Why We Left La Cima and ClubCorp

After nearly two years as devoted members at La Cima – being, in fact the FourSquare mayor and eating at La Cima more than any other members, attending countless functions, spearheading the Young Executives group, etc. we have decided to part ways under far less than positive terms with our private club.  I felt that documenting the issues here was important as they are numerous and often hard to explain and I am going to want these in the future as a reference because I know that I am going to be asked to return at some point.  I don’t want it to be a fuzzy “well, there were issues”, I want concrete items to discuss.

Above all, the one overriding, unforgivable issue is the policy that new members are more valuable to the club than old members.  This is never acceptable.  Existing members, those who have stuck around, paid their dues, been loyal should never be treated worse than someone new who comes in off of the street and only stays for a month or two.  The existing membership is the lifeblood of the club and we are encouraged to “make it ours” even while being told by policy that officially people who might become members are more important than those that already are.

The issue is that existing members (anyone joining the club before July, 2011) is limited to being a Young Executive only until age 36 at what point they are kicked out, prices raised and are then a full standard member.  Anyone joining after July, 2011 is a Young Exec with membership in the YE group and lower fees until they are 40.  So there is both a price and membership penalty to being an existing member.  It’s not about the money, it is about new members having benefits that are not applied to existing members.  This is backwards.  No other business would ever grandfather someone out of benefits.

The existing policy is not applied uniformly and La Cima seems to have been picking and choosing to whom the rules applied even before the new policy was in place.

This policy is my line in the sand customer service failure with La Cima and ClubCorp.  This is the burned bridge that ClubCorp has decided to not rescind and I cannot excuse.  This is a clear statement that they desire to churn and burn membership rather than retaining long term, committed members.

Additionally, these are the softer issues that have been mounting:

