystique of a life herding cattle across the plains that appeals to many. The theme ran through everything at the hotel.

Attending an event such as this alongside a bunch of Australian managers is a lot of fun. It is not always easy to find them though. The conference has well over 2,000 attendees hearing from a vast array of speakers on topics such as leadership, culture, strategy, governance, marketing & communications, ethics, food & beverage, staff on-boarding, budgeting, wellness, executive coaching and cyber security.

There can be up to six speaking events on at the same time so planning who to see is a trade-off. Carefully reading the introductory information on the conference app is the best way to make the selection and when seeing colleagues after the sessions is the moment of truth whether you made the right choice.

Did you know, as GMA is an affiliate of CMAA, every GMA member has a unique member number on their lanyard that carries from their first CMAA conference to any future conferences. Just like an American, GMA members can use the conference app to complete a survey of the speaker and topic in order to generate one point to their professional development. This all adds up for those seeking future CMAA qualifications.

In the breaks between sessions, random things can happen such as chance encounters with friends known from past conferences or events such as the chautauqua. Fiza Errington rode her first US chautauqua and made quite an impression on the regular riders. They all wanted to tell me about it.

The land Down Under

On one occasion we were chatting with Jeffrey Kreafle, from Congressional Country Club, when we were whisked away to the bowels of the convention centre for a tour of the kitchens and staff meeting areas.

The convention centre turns over US$81m in food and beverage. At the request of Jeffrey, the Senior Executive Chef too eagerly mixed us a mystery cocktail. It tasted like aviation fuel.

Partnership Dinner

MiClub and Northstar Club Management Software are proudly GMA’s naming rights partner for the CMAA World Conference Scholarship Program which provides the opportunity for GMA members in each state to be funded to attend the conference each year. It was nice to enjoy dinner with representatives from MiClub and Northstar and say thank you.

Strategy ideas for clubs

A four-hour workshop session on strategy from GGA Partners was well worth a Saturday morning. It brilliantly explained, in detail, the process of strategic planning and why each step is so important.

As consultants, they often see enthusiastic volunteers who cannot wait to spend money on projects. Thinking they understand strategy, board members do not appreciate the difference between strategic plans, masterplans, business plans and how they fit together with the optional funding models that will pay for it all. Although they did not say so, I suspect they do not think managers appreciate the differences either.

They outlined common elements that unravel good strategic outcomes:

  • Impatience – planning takes more time than most think
  • Lack of market analysis and member surveys
  • Lack of collaboration with members
  • Lack of repeated communication of the plan
  • Funding models that are too traditional
  • Lack of time devoted to member approval of the proposed funding model
  • Culture of poor leadership
  • Not keeping the strategy alive

A fascinating element to the presentation was on capital campaigning. Asking members to vote approval for the project money requires the club’s leaders to show how the plan overcomes a problem that aligns with member needs.

Using the rule of seven, where people need to hear things seven times in order to really pay attention, they help clubs communicate heavily in various forms. Leaving nothing to chance, like politicians, they run a 60-day campaign to explain details of plans, gaining feedback and establish trust and transparency. Board members are trained with talking points about the plans so as to be consistent and united.

They help clubs to be conscious of a 20-60-20 reality of support; 20% will always support and 20% will always oppose and 60% can be convinced either way. So, the key focus is on winning the 60% to deliver the required approval.

The concept of permanent club debt was covered too. Even with a capital reserve study, many clubs underestimate the true capital replacement costs that await them at a date in the distant future. A capital reserve study is a detailed piece of work that identifies the current condition of fixed assets, the useful life of the assets, the often growing repair costs expected of the asset and the future replacement costs. Expensing a healthy asset depreciation on the books is not enough as the future replacement cost, say for a clubhouse, is going to be way higher than the value of the existing clubhouse on the books.

But finance has got easier. With long term and record low interest rates, clubs can be borrowing much more affordably to replace capital. Many clubs are no longer imposing a short-term levy on members for capital works, instead applying an annual fee on their subscriptions (dues), called the capital maintenance fund. The annual capital maintenance fund is there to stay for ever. If the club has a borrowing of $2 million at 5% they share the $100,000 cost across all members each year plus any principal they want to pay down. With future capital works, the debt may go up or down, but the debt funding is always shared annually across the membership just like the subscriptions.

Attending a workshop on strategy such as this gives the impression that there is much untapped potential for clubs to really understand their market as long as they are prepared to follow a sound process and stick to the work right through to their GM’s business plans.

All clubs are facing a competitive operating environment. When considering how high the stakes are, there is a compelling argument to hire a seasoned facilitator to help the club follow a sound process. Of course, a sound culture of board stewardship is the rock from which to build the process. Like everything, it starts with good governance.

There’s a war - on talent!

One theme that came out loud and clear was the war on talent. With a low unemployment rate in the US and the need to recruit millennials who see the world differently from previous generations, there is a conscious effort going on in clubs creating a great culture to recruit and hold the best staff.

Former CMAA board member and CMAA Club Executive of the Year, Damon DiOrio CCM CCE from Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, gave an insightful presentation recruiting positivity and creating an energized work culture.

DiOrio is a great example of a highly developed GM. He is a combination of warmth, wisdom and humility with a deeply embedded service mindset. He said, “Your legacy is never going to be forged by the condition of your golf course but by the positive culture of your club.” Hear, hear!

When recruiting, DiOrio likes to include three layers of staff for interviews - typically, a line manager, a HR person and a service employee. He never leaves recruiting to just one and multiple interviews take place for all positions. Applicants know it is not the run of the mill club they are applying to. Applicants who do not come across as warm and friendly in the first interview will not get asked back for a second interview - it is the Desert Mountain culture.

If recruitment is deliberately slow, onboarding is slower again. A new recruit’s induction will not be undertaken by staff on the front line, instead by Damon and his leadership team over a series of days.

BMI Program – international perspective

Australia is the newest member of the BMI international community and we are made to feel most welcome.

The CMAA conference brings together the international BMI community to improve their programs by collaborating with each other and CMAA.

It will not be long before international guests attend some of our BMI weeks and Australian managers attend BMI programs from other countries.

The BMI program leads to the Certified Club Manager qualification. To qualify to sit a CCM exam, one must complete the four mandatory BMI modules and accrue points from a host of other professional development events as well as past qualifications.

The CCM exam involves 400 questions and the word on the street is that it is no doozy (or soda).

Just about everyone who sits the exam has done an extra BMI week called BMI Review which recaps the previous four BMIs.

Avoiding the BMI Review is optional but there is something like only a 38% pass rate if you avoid it.

It is all worth it though. Each year CMAA proudly recognises the latest CCM graduates on stage amongst awards for CCEs, MCMs and Fellows awards.


GMANZ was proud to have their first four BMI graduates presented with a pin and certificate (one of them was an Aussie though!).

GMA members wishing to do the BMI-F&B Management module are invited to attend GMANZ’s BMI course being held from 13th-17th July 2020 at Remuera Golf Club in Auckland.

The cost for international students will be $2,145 (NZD) with an early bird price of $1,845 if paid before 20th April 2020.

If anyone is interested in attending this BMI course, please email GMANZ’s Executive Officer, Des Topp, on

Australia’s BMI F&B Management course will be held in 2021.