Letter #19

Happy Monday everyone,

I want to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who responded to last week’s letter and shared their views about the Bar & Grill project. As you’ll see at the end of today’s letter, we got more responses last week than any week so far, which is great. In the beginning of the year, one of our goals as a Board was to increase the level of communication the Club has with its members. The first obstacle we encountered was the technology platform we use at the Club and our outdated contact information. We decided to try to get the word out immediately (even if to fewer eyes) and upgrade the info/tech as we went. The letters started and responses followed (again, thank you) but it has created a small problem. We found a huge step-up in readership when we redirected the PresLetter directly to readers via email and not through the Club website however, the responses come back via email too – to me. 10 responses, no big deal – 50 responses per week (and I believe that number will climb) and we’re starting to talk about real minutes on this. Ideally, this should be private blog oriented – for members only but within the membership; timely, open, transparent and honest. The Club transitioned to new software on April 1: Clubsoft. The new software is a big improvement in accounting, F&B management and member services (calendars, contacts, news, etc) but … it doesn’t have a blog function. Ugh…! For now, I’m going to collate all the responses each week, redact identities (because you weren’t told they would be made public not because anyone asked for privacy), and post them at the end of each letter. In cases like last week, where members were asked to express their views about a specific issue, responses will be forwarded to the appropriate Committee(s). You should know however, we’re going to try to improve the format of this process very shortly.

Speaking of communication, let me share an experience from the Board meeting this week in the hopes that something like this never happens again – ever. We had two non-Board members attend the meeting this week which is great. One member, we’ll call her Mrs. Senior, is upset because, while she has qualified for senior member status for years now, the Club never notified her until just recently. Under the senior member status formula (age plus the number of years as a member), Mrs. S has 101 points. As of 2009 members qualify for senior status with 80 points (down from 90 points previously). Regular membership monthly dues are $250 – senior members pay $100 per month. Mrs. S has probably qualified since the threshold was lowered four years ago. She is understandably upset and has (not as understandably) asked the Club for remuneration. Senior membership status at our Club is a trade-off; for reduced cost comes reduced privilege, senior members have no voting rights. Any regular member who qualifies for senior status must request it and there is a waiting list for the designation. The town of Tiburon allows the TPC to carry 175 senior members (along with 700 regular members). The list of regular members who qualify for senior status but are waiting for a slot to open is over 20 members long. The list is categorized by formula number; the highest number first. Mrs. S, now that she has requested the change in status, goes on the list at number one. She will be the next senior member when the next slot opens up unless another regular member requests a status change and has a higher formula number and Mrs. S. The Club is not obligated to notify members when their formula number crosses the 80 meridian. Everyone understands what it would feel like to learn that you could have been saving $150 a month for a few years, it’s not a happy circumstance. However, the Club or its Board did not cause this unfortunate circumstance and are not in a position to remedy it to her satisfaction. Mrs. S is on the waiting list in the number one slot for now; that’s the best we can do. Please consider your formula number and if you qualify consider notifying the Club of your interest to be added to the senior membership list.

The second non-Board member to attend Monday night’s Board meeting was there out of concern about spending. Specifically, he wanted to know why there was a 2 1/2% dues increase in January when there’s enough money in the coffers to underwrite a lower court project and a bar and grill refurbishment. First of all, I think it’s fantastic that a member is concerned enough about their Club’s operation to show up to a Board meeting on a Monday night and simply ask the question. This is the way it should work in a member owned Club; I hope we get a lot more of it in the future. I asked Mr. X if he had been reading the letters – he said mostly. This subject has been covered before but it’s so important it was worth reviewing again for Mr. X last Monday and for anyone else who missed it previously, below.

