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April 2024

Succession Success


By Doug McPherson

The business of golf is in Samantha Swartz’s blood. She grew up on her family’s course, the Honeybrook Golf Club in eastern Pennsylvania, working part time in the summers during high school and college.

Then she moved an hour away after landing a job with a car dealership working in the internet sales department. After four years there, her husband got a job near her hometown so they moved back.

“That’s when I started talking with my dad about my future career plans,” Swartz says. “I decided to take on a full-time role at the golf course now that I was living closer. And that’s when I fell in love with the game, the people and the job.”

She’s been there since October 2019 and has filled a host of roles: “learning, asking a trillion questions, implementing new technology, filling in at the front counter, helping staff outside and in the restaurant, filling in as the golf operations manager, shadowing the business manager, learning about bookkeeping, networking with other course owners” and the list goes on and on.

Today she’s director of marketing and events, but she’s also the embodiment of succession.

“As a second generation, my goal now is to learn as much as I possibly can about the business, about the business structure, day-to-day operations, roles and responsibilities of our leadership team members, etc.,” Swartz says. “Even though we don’t have a plan on paper, my dad and aunt and uncle are starting conversations while I continue to learn as much as I can.”

Swartz, who spoke about succession planning at NGCOA’s Golf Business Conference 2024 in January, says in addition to learning all the ropes of running a course, she’s also becoming a student of succession planning itself. “I’ve learned that preparing people for future roles at a facility―with all of the business-related nuances involved―is vitally important and can also be a deeply personal undertaking.”

One of the first tasks of succession, she says, is to discuss and set expectations about what roles are being filled, who’s filling those roles and gaining a good, general picture of what the course will look like under new management.

“At Honeybrook specifically, and I’m sure other golf course owners are in a similar position, I have a few siblings and cousins who’ve been involved in the business in some capacity over the years,” she says. “Setting expectations early will make those conversations easier when the time comes for the business to shift to the next generation, and hopefully help to reduce any problems or family feuds that could occur once the current generation is gone.”

Swartz adds that another task behind all successful succession plans is good communication. “Even the most well-organized family business that gets along will have their disagreements, so it’s important to hear out others’ opinions and thoughts and have honest conversations.”

She says communication has also proven helpful to her as she learns about succession.

“I’ve been learning by asking questions and talking to other course owners. I’m not afraid to talk to others about their experience or ask what they’ve learned in the process. Having discernment and making educated decisions for your business, your family and the future is important. There are a lot of online resources, but since every business and every family dynamic is different, it’s important to be open and find what works for you.”

And finally, Swartz says the biggest mistake course owners can make related to succession is “not having a plan at all or just assuming your family will figure things out once you’re gone.”

“You can hire an attorney to help you, but there are organizations out there that … offer other resources … to help facilitate the more difficult conversations,” she says. “Making sure you do your research on succession planners and hiring someone who you connect with is important.”


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