The Landings Golf & Athletic Club celebrates its golden jubilee.

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA: The Landings, recently having celebrated its golden jubilee, has long been one of the Southeast’s most established and highly rated golf communities. Its hallmark is member access to six courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Tom Fazio, Arthur Hills, and Willard Byrd. While its golf department boasts a Korn Ferry Tour event, the racquets team hosts the Savannah Challenger, the longest continuous professional sporting event in Savannah. Through prudent planning, the club was able to upgrade and expand just shy of $10 million in amenities last year without a member assessment.

Managing budgets at a large private golf community is similar to assembling a large jigsaw puzzle. When you place all the pieces on a table, it can seem to be a daunting task to complete.

“The Landings Golf & Athletic Club is a $63 million business with 550 employees,” reported Gary Lorfano, director of membership. “Considering $0.60 of every dollar is reserved for labor to maintain our high quality of services, careful consideration must be given to every major expenditure. Sure, you can limit restaurant hours and dining options to reduce operating costs, but there are lofty expectations dues paying members warrant. A small example? A standard steak served in downtown Savannah will likely run about $50-55. Here, a 10 oz. steak is $44. From our food and beverage operations to guest reciprocal guest fees, we strive to provide value across the board.”

Elevate 28

Each of the community’s ten dining venues provides hand-crafted culinary creations, ranging from casual bites and pub food to formal dining in Palmer’s Steakhouse. “Our directive is to make our amenities indispensable in your daily life,” explained Lorfano. “With our portfolio of differing eateries, we feel there is little reason to venture off property other than for gas and groceries [both happen to be less than a half mile from our main gatehouse]. We haven’t done our job properly if you would prefer to drive 20 minutes away for a lobster dinner when you can hop in your golf cart for fresh seafood [many items are sourced from local farms] at our Coastal Grill.”

A planning committee at The Landings Golf & Athletic Club established Elevate 28 with five strategic pillars for the future success of the club.

“Our five pillars center on: financial stability, effective leadership, member engagement, operational excellence, and capital planning. While each has a specific directive, they are intertwined for maximum effectiveness,” continued Lorfano. “If you don’t have financial sustainability, how are you supposed to have a relevant long-term capital planning program?

“The first order of business was to evaluate our financial stability. As a member owned facility, unless we create a year end assessment [which is never a popular option], we must live within our means to fund daily operations [both obligatory and aspirational capital investments],” detailed Lorfano. “It’s important to counteract fluctuating membership demands and keep a steady stream of prospective members in the pipeline through effective marketing. An equally critical component is to evaluate our dues and fees structure to remain competitive in the marketplace.”

Next, attention turned to effective leadership. “This has long been a strength at The Landings,” said Lorfano. “Through collaboration and transparency we have been successful at hiring quality talent from our golf professionals to clubhouse managers. I can’t stress enough the importance we place to invest in necessary resources and ongoing training to attract and retain leaders who are proud to call The Landings their workplace.”

Member engagement is a complicated measurement. “Our members stick around for an average of 14 years, which is almost double the time found at most clubs,” reported Lorfano. “Deep engagement and frequent use create an emotional connection to the lifestyle we provide. When meaningful relationships form, members tend to be more satisfied and become our biggest advocates. History shows volunteerism and philanthropic endeavors go a long way in creating these connections.”

Its management philosophies dictate operational excellence. “It goes without saying that hiring qualified staff is only the start. Keeping them is a whole other ballgame. It’s important to manage expectations, offer advancements in responsibility, and pay to retain the best,” stated Lorfano. “You’ve heard the catch phrase, ‘happy wife, happy life.’ In the private club industry, ‘happy staff equals a happy membership.’”

The final pillar is capital planning. “Developing a long-range capital schedule with forecasted costs and sources of funding requires much attention,” concluded Lorfano. “Although most private clubs have seen an increase in operational funds with strong membership growth in recent years, they have also faced inflationary pressures and supply chain issues. It’s our core responsibility to consider current and future private club trends [like the explosive interest in pickleball], with a bias toward leading the industry and being a best-in-class operator.”

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