For big issues at all Clubs, there is a spectrum of membership hopes wishes and desires for a Club’s Board to navigate across. There is rarely a bigger issue at any Club than how money is spent. As we reviewed Monday night for Mr. X, at the TPC, monthly dues revenue is spent only to cover the costs associated with keeping the Club operational; lights, heaters, management costs (and now including the Bar and Grill). Maintenance (refurbishing’s) and any capital expansions are paid for out of initiation revenues. When it comes to spending at the TPC, there is a contingency of the membership on one end of the spectrum that believes there should be no capital expansion until the Club is debt free. The other end of the spectrum is occupied by members who want their Club to look like a Four Seasons – immediately. Ideally, the board should navigate along some middle ground. Middle-ground, in this case, is pre-paying down and restructuring enough debt over the past few years to make it manageable and retired in 12 years under the current monthly debt assessment package – this way the current membership isn’t over or under burdened with debt retirement. Middle-ground, in this case, also means pursuing no new major capital expansion programs for the past few years until the coffers have been fortified with over one and a half million dollars. Middle-ground, in this case, is pursuing any new capital project going forward under the condition that it doesn’t raise dues or require another assessment; it is to be paid for out of savings and within the existing Club budget. At the end of the discussion Monday night, Mr. X thought that while he personally might live closer to one end of the spectrum, he appreciated the Board’s desire to choose middle ground and thought it was the right way to proceed for the Club. Personally, I hope he comes to more meetings – thanks Mr. X.

My apologies to many members who hosted friends at the Club for the Marin Grand Prix this weekend; I screwed up – it’s just that simple. In our efforts to make our Club just a bit more private last month and reserving the Bar & Grill for members only, I didn’t allow enough room for events we host at the Club various times over the course of the year where we invite non-members in to use our facility. In the future, when we do host events (Swim Meets, Tennis Tournaments) the Bar & Grill will have a cash drawer available for non-members who are participating in those events. It will only be a hand-full of times each year but it’s an important service to offer when the circumstances call for it. The worst part about my mistake this weekend is that a few members were unhappy and took it out on Mark, our food and beverage director. Sorry to put you in harm’s way Mark, it won’t happen again. Oh, and to the indignant members – Lighten-up Francis!

Congratulations to the men’s 40 and over 4.5+ team, they are on their way to the districts next weekend. This will be the 16th team TPC has sent to the districts since 1998 but perhaps for the first time this team will go to the districts ranked number one in all of Northern California – Wow!. They take on teams from the East Bay and Sacramento next week; we wish them all the luck in the world.

On a very sad note, Malcolm’s mom passed away this weekend. He will be out most of the week, naturally, and he has our deepest sympathies for his loss.

That’s all here for this week; I am reminded to live it as though there will be no more. I hope you have a great one too.

All the best,

Here are the responses from last week’s letter:

  • Are there term limits? You need to be convinced to stay
  • I absolutely love the design for the café/outdoor area. I’m surprised at the note about 2016 for estimated completion (although working with the Town can be a challenge), but I think this is an incredible step forward to service ALL members. Thanks for your continued leadership.
  • Hi Mike, I like the Grand Plan and would hope we could get it done sooner rather than later. Also, You would think I would know this but who actually “owns” the Club? Thanks for all of your work on our behalf.
  • Bar and Grill plan sounds great!
  • Thank you for your updates to the membership. Regarding the grounds project – I strongly urge you to reconsider a “vinyl” patio covering. Prior to moving to CA we were members of a Club on the east coast where a similar patio covering was installed. Immediately the membership regretted the option — it was cheap looking and never appeared to be clean. It was also a constant source of maintenance. Admittedly, the east coast experiences more dramatic weather than we do but we do experience high winds which were regularly the problem with such a covering. I normally do not offer resistance without a solution – but ultimately our previous Club solution was to remove the covering.
  • My comments on the proposed Bar and Grill plan. It is obvious that a great deal of time and effort went into its preparation.
    1. The outside layout for seating and various activities is creative and makes good use of the space.
    2. The proposed furniture is beautiful but impractical for an active, family-oriented Club. Even the darkest fabrics will quickly become soiled. And I question the durability of the woven furniture. The solid teak furniture we currently have makes less of a fashion statement but is more useful in the long run.
    3. The proposed seating area around the fireplace is too big. The current size (and furniture) is just fine.
    4. I assume that the “community table” is composed of smaller tables so that it can be combined or separated.
    5. I like the current layout of the tables and chairs in the dining area, with the higher tables toward the windows. I agree that we should keep the tables. If the chairs are replaced, they should be replaced with ones that will not soil or damage easily. Many children will be using the Bar and Grill. The current ones are not the most comfortable but they are durable.
    6. The functional changes to counters, etc. appear fine but should be approved by Grill management.
  • We have had at least two or three furniture changes in the last several years. Furniture in the Grill that required upholstered cushions was dirty and spotted after a few weeks. (Many parents are oblivious to feet or food on the cushions.) Any furniture selected should be appropriate for a family sports Club, not a homeowner’s patio or a country Club bar. Thanks for the effort you put into TPC.
  • Once again, great email! I like the plan and appreciate the visual PDF. I would strongly recommend durable, stain resistant (non-white/cream/light colored) fabric for all cushions. Also, I too agree there is a large group whose kids are getting bigger and would appreciate “adult” activities. Really hope to make it to one of the tennis events soon as I hear they have been a lot of fun.
  • And.. it’s a very ambitious plan.. and sounds like a lot of thought, and money has gotten into it. Personally I would just like to see the patio BBQ area with decent looking, clean looking tables and chairs. Teak is impossible and shouldn’t have been chosen in the first place. The Kettler company is great.. and used in our garden as well as in commercial spots. It never goes out of style, one can add different sizes, no pillows needed. So, the big plan seems to be taking us well into summer and if people are going to want to use the patio for meals – it looks like 3rd world. So, lets have a master plan but start where need is most acute. That’s my story!
  • Mike, I’ve replied before, at the beginning of your letter series. Am replying now to say the café plan looks outstanding. Only suggestion is more than one fire pit. You’re doing an amazing job – we all owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude. Hopefully your reward will be to remove the temporary part of the title. Great work.
  • I love the improvements for the grill outdoor area. Awesome.
  • I took a look at the plans and here are my first impressions:
    1. The one point of entry, approx 3’ wide, into the interior fireplace lounge zone seems narrow, insufficient and playpin-like. In addition, the entrance is jammed up against the one-way only long family dining table. In terms of circulation and clearances, I see a potential problem.
    2. The long family style farm table is interesting and challenging, at the same time. Without creating any illusion of visual privacy/interest or without a unifying light concept, I am not sure how “forcing” people to sit together will work without excellent lighting and some interior-architectural zoning.
    3. The 2 two-top tables by the entrance and tv seem like painful seating options for the late or lonely.
    4. What is the concept behind the furniture layout in the “conference” room?
    5. I would like to see elevations and perspectives before providing additional comments.
  • My feedback is: if we have such a generous surplus in the maintenance budget, why did you raise dues on us? I don’t see a need for new furniture, the furniture is not that old. And in any case I think all of this should be coming out of capital improvements. And you already know I think we should be paying down the loan with new member fees…(Mr. X)
  • I’m sure your ears are burning because your name has come up a lot lately…all good. From what I hear, everyone’s thrilled with the changes happening in the cafe (back to basics) and we greatly appreciate your weekly updates – they’re very informative and a fun read!
    As an aside, I’m still keeping my eyes open to any non-members that used to abuse the TPC facilities long after their lessons were over but haven’t noticed anything too out of the ordinary (yet).
    Anyway, I was curious if the TPC Cafe was going to bring back the long standing tradition of Wednesday night BBQ? I can remember those from way back when (long before I was a member and would join my brother and sister in law) and we would bring our own food to grill and wine to share. These BBQ’s were continued when my husband and I joined and they were such a blast. Maybe not a big money maker for the Club but a big community building event…and a blast of fun at that!!! Just curious…would love to hear your thoughts because several of us have been chatting about this! Thanks again for all your help!!!
  • Thank you for addressing the needs of the “empty nesters”. Everyone will get to this stage at one time or another and actually there are more years without children than with so it makes sense to have some adult only events. I love everything you are doing!!!
  • We did have a kitchen consultant at time of initial remodel, and what was recommended, as you well know, was always too small. My only thought is that if we are going to spend the big bucks, we should enlarge the kitchen as well. On first pass (from someone who has no architectural skills), why not sack the bar, and extend the kitchen to the far edge of the bar, and create a curved serving counter extending from edge of current bar to the storage area, and along the passage way to pool/patio. I suspect this adds $$$, but I just do not think it makes good sense to undergo this renovation without providing badly needed kitchen space. The more successful the food service, the more magnified the kitchen issues. I do not think the bar will be terribly missed. I know the joys of sitting at a bar, but we can place a high counter and stools elsewhere and add a rubber mat in case anyone falls off. Thanks again for all you hard work. Your letters are wonderful. Club is terrific.
  • Sounds like great progress at meetings!! I just want to throw this out as I have in the past…..I am an interior designer and have ALWAYS thought the Club lacks good design and consistency of vision thru out the property. ESPECIALLY the Cafe! I am happy to help in any way I can at no expense. I have had many years in the business and know I could add good professional and tasteful input. I also have good sources for furnishings and fabrics etc… Please don’t hesitate to take me up on this offer. Plus working with Val and Chris would be fun! TPC has so much potential and sadly falls short in interior design and dining experience! It will kill me if more money is spent and it falls short again. Happy as well to show committee/board my portfolio. Thank you for keeping us informed and for all of your efforts!
  • Love the plan and the conceptual drawings – they look great. Hopefully there’s a way to roll out some of the new cafe furniture before all of the main approvals are complete – kind of like an ‘operation rolling upgrade’ or something.
  • Awesome letter again. Yes to bar and grill Inside and out and yes to no kid events! I have three but we pay the bill and there needs to be something for us. Thanks for doing this.
  • Looks great to me Mike! BTW, I love your letters very informative and entertaining. Good job!
  • Glad you are finally addressing activities for those members who have grown children. Also for considering wet bathing suits and barefoot group who should have limits on where they should congregate.
  • Plans look good. It is a good idea to de-centralize the main room which can really be a “zoo” at times. Utilizing the outside space should help.
  • I’m really happy that you are looking at the grounds and working to make improvements. I’ve believed for a long time that the grounds were not developed to the same level as the buildings at the Club. I think that one thing that’s missing in the plan is a look at the landscaping.
    The Club’s landscaping is really uninspired and drab. The front of the Club was re-landscaped several years ago and it was a great improvement. I think that several areas of the Club could use similar attention– including the back patio area.
    I hate to just drop comments without offering to help so I’m volunteering. If you would like help working on this, I have some time and a lot of interest (and a relevant background.)
  • Here is my take on the plans. Remember, this is only one, “childless” person’s opinion. BTW…I’m a HUGE fan of the wine and cheese tasting, guest speaker series, Art with a Twist (adult art and wine classes – very popular these days), etc. It’s funny…once you don’t have kids hanging out around your house, you really relish ADULT time. I love our Club, but feel that we have somewhat neglected our older members’ desires. It would be so nice to have events just for those 18 or 21 and above every now and then.