  • Uncorked: Members are sold on the Uncorked club as having the added benefit of getting 25% off of all dining in the dining room.  Yet members are being charged full price even when asking why they have not received the discount.  The dining room was told that the discount was wine only even while ads for 25% food are running on the main screen in the front hallway and that is what is being told to people who are being sold on the benefits.
  • Vegetarian items are never labelled and sometimes meat is snuck into seemingly vegetarian items or substituted without warning.  Labelling food is an accepted practice in any high end restaurant and needs to explaining or requesting let alone having it requested and not fulfilled.  I’m tired of having to track someone down, asking food contents and having them have to go research it for every bit of food I want to try.  It just makes it not worth the effort.
  • Prior to having the renovations I spoke with the GM about how disappointed we were in The Tower Club’s inclusion of a “media room” with silly things like a Wii he made assurances that La Cima would not stoop to that type of thing.  The moment that the renovations were done just a few weeks later he was touting our awesome new video game systems – not only a Wii but a PS3 as well.  And the video games are not off in a quiet corner but at the very centre of the club so any attempt to use them would mean inflicting video games on the entire club.
  • The renovations turned a previously quiet lounge into a cavernous echo chamber.  It is now nearly impossible to have a conversation in the lounge area simply due to the echo coming from other people using the space.  As there is less private space now, many meetings are held in the lounge and people cannot hear each other and it disrupts everyone else in the club as well.
  • The renovations turned the relatively classy, but smaller, old lounge into effectively a mid-range bar and grill.  Rather than a small bar (which notably did need to be upgraded) with a small lounge and one tiny TV at the bar and one mid-sized broken TV in the lounge we are now bombarded with four massive screens covering every inch of the possible field of vision.  We’ve lost the quiet section of the club – the place where we would go to hang out and be social.  The most important part of the club is now gone completely and the GM stated that it was a “moot point” and the feeling of the membership on this matter were irrelevant because the decision was made and the televisions were there to stay (once again, a clear desire to change the membership out for a group more in line with the GM’s vision rather than designing the club around the desires of the existing membership.)
  • Now that there are televisions covering the club they are invariably tuned to inflammatory programming.  The club has become someone’s person political platform plus sports.  Many members are offended by the programming choices (I have no idea if that is a large percentage or a tiny percentage – but the point is that the programming is chosen for its extreme political views and “forced” upon all members) and a large number have no interest whatsoever in the never-ending barrage of sports.  Everyone who visits the club at night describes it as a “sports bar” or “bar and grill” – which are numerous in the area and require no membership fee.  Several people intending to join decided not to on this point alone.   This programming has been deemed “as desired” by the GM and apparently not up for discussion.  My point is not that other programming (unless it is the weather) would be less offensive to some group but that as you cannot have inoffensive programming to turn them off unless there is a reason to have them on.  Forcing bad programming on every member is outrageous in a private club.
  • In addition to the intended offensive programming, shows similar to the Jerry Springer show are sometimes put on.  I’m told that “obviously that is not intended and I should ask someone to change the station when that is on” by the GM.  First, I have no means of knowing what is and is not intended programming giving the current state of the club.  This programming is very much in line with other things that are shown, in my mind, and I am not in a position to differentiate what he finds so valuable to force onto all members and what is ridiculous.  Second, as a member of a private club it is certainly not my responsibility to police the televisions that he controls.  If the GM puts on bad programming he should take responsibility for it.  I offered a solution, turn the television off.  His solution is that I do his job for him.  Again, how can I separate the sane from the ridiculous?
  • The main television, a 103″ plasma screen, is positioned in such a way that it is the main focal point of vision upon entering the club.  Having televisions is fine, but making them an unavoidable part of every club experience is very poor.  The “classiness” of the club is significantly diminished when a nice dinner out involves unavoidably watching a baseball game even if just as you are walking to the dining room.  Also, constantly raving about the “huge” television is silly as the screen is not large for people who are members of a private club.  This screen is small compared to what many people have at home.  It is hardly impressive in a public gathering space.  Nice, yes, but not impressive.  A clear disconnect between management and the members.
  • When we first joined we were given the impression that the menu would be changing regularly.  In nearly two years there has been only one change of menu.  Not a big issue, but as someone who eats at the club constantly and as a pescatarian with a limited menu selection the lack of menu items and lack of change are a real issue.  We get very bored very easily.  Fortunately the chef works very hard to accommodate us, but a changing menu or regular specials would go a long way as well.
  • When we first joined La Cima there was a Young Executives group.  This was a small social group that met monthly.  After two or three months the group was disbanded as the person who ran the group was too busy.  After a few months two of us asked if we could put the group back together and were told that we did not have permission to do that as the original person who ran the group “owned” the group and if he didn’t want it to meet that we could not meet (obviously we could get together for dinner and drinks but we could not have a Young Execs group anymore.)  This was preposterous but it was enforced for nearly a year until I listed it as a reason for considering leaving the club after the renovations were so bad and suddenly the policy was reversed.  Now the GM says that such an idea was ridiculous, but again, when La Cima management tells us a policy and there is no reason to dispute it, how are we to differentiate between the real and the ridiculous?
  • I put together a social event on the behest of the Young Execs committee in an attempt to bring potential members into the club.  This led to a few issues:
  1. I scheduled it but was told we could not use the lounge because that was primarily reserved for the sports crowd and that the television space was for them, not for general member activities.  So the old lounge which used to be mixed use is not exclusively a “sports bar.”  This was later disputed by the GM after I called him out on it although he agreed that certain sports get priority over all else (like a world series) but claimed that that wasn’t a valid reason for why we could not use the lounge at other times.  But regardless, the lounge was off limits to our event – even one done at the club’s request – due to the possibility that someone might want to watch sports.
  2. Since the lounge was not available, we reserved a private room for the event and worked out catering and drink options for the event.  We were not given the same options as non-members who hold nearly identical events at the club.  This seems very wrong.  The private room was confirmed by the private events office as being available and we booked it.  I have the confirmation email.
  3. On the day of the event I just happened to be in the club for lunch and noticed that my event was not listed on the schedule so I checked with the club and found out that they had decided to sell the private room to a non-member private event rather than have my event there.  The private event office noted that they did know about my event but gave no reason for why they decided to preempt me or why the decided not to notify me.  They claimed that the room had always been reserved by the other party contrary to what they had confirmed previously.
