United States

A few minutes with a CMAA Chapter President Insight into the past present and future of the National Capital Chapter


With the political center of the United States as its backdrop, the National Capital Chapter of the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) is comprised of a unique blend of member clubs, and those clubs serve a unique blend of members of their own. The distinctive nature of the region is illustrated through the presidencies of its current and immediate past office holders and the clubs they serve in addition to their chapter duties.

The current chapter president, Brian Armstrong, CCM, is General Manager of The George Town Club. With its location in historic Georgetown, this in-town club is modeled after the finest clubs in London and Paris. Operating out of three former town houses, including one that dates back to 1792, the club offers food and beverage amenities as well as meeting rooms. The George Town Club and other city clubs in the region are acutely aware of elections regardless of which party resides in a certain white house not far away as members inevitably leave and new ones join. Politicians and diplomats are joined by more permanent Washingtonians, socialites and leaders in business and academia.

The chapter's immediate past president, Michael Troyner, CCM, continues his service on the board in addition to his role as Director of Operations for Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. The Congressional Country Club opened its doors in 1924 and is well known outside of club circles in large part due to its having hosted three U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship as well as its place as a stop on the PGA Tour for the AT&T National. Congressional Country Club has an indoor bowling alley, tennis club, grand ballroom, fitness center, fine dining and grand foyer as well as overnight accommodations, indoor and outdoor pools, two bars, a grill and its two renowned 18-hole golf courses.

These two models are not alone. Chapter members represent yacht and stand alone clubs as well.

Armstrong praises the hard work of Troyner and other past chapter administrations. "They put the chapter in a good financial position," Armstrong says. "Our goal this year is to give back to members. We are hosting events and encouraging members to bring guests for free." Armstrong feels fortunate to be in such a fantastic chapter for education. "Because of our location, we have access to great speakers who are often on their way through or here for other reasons. We also benefit from having some of the best known clubs in our backyard that offer unbelievable speakers." Armstrong recognizes the challenges too. "Many clubs in the region do not participate because of travel time and cost. We are partnering with programs in Baltimore and Virginia to make sure calendars are in synch. By including more non-members at events for free, we hope they will see what membership offers them and that they'll join in the future. It's hard for clubs to afford five to six members, but we want to let every level of experience benefit from CMAA."

Troyner recognizes that clubs like Congressional were "somewhat shaded from the peaks and valleys" experienced by many over the last few years. Recent trends in spending have been more about "scaling back a little in headcount and costs" but the events are still scheduled. With approximately 35 weddings per year, members "might choose the standard bar instead of the deluxe option but catering has continued to supplement the food and beverage operations." A trend Troyner reaffirms that extends throughout the industry is an increasingly younger membership that includes families. "Clubs are adding family events and events that appeal to children. There are more tweener activities and special events," he says. Troyner reflects on the dynamics of his own family. "I can't remember the last time my wife and I picked where we wanted to eat dinner. Kids play a big part in these decisions…The challenge is in capturing their attention. At Congressional, we moved our Junior Golf event from the morning to the afternoon. We were able to attract 250-260 children and parents. We followed the event with a pasta night that included an all-you-can-eat format, which kept them there and engaged…We're even considering a child and teen center for sometime in the next couple of years."

Armstrong, who found his way into the club industry at a different stage than many, has a clear appreciation for the newfound pressures to operate clubs according to more of a "business model." After completing his college education in marketing, Armstrong worked for several years in sales and marketing roles in a corporate environment. "I always like golf and hospitality," he says. "At 35 years old, I decided that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up and I soon found myself as the oldest cart guy at a golf club." Over the next several years, Armstrong went through the ranks at golf and city clubs. "Clubs have become more like businesses in that they have to justify each and every area. My experience in the corporate environment has been helpful. I've always seen the need to justify why we are losing money and even why we are breaking even in every area of the club." With his business oriented focus, Armstrong recognizes the dangers associated with a narrow vision of club operations. "Steve Jobs spoke about taking care of the top line and the rest of it following. We have to take care of our members." To illustrate his point, Armstrong speaks about a proposal to eliminate valet that once surfaced at his club. "We had to demonstrate why we couldn't cut the valet. It costs us money but parking is always an issue. Clubs need to be careful what they cut."

Troyner adds to the idea that clubs are paying more attention to business processes through more thorough supervision in addition to cost cutting. To illustrate his point, he points to the attention club management needs to pay to large capital projects among other cost considerations. "Lessons with contractors come into play. Clubs are realizing that they have to keep a thumb on them if they want to control costs." The idea of adding projects ties into a trend in the industry "to offer more services that allow members to drop other expenses," says Armstrong. "This is part of the draw for fitness facilities—also coffee areas and restaurants. If we can have members combine these activities into the club, they can cut other expenses in favor of the one they're already paying. The challenge is to go to the board and say, 'Let's build it.' Whatever it is, boards are often cautious but progressive boards see what is missing in the area and are willing to build," Armstrong continues.

Congressional is leading in a trend that Troyner sees as certain to continue. "CMAA conducted a webinar on wellness recently. We've been making that a priority. Our employees are embracing it as we pair the programs with financial rewards," notes Troyner. "Employees benefit from 25 percent off of their premiums in some cases and the club is benefiting too. Premiums were shooting up but have now stabilized" since the club introduced this focus. "We look at all of their needs, from banking needs to health, and offer education. Our push on wellness programs started earlier than many but the need is there." Troyner comments that the club has a loyal greens and grounds employee on its staff who recently celebrated his fiftieth birthday at the club. "The population is aging and this programming is important for them and our costs. We offer monthly meetings on topics, such as how to reduce your cholesterol and how to handle stress. Again, we motivate employees to become involved by offering points in the program for attending classes, having physicals, etc."

Meanwhile, Armstrong notes a challenge faced by George Town and other in-town clubs in the area. "Clubs in the area offer different amenities. We've created an alliance with the University Club, which enables the members of each to join the other without initiation fees and to pay only dues," comments Armstrong. "The University Club was the first to have an indoor pool. They have guest rooms and a younger club." He sees these relationships becoming more common in the future. "Members love it. Each offers such a unique experience and clubs have to do more of this to create value." Armstrong observes that the younger generation of members has less of a commitment to the idea of belonging to a club. He feels that these alliances will create more of a draw. "The last generation joined as soon as they reached a peak in their career. It was a given. The number one challenge today is that younger members wait and find they can do everything in different places. Clubs need to advertise and make it hip again. We need to break some existing models and introduce new paradigms. Clubs are static but people change. We need to make membership more desirable. It doesn't matter which they join as long as we bring the image back."

Both Armstrong and Troyner are equally excited to attend the CMAA World Conference in New Orleans in just a matter of days and to continue their involvement in the National Capital Chapter.