I was introduced to the golf industry by a former colleague in the hotel industry who had been hired by Blue Hill back in 1997. I knew nothing about golf but I was fortunate to have met Vinnie Del Zoppo, Blue Hill’s then golf professional, and I have to say, he was instrumental in teaching me the game — and to love the game. I worked for Blue Hill from 1997 to 2006, then, in 2007, accepted the club manager’s job at Oak Hill Country Club in Fitchburg, Mass. I enjoyed my time there very much, but in February of 2016, Concert Golf Partners contacted me regarding the general manager’s position back at Blue Hill CC. Concert had recapitalized the club and I couldn’t resist the challenge. There are so many exciting things happening today at Blue Hill. I couldn’t resist the opportunity. This has always been one of Greater Boston’s premier clubs and today its firm financial footing, thanks to Concert, truly sets it apart from so many suburban clubs in this area.
MATT WARD: How do you see the upcoming season in terms of improvement over 2015 in regards to total rounds played?
FRANCISCO VENTURA: I believe we will surpass last year’s rounds played, due to a marked increase in our membership.
MW: Private clubs throughout America face challenges in terms of getting Millennials to consider membership. How do you deal with getting younger prospects to consider joining?
FV: For Millennials, Baby Boomers and everyone in between, it’s clear that it’s all about the experience these days. “Affluents” are foregoing pricey purchases for more experiential luxuries; traveling has become more about adventure and experiencing local culture than sitting in the sun; food is no longer how we sustain ourselves — it’s entertainment; the technologically savvy are looking to share their experiences in rapid time with the outside world. Clubs that want to stay relevant must heed this trend by offering innovative programming that takes this type of member into account — that gets this type of club member involved — engaged. There are several ways to do this in traditional ways — through great golf, tennis, dining and social activities. But these new activities can range all over the map, from chef’s dinners, to wine tastings, interesting classes, unique family events and more. Certainly things that involve the entire family are becoming more and more important.
MW: Blue Hill experienced a 2003 restoration carried out by Ron Prichard. What was the driving force in having that happen?
FV: The golf course at that time had not been touched in decades. It needed to remain relevant to the golfing portion of our membership even then. Golf courses can change so much over time. We were concerned the vintage feel of the course was being diminished. Ron’s work brought it all back.
MW: You recently announced a relationship with the Harvard Club on a preferred membership agreement. What will that mean for the parties involved and do you see such situations as being replicated with other facilities?
FV: Blue Hill Country Club has indeed partnered with the Harvard Club of Boston, allowing Harvard Club members to avail themselves of Blue Hills’ golf, tennis, pool and dining amenities at a preferred rate. As part of this same agreement, Blue Hill members may now join The Harvard Club as associate members. I believe the private club scene in Boston will be looking at our program and will follow our lead frankly. This is some of what I mentioned above — more for the member outside the traditional role and bounds of the club.
MW: In what specific ways do you communicate with members to get their feedback on how they see things are going with their membership?
FV: Mostly one on one and via weekly email.
MW: Blue Hill is the only Massachusetts course to have hosted the PGA championship. Interestingly, the club celebrates its 60th anniversary of that event
from 1956 while the PGA of America is celebrating its centennial this year. Given that — are there any special events being planned with that in mind?
FV: We have nothing planned at this time. I imagine the media will take note — it’s a good story but our membership isn’t so aware of it and let’s face it — that was a long time ago!
MW: Slow play is a recurring item of concern — what’s the approach taken at Blue Hill in dealing with it?
FV: The Director of Golf and Head Golf Pro monitor our pace of play by driving through the golf course and asking groups to move along. It’s the same sort of one on one approach to communication, to be honest. You can’t legislate the problem away and I’m not sure we have such a problem here.
MW: Is the club interested in hosting a professional event again?
FV: We would consider it.
MW: What will private golf and country clubs need to do in order to stay relevant in the 21st century?
FV: To continue to offer programing that is inclusive of all demographics. But certainly another component is the ability to use their Blue Hill membership to bring their club experience with them — to enjoy the Harvard Club when they’re in Boston, to experience other Concert Golf clubs when they’re traveling around the country. This sort of reciprocity is the way better private clubs distinguish themselves in today’s marketplace. Compared to 20-30 years ago, today’s club members have different tastes and needs. They travel more. They rightly expect that their clubs will be a place for their entire family — but also something that opens doors when they’re away from the club. That may be hard for some clubs to accept, but I think they ignore this trend at their peril.
MW: You’ve got one round to play — where would you tee it up and who are the other three members of your group?
FV: Fishers Island Club playing with President Obama, Tiger Woods and Vinnie Del Zoppo.