  4. When the double booking was exposed the private events office decided to tell me that I had gone through the wrong channels for booking a private event – even though La Cima came to me to book the event, not the other way around!  It is not my job as a member to work through club politics and “talk to the right people.”  Especially when the private events office admitted that they had been informed and were in the loop.
  5. Many of the issues were blamed on people who had “left” the club.  Again, not my issue to know that people were no longer with the club and that all work that they had been in the middle of was dropped by the club and ignored.  That those members were fired outright but passed off to us as sob stories because they left leaving the club “in the lurch” is ridiculous – not only is the club involving us in HR issues inappropriately but lying to us about them as well which is likely a violation of employment law, it certainly is in New York.  And again, it is not appropriate to drag members in to club politics.
  6. We finally left it that the club would “figure something out” and email in the interim (there was only two hours between me leaving the club and returning for the event) with details so that I would know what to tell my guest.  We had worked out a cash bar and other details.  The email never came and when I returned to the club the cash bar was not set up and everyone was just being put on my personal tab.  When caught the club resorted to just taking credit cards as we had originally requested as is how they handle events of this nature for non-members.
  • Once we finally managed to force a Young Executives group back into the club instead of it being a member-driven social club of our own design it was turned into a sales force where the discussions are completely centered around how the Young Executives can drive other under-40s into the club (even though the existing Young Executive members are only 35 and under.)  It is both annoying that our social group has been hijacked immediately in an attempt to save the clubs lagging youth membership and completely inappropriate to punish us for being existing members while simultaneously expecting us to bring in new members with better benefits that we ourselves receive!
  • I had several people seriously considering membership through me who wanted to wait and see how the renovations would turn out.  Every single person who would have joined either referred to the renovations as “just a bar and grill” or “if I wanted to have coffee at the airport I would just go to the airport” – in reference to the lounge being nothing but walls of televisions (since that time, two of the original six televisions were removed as the level of ridiculousness could not be overstated.)  So in addition to not enjoying the club as I used to, I am not additionally punished by other bad choices by being unable to bring other people into the club.
  • Officially La Cima offers the Young Execs Until 40 option to existing members if they get new members to join through them after some time around July or August of this year (post renovations.)  As I had many people interested but who declined either after seeing the renovations or after seeing how badly La Cima handled the private event mentioned above this is not only generally inappropriate but also amounts to a slap in the face – adding insult to injury of bad renovations and then punishing us for their own mistakes.
  • According to ClubCorp, the need to bring in a new member in order to qualify for the same benefits as new members is real however it is supposed to apply to any members brought in, not only those who joined post renovations, and La Cima locally is not supposed to have discretion in this matter but even though I have brought in two members to the club I would not be allowed to partake in the extended years of Young Execs.  This apparently is very personally and applies only to me.  Some members need bring in no members, some only after a certain date, etc. The rule is applied individual to each person.
  • In explaining pricing at La Cima the GM explained the club as being like a commodity manufactured product with those of us who got in long ago paying more because over time the value of the club depreciates as it becomes older and eventually worthless.  This makes no sense whatsoever but reveals what appears to be an underlying disdain for the club by its own management.
  • In explaining the reasons for the decisions made with the club we as members are constantly directed to “three million dollars of research” performed by a “reputable research firm.”  This, of course, is quite offensive to tell us that the decisions destroying our club are made by outsiders who don’t attend our club, don’t use it and have no idea how it plays into the local market.  In fact, it turns out that the vast majority of the research for how to design the club was done at other clubs that are alone in their markets – exactly the opposite of the research needed for La Cima.  So three million dollars of research elsewhere is, again, a slap in the face to the local membership whose opinion is considered far less valuable than the opinions of strangers and outsiders.  We are told to “make the club our own” but real decisions are made by non-members with no insight into what makes us La Cima or how our dynamic works in the marketplace.
  • The new renovations at La Cima, while claiming to be based on the same research that has renovated other clubs successfully, does not match the outcome at other clubs.  I have visited other clubs that have been likewise changed based on the same information and they are exactly the opposite of La Cima – they have expanded quiet space and more facilities, for example.  So again, throwing in our face the willingness to waste money on outside research and then to not even use that or our own member’s opinions in the design of our club.  Again, the desire to change who is our members is unmistakable.
  • Everything involving the renovations of the club seems to ignore the fact that La Cima is highly unique in the ClubCorp system and is the only business club that they have sharing a region with another business club, The Tower Club in Dallas, which totally dominates its market.  Because of this La Cima needs to compete by being unique as the Tower is larger and better funded with a far superior location.  La Cima is an addendum to the market, not a standalone club.  It is part of the DFW Society Ecosystem.  But management treats it as a cookie cutter club and doesn’t look to its membership for guidance.
  • We were told in a Young Executives meeting that those under forty do not like to dance.  Yet when visiting other clubs, this is something that they have and we do not.  Consistently the opinions of the “under forty” set are being defined by those over fifty and show absolutely cluelessness as to what the under forty set is looking for.  The bar and grill atmosphere, big televisions, no dancing, nothing unique… these are all, from the under forty perspective, things being put in for the retiree set – those who do not have these things at home.  The under forty set all have this at home and find it bizarre to go out in order to use poor copies of what they have at home.  That to go out dancing we have to go to The Tower rather than our own club is less than ideal, why would we just not join the correct club instead?
  • The club focuses very heavily on drawing local “in the building” membership to the exclusion of traditional members.  This brings in a large number of lunch only, non-participatory members with no interest in the club itself who see the club as nothing more than a cafeteria.  As such ClubCorp has begun to represent itself as a cafeteria and the club carries this feeling with it at all times, not exclusively during its short, ninety minute lunch rush.