My opinions are associated with the numbers on the pdf plan:

      1. No rug in this area – hardwood floor easier to clean.
      2. Community table – nice idea (would probably assist with flow), but would recommend tables that can come apart. Think “Challenger” when all of the players and guests congregate in the lounge and watch TV. The long tables would not be conducive to this.
      3. What’s wrong with the current counter?
      4. Love
      5. Love
      6. Teak outdoor table is OK, but the boxy chairs are not very comfortable and are not very easy to maneuver for the very young and the very old.
      7. Love
      8. Love, but the picture shows white/light colored seating…NO! I really like the Bar Bocce version as it’s much more group friendly.
      9. Delete foosball – already have ping pong tables. Nuf said.
      10. Love
      11. Love
      12. Love
      13. Love
      14. Would encourage bench seating. Good for kids in wet bathing suits.
      15. NO!
      16. Replaces 15.
  • Thanks for letting me comment and thanks for doing such a good job. Some comments in notes order:
  • Okay, so what is this “Barn Grill” thing? Why in the heck would we want to grill a barn and who would we be grilling it for, anyway? (yuk, yuk, yuk)
    Community tables don’t seem to work very well, as most tend to be broken up into groups of 4 to 6. But as long as the table(s) are modular, that is okay. The current “high” tables are a personal favorite of my wife’s (and mine). They are nice “drop in” tables where she tends to hold court.
    I don’t like engineered stone all that much, being an old school fan of wood bars, and such…but if the restaurant experts tell you the stone will be easier to care for and will last longer with less maintenance, then I will eventually get over the change. (I don’t like change).
    I really like the concept of the enclosure for the outside area. What will the “roof” be made of? Are they thinking vinyl or something more permanent? And I am okay with just the existing heater area if permits for additional trellis infrastructure are too much.
    The notes mention teak tables. Are those good maintenance calls? My outdoor teak stuff is a pain in the patootie.
    Foosball? Does anyone actually use these anymore?
    If tenting the back service area off the kitchen will work for the city and county health folks, GO GO GO. That kitchen is just too small to work. Is there any way to create a service pass through for food? It seems that one of the biggest bottlenecks is the single door. If you could pass food out for delivery, that might help. I know giving up storage space is a tough call, but if you blew out the storage closet and used half of it for additional kitchen space, you could make a single entrance or pass through on the half away from the wall and make a wall of built-ins with access from inside the kitchen.
    A useable walkway from the pool to the back patio would be a VERY nice add back. With the expansion of the kitchen, this redirected all that wet suit traffic through the Club.
    Couple of “where do they go’s”. If you put the buffet under the tent, where does the bbq grill go? If you make the modular seating area by the indoor fire place, should there be a new TV over the fireplace? (or move the one at #3?) The small meeting room should be rethought with an eye to better use. Seems to be a good spot that ends up being dominated by kids in front of cartoons. Maybe that is the best use, but maybe not.
    If you add the pool access door, (number 15) don’t you recreate the wet suit in the Clubhouse problem all over again? Unless county code requires it,
    Love the outdoor fire pits. Any chance they could get approved? Guess they have to be natural gas and approved by the city and county…

