Although in many ways overall operations at the Center have been streamlined and improved over time - especially in the bread-and-butter sphere of event marketing and sales - in the one vitally important area of membership, it has gone steadily backwards. Membership reached a high of 350 in late 2003, a year and a half after the clubhouse opened but a full three and half years after the lawns opened for club activity.
Many people do not realize that the Center opened substantially without development capital and was financially strapped from the day the clubhouse doors opened, in May of 2002. (It was not until the Stueber family made possible long-term financing in the spring of 2004 that sufficient development capital was finally available for hiring marketing and sales staff and undertaking other expenses associated with a normal course of development.)
After the departure of Bob Alman in July of 2003, who had started promoting club enrollments in late 2000 and opened the club on the completed lawns in December of 2000, there was vitually no pro-active onsite marketing and development until Mike Jenner was hired in the spring of 2004. By the time Jenner started his one-year tenure, the membership structures vital for development had already been fatally compromised in various ways, and Jenner make it clear to everyone that "membership is not the priority." Jenner concentrated on event marketing and cutting expenses. By the end of Jenner's one-year tenure, membership activities and morale were at an all-time low. Jenner had eliminated the novice-level "associate" membership, which had been the driving engine of membership growth for two years. Membership numbers began a precipitous decline.
The next manager was chosen with all good intentions from the sphere of professional club management, but unfortunately he had no experience in marketing and development; his solution to problems and challenges was to hire somebody to do them, and he hired people who couldn't do the job. His highest priority was restoring growth of membership, and he failed in that task. His contract was not renewed in the spring of 2006.
Backed by tremendous personal popularity and a good showing on the USCA Planning Committee, Terry Colbert was engaged as General Manager in the summer of 2006, charged with the single over-riding priority of building membership. Colbert was unsuccessful in achieving significant growth results, despite a high level of energy and enthusiasm, and despite excellent work in improving Center graphics and print pieces.
On Colbert's behalf, it must be said that he inherited a membership program in a complete shambles, and he was making some headway in repairing the damage by restoring the original membership structures and categories that had supported the club initially to the level of 350. But as of May 1, 2006, with membership around half its peak numbers of four years ago - at only 175 - and with expenses mounting, the Foundation Board, after much deliberation, found it could not justify the enormous expense of the General Manager job as it has been structured for the last General Manager cycles.
The Center can continue to function well in the short term with an excellent trained staff and club volunteers in key positions and ultimate responsibility in the hands of committed high-level, unpaid volunteers. The long-term prospect is less certain. The following announcement from the Croquet Foundation of America board begins by dispelling persistent rumors of the Center's imminent closing and proceeds to outline some funding possibilities.
The change is seasonal and almost imperceptible
Every spring since 2003, club management at the NCC has changed. It's hardly noticeable, because of the radical downshift of activity that happens seasonally at this time of year: the snow birds go north (and there are many among the membership); the Center hours and dining and bar service are reduced; and member play continues - largely in the mornings as a bow to the heat of the Florida summer.
Members of the NCC and the USCA alike can breathe easily knowing that their world-class headquarters facility will continue to be maintained in good order as a membership club and as the hosting venue for many of the major events in American croquet, as well as major international events, which are likely to include the official World Championship in May of 2009.
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