  • When the Young Exec group first began attempting to get some momentum going with it Cocktails & Connections group we knew that it was take quite some time to get the information out and start getting people to remember the need to come out on Wednesday nights.  We picked our time and our schedule strategically for specific purposes using both common sense and learning from other, more successful clubs.  Long before the group could take off the GM cancelled the event and changed it from weekly to monthly on an odd schedule.  At the same meeting that the event was cancelled he explained that at clubs like La Cima it takes a long time for changes to becomes internalized by the members and that we have to give things a chance for a long time before we know that they are working or not.  Again, a slap in the face to the YE’s who works to make this work – in one breathe acknowledging that he cancelled it without giving it a chance and pointing out exactly the same.
  • The “Charity Classic” event which the YE’s were expected to heavily support was scheduled to support the most pathetic of charities – basically “helping affluent executives get teenage interns” and many people were offended that the club’s money and effort was going into support such an event.  Then, just days before the event was to take place, far too late to reschedule babysitters, take back dresses, etc. the event was cancelled because the charity, without notice because they had decided to not support the event and had none of the promised celebrities, events or attendees that they had lead the club to believe that they were delivering.  I am not fully aware of how this event is scheduled but I’ve not heard positive things about the GM’s involvement in the decision making process and was certainly not invited myself to be involved.
  • When I first joined the club I provided ideas on how the club could integrate social media into the club to allow members to connect with one another – critical for a club like this in today’s society as we need a way to know who is at the club, when they will be there, how we can connect with them, what they are doing, etc.  This was ignored and two years later the lack of these facilities is severely hampering the use of the club.  The YE committee has discussed and feels that this is a true sticking point in the ability to use the club.
  • When I first discussed leaving the club several months ago, the idea of having the upgrade of the Plus membership to One was brought up.  The Plus membership offered to the business clubs was great inferior to the One membership as I had discussed with the club previously – encouraging members to come to dinner just once a month instead of offering incentives to use the club constantly.  I was told it was coming that month.  I waited.  Then I asked the next month.  I was told by the GM that it would be definitely decided the next day.  No news.  I brought it up while talking to corporate – again it would be released “soon”.  Not until two weeks after I left the club citing the use of a fake membership upgrade as a “carrot” to get us to stay did the program finally roll out – months after it had first been promised.
  • Overall instead of acting like the customer serviced-oriented management of a private club, the management of La Cima acts like an HR department designed to discipline employees rather than attempting to take care of paying members.  Punishing us to stay around is like lowing the pay of existing employees on the assumption that the only reason that they would not move on to greener pastures is because they are incapable of obtaining positions elsewhere.  Implying that the existing membership is desperate and not leaving because no other club would have them is a tenuous position at best.  The attitude of management must change and appreciate the people existing at the club today because “future members” become “existing members” the moment that they sign up.  Once you move to churn and burn – you are in an endless cycle of attempting to find new members as currently members leave as fast as they can.
  • One of the biggest problems with the club is that there are not enough members using the club to hit the “critical mass” necessary for events and even for normal, every night socializing.  With the focus being on thinning out the herd, especially hitting the ranks of those most active, the club is becoming increasingly unpopulated making it harder and harder to see it as a social destination.  While the quiet reserve of an empty restaurant is nice, the allure of a lounge setting is as a place to meet people rather than a place to sit quietly drinking alone.
  • While the largest portion of the La Cima population is above the forty year mark, there is a stated desire to bring in more youthful members.  Yet events are primarily planned during and conflicting with normal working hours making it extremely difficult for those in their prime working years to get away on a regular basis in order to participate at the club.  Activities like the Cocktails & Connections, hosted by the Young Execs, are scheduled at five in the afternoon when many people work until six and need thirty to sixty minutes to be able to get to the club.  Most evening activities are over by the time most under forties can comfortably arrive at the club making it a large effort for little return.  Having programming designed around a larger age range would, I feel, do much to enhance the participation.
  • La Cima “closes” extremely early.  While there is a willingness to stay open late for those who have already arrived at the club even the elevators shut down prior to the beginning of the “going out” time frame.  So people in the under forty, or really, in the under sixty crowd are stuck using La Cima for dinner but choosing another destination for drinks as the club simply closes hours earlier than a lounge should.  The hours feel as though they are shifted several hours too early with Happy Hour being the prime hours rather than the “warm up” or “in between” hours.  When people that I know from La Cima choose to go out we choose other destinations as going to La Cima means struggling to arrive in time to make use of the facility and getting very limited time at it whereas going to another venue allows us to arrive casually and make use of the facility during normal “out on the town” hours.
  • Live music used to be a much larger focus of the club.  With the new renovations I’ve been told that live music has been eliminated.  The full sized piano and the regular piano player were excellent additions.  Giving this up is not a positive move.  The Tower Club, for example, seems to have a much larger selection of live music with a very positive response.
  • The canned music at La Cima has been an issue since I first joined two years ago.  Originally the club played a single Michael Buble CD on continuous repeat so that during a single meal you might hear the same song three times and the same CD upon every visit to the club.  With the renovations the music selection has moved from a very good, but played to death CD, to a small selection of very odd popular music that seems completely unsuited for a private club.  The music is not inappropriate per se but is just random selections of Top 40 tunes.  Not at all what one would expect or desire in this setting.  Very much “bar and grill” music.
  • Social media has been almost completely ignored.  There is no Twitter feed for the club, no organization around FourSquare and the FaceBook page has not been updated for over a year.  I have been pushing for there to be systems for coordinating club activity and bringing members together but after nearly two years and backwards movement in this area, it is clear that there is no interest in helping members to connect and use the club more actively.  Members have begun connecting in this way on their own but because that activity is not centered around the club it is pulling people out of the club rather than into it.
  • Using the club during non-meals times has little value as the club is completely empty – due, I believe, to the combination of alienating membership and making the lounge space uninviting.  When I do use the club during non-peak hours I can safely expect to be at most one of only two or three members in the club and very often the only one.  Lack of social media for planning “meet ups” is encouraging this lack of use but so is the unfriendliness of the lounge space.  Even when I am alone in the club I am barraged by sports and other broadcasting.
  • When we first joined La Cima we were sold on how family friendly it was supposed to be.  There was even a kids’ night on Wednesday nights to encourage families to bring their children.  Encouraging kids to come to the club is critical in fostering a flourishing under 40s group since that group has a high density of small children.  In the last couple of months, however, it has been stated repeatedly that La Cima is not a club for children.

