Brian P. Kelley, CCM, PGA
The Quechee Club
Interview with Matt Ward
Brian Kelley, CCM, PGA, joined The Quechee Club in the summer of 2020 as general manager and chief operating officer. Affectionately known to many as “BK,” he is an optimistic leader who takes a team-centric approach to managing the four-season Upper Valley campus. Kelley joined The Quechee Club with more than two decades of club management experience, most recently as general manager at Manchester Country Club (MCC) in Bedford, N.H.
Born in New York, raised in Washington, and educated in New Mexico, BK now calls Vermont home, enjoying the Upper Valley lifestyle and outdoor adventures with his family.
THE KELLEY STORY —
The trajectory of my career was shifted in one conversation. It was with Derrick Barnett, who was my general manager at the time at BallenIsles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. I had worked for him prior at Colonial Country Club in Fort Myers, Florida as well. I had been working for Derrick for just over two years at this property, and he asked me where I wanted to go next and what I wanted to be.
Throughout my life, I had aimed to become a PGA golf professional, and here I was, after multiple stops along the way, the director of golf for a Platinum Club of America, managing 54 holes of play and an active golf membership with extremely high standards. This was exactly what I had imagined. Golf was my life. He said to me, “Clubs are not about golf. In fact, golf is not about golf.”
He said my PGA membership was nice, but encouraged me to go after my CCM, Certified Club Manager, to round out my experience and knowledge and start the path to becoming a valuable general manager for a club.
Derrick turned my attention to a new aspiration. Derrick has since died of cancer. In fact, he died before I made my way to The Quechee Club, but I know this is exactly what he had in mind.
What’s life been like at Quechee this golf season as opposed to 2020?
In the industry, we’ve all seen an increase in business. But the best part about this golf season is that it’s so much more exciting…and comfortable. Last summer, everyone had a cloud of caution and anxiety, and we had a whole new set of rules to play by.
This year, we’re excited about getting people back together for a good time and a great game. And the added bonus: All sports, including golf, have new members participating. We had many members take up new recreational hobbies over the last year.
What important lessons have been learned via the pandemic?
Specifically related to golf operations, we moved to 12-minute spacing for tee times during the pandemic, and we’ve maintained it post-pandemic. Not only is pace of play more comfortable, but members are enjoying a more intimate golf experience, not piled on top of each other. The golf courses here offer a natural setting with mountainside and lakeside holes, so members and guests get to really take it all in, in their own space and time.
And in general, the idea of community is something truly special, whether at Quechee or any other type of community. The power of our group of residents coming together as a result of the pandemic has made us stronger as a community today, as we deal with other challenges that come our way–like storm microbursts that create debris and damage properties. We’ve learned that there’s strength in lending a helping hand.
When you speak with others in your position — whether in New England or elsewhere – what’s been the main topic of conversation regarding how things are now versus what they were prior?
100% staffing challenges. The industry is seeing this in all departments, but mostly in food & beverage, and mostly in the back of house. We’re exchanging best practices to creatively address the situation, but it’s concerning for the industry as a whole, not to mention difficult to keep the balance of top-notch hospitality for members and happy team members.
Many mainstream restaurants are limiting hours, but for the benefit of our members, we move to 7 days a week operation during the warmer months.
We’ve made sure to take care of the loyal staff as well, including retention bonuses to say “thanks” to the current team and incentive bonuses to stay on through the busy summer season.
Golf is facing a myriad of challenges — the time it takes to play, the cost to play the sport and the difficulty in finding teaching that can help propel student improvement. How do you deal with these issues at Quechee?
I believe the market is showing otherwise; the demand for equipment is at all-time highs; it’s difficult to get the equipment in fast enough because of shipping/manufacturing bottlenecks. Demand for lessons is higher, and people are redirecting their disposable income.
Because of the demand in the industry, clubs are seeing longer waiting lists than they have in a long time; more people are looking to join communities and clubs now. Fortunately, there’s so much to do at Quechee besides golf, that it spreads the demand to other outdoor recreation.
One of the real challenges facing all types of clubs is securing personnel. How difficult has it been in getting the necessary people to work at Quechee this season?
Because of the lack of workforce in the Upper Valley Vermont area, we were already facing this challenge before the pandemic. One of the ways to mitigate this is to secure housing for personnel, but we don’t have the housing inventory.
The Club is looking at creative ways to provide housing for staff. We’ve even started entertaining ideas about a proprietary education model in the future, where we train culinary arts right here at the Club.
All clubs tout the importance of customer service — define the term and the approach taken at Quechee?
We are very fortunate at The Quechee Club. Here it’s all about enjoyment of the area, friends and family. We aim to provide the Quechee community with recreational pursuits and an inviting social atmosphere, centered around the all-season enjoyment and beauty of the Upper Valley Vermont landscape. We want everyone to feel welcome here and feel like they belong, regardless of their background; it’s built into the fabric of our community.
If you can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Time. The challenge has always been that it takes a lot of time to play a full 18-hole round of golf. People who play it, enjoy it and like to get together; it’s a very social sport.
The industry still hasn’t figured this out — another reason we hold our 12-minute tee times because it ensures a 4-hour, or just over, round for everyone.
The major golf organizations are all seeking ways to attract Millennials, women and minorities to the sport. If you were counseling them, what would you advise they be doing to achieve that goal?
Golf has an intimidation factor to it; there are so many pieces of the game to learn–the etiquette, the equipment, the rules. It’s a process. I’d counsel them to find ways to make golf more accessible, so that people could be easily introduced to the game, and feel welcomed (not stressed or intimidated) during that initial initiation phase.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Pump the brakes. Our industry is so challenging, with curve balls coming at you daily. It’s fast-paced, with a million parts all moving separately but in unison at the same time. Derrick Barnett, who has since passed away, was a very influential GM that I worked for at two properties — BallenIsles Country Club and Colonial Country Club.
He always reminded me of this: Since our industry centers around people, if things are going sideways or there’s no consensus, always pause before moving full steam ahead. My parents always told me that I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. So, I pause, and I listen, and the result is usually that I end up with a sound decision.
Bucket list place you wish to play — and who are the three people that join you there?
St. Andrews – still haven’t played there yet! My foursome would consist of: My childhood favorite golfer to watch – Fred Couples, Phil Mickleson and Tiger Woods.