Michelle Dougherty, CCM
Manchester Country Club (Vermont)
Interview with Matt Ward
Michelle Dougherty is the General Manager/COO of Manchester Country Club (VT). She has been managing Clubs and teams for more than 20 years and resides in Claremont, New Hampshire.
THE DOUGHERTY STORY:
As a young girl growing up in upstate New York, I was on the go from the get-go, active in sports — namely soccer, cheerleading and gymnastics and the outdoors. My love for working on a farm instilled a tireless work ethic and compassion for others — as well as animals. That same work ethic and initiative drove me to my first hospitality job at the young age of 15 where I worked as a bus person at a local diner. Knowing my passion for the outdoors was curbed while working in an indoor setting, I gravitated toward an opportunity at The Nashua Country Club — Nashua, NH — where I was a server and exposed to golf and many outdoor, recreational amenities.
I quickly realized the club industry was where I wanted to be. My then general manager and mentor quickly realized my potential and created a flexible work schedule that provided me entrée to all operations of the Club. There I worked in all departments and learned the ins and outs of the Club industry. A few years later, that same General Manager sought me out to open a food and beverage operation at a private club in Massachusetts.
It was that environment where I found a passion for event planning and club management. Having worked alongside many professionals in the industry, I have earned the trust of my peers, members, and guests. Off the job, I am known for hosting family events and affairs. On Sundays, I’m typically found in the kitchen meal planning and cooking and entertaining. In addition, I enjoy an occasional round of golf and spend my “free time” working on our small farm and spending countless hours with my husband riding the backroads of New England on our Harley Davidsons.’
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Well, besides a good cup of coffee, I’m driven by the opportunity to make a difference and add value to our members’ experience. I’m eager to contribute to the well-being of members and staff in a tangible way and enjoy collaborating with others, outlining mutual goals, and striving for excellence.
It is rewarding to have a positive impact on people and measure the results of our efforts. Since my first day in this industry more than 20 years ago, the career path and lifestyle are something I have fully embraced, and I have never looked back!
How has the pandemic impacted golf — not only at Manchester CC but throughout Vermont?
If there’s a silver lining with the pandemic, it’s how golf has bounced back. We have seen new participation with more juniors, moms and families playing, and for those who have more time and flexibility in their work life they are back out on the course. We are re-energized in golf’s popularity because it’s fun, provides social distancing and you can enjoy the outdoors and our beautiful natural surroundings. Vermont has received high marks for managing the pandemic and that has further enhanced our state as an ideal place to live, work and play. We now have a robust real estate market, an increase in property values and more demand for club membership.
Country Clubs of all types are having to adapt to a wide range of changing circumstances from an operational vantage point.
What’s been your main priorities with the ’21 season at-hand?
Safety and the wellbeing of our members, guests and employees is our number one priority. With that said, much of our social programming is centered on hosting events outdoors as much as we can. Social distancing is not something that will go away anytime soon, so we must continue to make our guests feel a sense of security when they come to the Club.
Who is your customer today and what are the elements in both attracting them and keeping them involved?
At MCC we are in a unique position to attract new, young families who summer here or are making Manchester — and the outlying area — their home. We are a casual club setting focused on family fun and are uniquely positioned (and stand out from other nearby clubs) because we are a smaller club where the golf course and tennis courts are easily accessible.
Our young, experienced team brings a level of excitement with golf and tennis lessons, leagues, cooking classes and special events. Our members have a voice at the table and are actively involved. By inviting them to share their interests and needs, there is great transparency and a sense of belonging.
Club manager positions have historically been held by males — how does being a female add to the perspectives needed and what’s your prognosis for future positions being filled with other females?
This is a complicated question. You may hear from time-to-time women leaders “take care” while men leaders “take charge.” Maybe it’s based on perceptions, stereotypes, and expectations but I like to think we can take care and take charge. As a professional in a male dominated industry, I choose to lead with authority and empathy and believe you can strike a balance with empowering your team to build consensus and shared ownership.
The gender gap is still a paramount issue, especially when it comes to pay equality and recruiting women for top positions. We are making strides in our industry but there is still much work to do for us to shatter the glass ceiling.
Customer service is routinely touted by many — define the term and the approach you and your staff follow at Manchester CC?
We are in the relationship business so nurturing members and guests is a major priority for our team. We strive to provide a great experience with attention to many details, big and small, such as name and facial recognition, understanding member preferences and taking the time to listen, engage and recognize special events in their lives — birthdays, anniversaries, births, etc.
If we cultivate these relationships it adds to our collective successes. Service is a core function, so we are investing the necessary resources within our team to build and grow that capability.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Have more fun. It is a game that takes time and resources and is, at times, humiliating to us all – whether you’re a pro or a weekend duffer. But most of us are amateurs and need a fun outlet so why make yourself miserable and take it so seriously? Just get out, play and have fun!
The major golf organizations — USGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour, R&A, LPGA — 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 — both individually and collectively?
Inclusion is a must to attract females, families, and minorities to the industry. More times than not, I have heard women who want to play the game, but they do not feel welcome because they lack experience and/or because they were not a part of the clique.
Men’s games and men’s golf has always taken precedence, outings receive more attention and when there is a men’s event, the ladies have nothing to do while waiting for the men to get off the course before ethe Saturday night dinner dance. We need to commit to change things.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Came from my good friend and mentor, David P. Scaer, CCM | General Manager – Nashua Country Club. Early in my career, it was easy for me to lose sleep on any given day over what now seems to be the most irrelevant of topics. David sat me down and said — “Michelle, you are here to run the country club — not the country.”
Those profound words have centered me on the scope and importance of what we do. It’s stayed with me over the years, and I find myself sharing the same sentiment with my teams and boards.
Complete the sentence — Michelle Dougherty is —
A fearless leader, hardworking and driven individual not afraid to face a challenge. Passionate about her work and knows how to get the job done. Open and honest and does not believe in misleading others. Brings fairness and balance in how she approaches all matters affecting her team and organization.
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