It seems like a lot of complaints, I know.  Many of them are very minor and they could be addressed easily.  The point, really, is that they are not.  If a complaint is small it seems to be completely overlooked and ignored no matter how little effort it would take to fix.  A large complaint is met with total, defensive obstinance – explaining why what has been done is what is desired by all members even when a group of members is clearly not convinced of this fact.

A few of the issues are huge, demonstrating an underlying failure to understand where the clubs values lie and that is in delivering a unique experience that cannot be found elsewhere, in being more upscale and classy than other venues and in providing exception customer experience.  In all three of these areas, La Cima has failed.

Possibly the most dramatic moment came when my wife and I, in a rare move to not spend the evening at the club, went to a local bar and grill, Houlihan’s, near our home.  Houlihan’s was half the distance from our home as the club, easier to reach and easier at which to park.  We went inside and the place was so busy that we had to be seated in the bar area.  Our hostess knew that we were not out to watch the baseball game and sat us at a booth that had no view of a television.  We sat down and instantly both of us looked around, saw that neither of us had a television distracting us even though tons of other patrons had fine views, and said to each other “This place is actually classier than La Cima!”  That the first reaction of both of us was the same thing is extremely telling.  Dinner was excellent and much less expensive than La Cima too.  Less hassle, better atmosphere, excellent food, lower price, better customer service.

What used to make La Cima unique and exceptional is gone.  In an attempt to mimic larger, more successful venues La Cima has giving away all of the factors that make it unique and now seems like little more than a pale imitation of others.  La Cima no longer has a value propositions for its members.

3 thoughts on “Why We Left La Cima and ClubCorp”

  1. Were you able to get out of the ClubCorp contract and leave the club? Or did you have to go on a waiting list and continue to pay? I want to get out of my club and am looking for a loophole in their contract. Thanks,
    BP

  2. We didn’t have any contractual obligation. We only had to wait out the month (or give a month warning, I believe.)

    We ended up moving to a different club and management at La Cima was completely overhauled since then as well. The parties involved are no longer there and the mood there has improved greatly.

  3. Really???? You didn’t get your butt kissed so you write a third grade rendition of The Brothers Karamazov.

    La Cima is not great, it could be a dynamic and vibrant spcial club with the awesome view as it’s anchor. Since Mr. Dedman passed all of Club Corp slid a little downhill. But your sophmiric tirade showcasing your hurt ego is quite something.

Leave a Reply