Choosing the Right “Doctor”

By Peter Carfaro, JBD JGA Design & Architecture

So, what does choosing a doctor have to do with private clubs?  More than you might think…

Once upon time, a brilliant brain surgeon, Dr. Smith, popular in the community, accomplished athlete and all-around great person, needed a knee replacement. So Doc Smith appealed to fellow medical professionals who together assembled a list of three finalist that were to be considered for the procedure.  All three were well known renowned practitioners, and one was even a friend of Doc Smith’s. With the help of the selection committee (the fellow medical professionals), the selection process began.  Immediately, two of the three under consideration leapt out as having superior experience completing thousands of the exact same procedure needed by Doc Smith.  The third, Doc’s friend, was an extremely well-regarded primary care physician (PCP – formerly known as general practitioner) having positively affected the lives of thousands of patients, many of them who were close personal friends of Dr. Smith’s. Never, however, had the PCP replaced a knee, but the PCP’s fees were a bit more reasonable than the specialists.

Of course, we all know who gets picked for the important procedure which will affect Doc Smith’s life for many years to come. It’s all about experience and predicted outcome rather than relationships and cost – right? Who is chosen?

So, let’s apply this same process to that of choosing a professional consultant for the good doctor’s private club.  The club makes certain to include plenty of “similarly skilled” individuals on the committee because they will make a more informed decision and be there to “help” the chosen consultant. The committee, or board, is assembled, the goals are discussed and agreed upon, the candidates are carefully selected, interviewed and the field is narrowed to the final three.

Among the final three … accountants, website developers, survey specialists, architects, interior designers, financial consultants, membership and governance consultants – take your pick… two are nationally known practitioners skilled and experienced in successfully working with hundreds if not thousands of private clubs.  They have tremendous reputations and impeccable references.  The third, an acquaintance of some of the committee/board members is equally skilled in their field, however, has little or NO experience with private clubs but is cheaper. The selection process is lengthy, contentious, and potentially divisive to the group.  Who is chosen?

Unfortunately, in the second scenario, the outcome is not nearly as predictable as in the first.  For some reason, clubs seem altogether too likely to choose their consultants based on personal, or extra-club relationships and price. We all know that especially in today’s inflationary climate, cost is important, but just how important is it when spread over the life of whatever project is being considered?

What is really important when choosing a consultant?  Skill and talent, of course; but what is key is directly relatable experience and overwhelming success with similar clubs and projects.! When choosing consultants for private clubs, the committee or board must make the difficult choice to separate themselves from their own personal relationships or recuse themselves entirely from the process. The success of the project and of the club itself is dependent upon choosing the right consultant based on skill and experience.  Committee/board members must put the club first.  The committee, no matter its makeup, cannot replace the direct private club experience with its “help” and oversight.

Sadly, many clubs do not follow this seeming basic decision-making process.  There are too many stories of failed initiatives performed by members or members’ friends that ultimately require a total reboot.  This undermines the credibility of the board and makes getting things accomplished for the future far more difficult.

The interesting and noticeable exception to this practice comes when the club is choosing its golf course architect or irrigation consultant.  In these cases, personal relationships and cost are often not even a consideration.  The decision as to who will prepare the club’s “most important asset” for the future is based entirely on the consultant’s direct experience with similar courses.

Shouldn’t this be the case when choosing all club consultants?  Are not all of the club’s assets its “most important?”  Why then when it comes to “non-golf course” projects do clubs often lack the resources to do it right, but always manage to have the resources to do it twice?


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