  • Thanks for keeping members informed so well, but I am sending you a note with a few concerns. I have been at the club 10 years and lived through the previous major renovation of the club where it was a beautiful plan executed but the volunteers in charge forgot about how much it would cost to operate such a great club after it was built. We have come a long way since then due to volunteer and management efforts but here is my two cents anyway.
    I have a few concerns regarding bar and grill plan. Can the small kitchen accommodate such an expansion of patron space? I hear time and time again how small and inefficient the kitchen is so I have a concern that creating a larger seating and patron area would just stress the kitchen more. Regarding a possible new tent space, I think the vinyl outdoor space at Boudin is really ugly-although functional–so I hope this one would be nicer. Also, my memory at this point fails me often but it just seems to me that we had a recent “renovation” of the bar and grill area with the last chef (and the one before that).My own thoughts are the furniture there are not so bad so I hope it is being included in any new master plan until it needs to be replaced on a regular maintenance schedule.
    On final thought, the food service continues to be very busy for part of the week and part of the year (despite multiple iterations of chef and service ideas) so I would be careful about overbuilding the space to sit idle for most of the year. Lets not “build it” and hope they come–which is seems to be what we have done with the last few chefs the club has run through. Each time the new person (and committee) generates great ideas but unfortunately, the amount of patrons does not meet plans and then a switch is made to the next better idea.
    I do appreciate the volunteer effort that goes into managing the club so I hate to sound too critical but spending $300k before you really know the “new” grill will meet a business plan may be premature. Maybe we have a successful year where we are busting at the seams and wish we had more room and then build-it may be a little painful during the growing stage but less painful than spending money and regretting it later.
  • HI Mike, first of all, thank you for all the hard and dedicated work you CONTINUE to do on behalf of all the members at the club. I know it is challenging balancing all the various constituencies; however, you seem to do it effortlessly, and your sense of humor is great! I actually enjoy reading the President’s Letter as it puts a smile on my face! I remember meeting you several years ago, before you became involved at the club, just after you and Marylou moved here. When I begged you to help me with the Tennis Committee financials, I knew from the start that you would help straighten out the mess we were in financially. That took someone with a strong backbone, and strong financial knowledge. Thank you for that. You are making the club a better place, and helping keep the club on a strong financial footing.
    I briefly looked at the plans for the cafe. I may not have time for a more detailed look, so my first impression is that there has been a lot of work put into this, and I applaud you, Chris and Val, and everyone else who has stepped up and are working on the space changes. The spaces look great! I see is that there are cushions on all the furniture. (This was mentioned in the same e-mail as putting in a soft ice cream machine.) Our club is dominated with small children who eat hot dogs and fries with ketchup, come in to the cafe to sit on the chairs with wet swim suits, and will sometimes spill drinks, or soft ice cream on the cushions. I think chairs that can be wiped clean, that do not absorb and stay wet from swim suits, might be considered in lieu of nice cushions, which I would prefer if it were more of an adult use room.

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