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August 2018

Campaigning‭ ‬for Buy In

CampaigningforBuyIn.jpg‭By Kyle Darbyson

When The Valley Club proposed radical changes to its golf course's design, senior leaders launched a proactive campaign to sell the idea to members.

Clean alpine air, a quaint village, and 27 holes at a premium private facility — suffice to say members at The Valley Club had found their little slice of paradise high in the Smoky Mountains of Idaho.

It’s such a refined experience; many members would be content to never change a single aspect of it. So when officials determined that their original 18-hole layout needed major work, they developed an all-out, multimedia, multi-touch-point campaign to convince nearly 650 members that change can be good. 

Barry Bevers has been the general manager at The Valley Club for 16 years. He also spearheaded the drive to get member buy-in.

“Our membership is a little different,” he explains. “They all chose to come here for very specific reasons and they aren’t necessarily interested in messing around and jeopardizing any part of it.”
Problem was, the aging irrigation system was in dire need of an upgrade. The pressure to conserve water also compelled the club to look at lowering the amount of irrigable turf.  At the same time, leadership knew the course was in need of a major refresh.

“The game had changed, and our course was built during a time where everyone was building to be difficult,” Bevers says.

With the irrigation replacement and turf reduction already promising to disrupt play, Bevers and his team decided the timing was perfect to rework the course and improve its playability.
It was a big decision, but it had the backing of one of The Valley Club’s most prominent members in PGA star Davis Love III. “Davis heard what we were considering and went out of his way to say he was very interested in helping us out in any way he could,” says Bevers.

Love connected Bevers with Beau Welling, Tiger Wood’s lead designer and a rising star in golf course architecture. The South Carolina native was the ideal candidate for the role. “I’m a big believer in making your product attractive to as many people as possible,” Welling says. He believes courses that are too long, or holes that severely punish marginal shots are turning people away from the game and applauds courses like The Valley Club that are making tough choices to address this. “We are trying to ensure this course stays relevant in today’s game.” (see Quick Tips sidebar).

Welling visited the course and observed how members played it as he formulated his vision. In conjunction with The Valley Club staff, Welling also engaged with membership in a series of focus groups to glean insight into how they viewed the course. “We wanted to hear from everyone, from the better golfer to high-handicapper, locals, people from out of town, people with different financial means.”

Armed with these insights and observations, Welling developed a plan that would eliminate bunkers, widen landing areas and create more shot options around the greens. “The idea isn’t to make the course easy, it’s to make playing it more fun.”

GM Bevers knew the blueprints were the right direction for the course. Now he just needed to convince members. Making that task even more difficult were the lingering memories of The Valley Club’s last big project. “It didn’t go very well, there were overruns and missed deadlines and there is a bit of scar tissue from that,” Bevers admits.

The senior team opted for full transparency. “We gave members every bit of information we had,” said Bevers. They went about sharing that information in truly innovative ways. “One of my guys is pretty good at web development, so we made a website where members could go and use a slider to compare, hole by hole, the changes we were proposing.”

Renderings of Welling’s new designs were also blown up and mounted all over the clubhouse. Bevers even printed new napkins for the lounge with images of the new holes on one side, and notes on the ethos behind the redesign on the other. “They started a lot of conversations and went a long way in rationalizing what we were doing,” he says.

To limit disruption to the enviable member experience, The Valley Club proposed staggering work on the course so only nine holes would be closed at one time. While it stretches the overall timeline of the project, it also gives members access to 18 holes throughout construction. “This was crucial in getting their support,” he says.

Even with all this outreach, Bevers knew not everyone would be happy. “Every club has its vocal members who are opposed to change,” he says. Still, 80 percent of members showed up to vote, with 72 percent agreeing to the plan.

Bevers highlights this like-mindedness as one of the biggest reasons for his club’s success.
“There’s a great social vibe at this place. It’s very warm and friendly,” he says.

Now with this bold reimagining of its core golf asset, The Valley Club is well set up for even more success. And when the next big challenge arrives, they have a playbook to meet it head-on. 

Kyle Darbyson is a Vancouver-based freelance writer. 




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