For New England natives, January brings freezing temperatures and piles of snow. Many would agree that Florida’s warm weather and lush green climate sounds like the ideal winter vacation. Lucky for me, I had the amazing opportunity to head down to West Palm Beach, Florida, for five days with the University of Massachusetts Student Chapter of the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA). UMass CMAA focuses on bringing light to the private club industry, a section of hospitality that is often underrepresented and misunderstood. As a first-year member of CMAA, I’ve already learned so much about the club industry and made meaningful connections with my fellow club members. I would have never gotten to go on the Palm Beach Externship without my involvement in UMass CMAA. During my stay, I toured some of the country’s largest and most exclusive country clubs.
The Palm Beach Externship took place from Wednesday, January 8, to Sunday, January 11. Ten UMass Amherst students, along with faculty advisor Rod Warnick, joined another handful of students from Niagara University, University of South Carolina, and Florida State University. Our group totaled 23 people in all. Transportation to and from the country club was the only personal expense we were required to pay for; the rest of our stay was all inclusive, and we stayed at The Club at Admirals Cove, a five-star, distinguished elite country club located in Jupiter, FL.
Wednesday, I flew out of Boston Logan International Airport and met up with two other students at Palm Beach International Airport. From there, we took an Uber to The Club at Admirals Cove. All of the properties, with the exception of the Jupiter Island Club, were gated communities with a guard house. These gated communities encompassed club members' homes, along with amenities like golfing, pools, clubhouses, and more. The Club at Admirals Cove whispered glamour and elegance, from the large clubhouse to the luxurious infinity pools and valet service. Throughout the course of the day, we checked into our rooms, explored the club house, and sat by the poolside until all of the students arrived. Once everyone was checked in, we had a welcome dinner and a tour of the property.
The next three days were packed with club tours, education sessions, and other miscellaneous activities and events. In total we toured ten country clubs and had eight different educational sessions. There’s nothing better than getting meaningful, hands-on experiences — and that’s exactly what we received. Classroom learning is great, but nothing beats a real world experience. All meals were prepared by head chefs and we received the same level of high quality service the guests experienced. Our info sessions covered every aspect of club management, ranging from golf course maintenance to food and beverage services. During learning sessions, I found out just how much goes into managing different aspects of the club. One thing I learned about that I’d never really considered before is how the weather, and seasons, are huge factors when maintaining the greens. Different weather conditions require different maintenance to occur — and predicting problems before they become problems is a must. There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes to make a business successful, especially in large country clubs like the ones we toured.
While I was down in Florida for an educational experience, it was also an extremely fun experience as well. Some of my favorite moments included driving the golf carts around the different properties and getting the honor to play golf for the first time with the president of the Professional Golfers Association, the PGA.
Like many others, I’d always perceived clubs as being stuffy and elitist. I learned that this is a common misconception that is far from the truth. All of the residents we encountered were very interested in our professional ambitions, and greeted us warmly. One of my favorite things I noticed about the industry that set it apart from many others was the emphasis on bonding and relationships. While hotels emphasize first impressions, and have limited relationships between guests and staff, clubs operate quite differently. Most of the clubs we toured were residential, requiring both a home on site and membership purchase. Since members were living at the club, relationships between members and the staff were of utmost importance. The strong bonds between different club managers also stood out to me, and I see this partnership dynamic as one of the biggest differences and draws of working in the club industry.
As a first-year student, I knew I wanted to be in the Hospitality Industry but hadn’t had much previous exposure to the different job opportunities within my field. Joining clubs like CMAA and AHLA have really helped broaden my horizons, and get real world experiences I would’ve never stumbled upon alone. Being part of a large school like UMass Amherst allows for more opportunities like these, and every club aims to help students in one capacity or another. This externship was definitely outside of my comfort zone and going into the program I had no idea what to expect, but I’m super glad I took the opportunity when it was presented to me.