The wonderful world of country clubs
by Jennifer Cohron
Apr 10, 2011 | 2372 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Norm Spitzig’s books are a lighthearted look at country clubs across the country. - Photo Special to the Eagle
Norm Spitzig’s books are a lighthearted look at country clubs across the country. - Photo Special to the Eagle
Clive Endive Ogive IV was born in a private (and fictional) hospital overlooking the 17th hole of a world-famous (and also fictional) golf course.

His alter ego, Norm Spitzig, worked as a professional club manager for 25 years.

Together, they have written two humorous books about the sometimes stodgy world of private clubs — “Private Clubs in America and Around the World” and “Murder and Mayhem at Old Bunbury.”

Spitzig has authored dozens of serious articles and one book about how clubs should be governed.

“They’re kind of academic, nothing that you’re going to stay up at night reading,” Spitzig said.

Several years ago, he decided to try using humor as a teaching tool.

He adopted the pseudonym Clive Endive Ogive IV, a character that is as privileged as he is comical.

Ogive claims to belong to at least 18 exclusive clubs — “certainly all the ones that matter” — and sprinkles his insights with plenty of sarcasm.

In one of the books, for example, senior members are described as “the font of all private club wisdom — and, like Krakatoa, spew forth with annoying regularity.”

Dues are defined as “the fees collected ... to cover all services, facilities, excesses, poor Board decisions and general mismanagement at a private club.”

Ogive lists committees in charge of pool towels, Chardonnay, pillows and pickles as “the important club committees” whereas committees concerning membership, finances, nominations and strategic planning fall under the category of “committees that should not exist.”

Spitzig said owners and directors of private clubs around the world have taken his lighthearted criticism in stride.

“The book has gone over really well with people who are not afraid to laugh at themselves and say, ‘Hey, maybe there are some crazy things in the world of private clubs. What can we do to be more businesslike?’” Spitzig said.

Spitzig, a principal and senior partner of the consulting firm Master Club Advisors, said some clubs are still being operated the way they were 20 years ago.

No one is in charge of recruiting new members because, in Ogive’s words, longtime members “know as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow that people should be knocking down the doors to join THEIR club.”

Sometimes, even those who express an interest in joining the club don’t receive a warm welcome. Two years ago, Spitzig searched for a general manager for a small club in Michigan that rejected Henry Ford 80 years ago and turned down Bill Gates recently.

Spitzig said clubs that want to attract a new generation of members must be willing to change.

“You have to have a place where the food is good and you don’t have to wear a coat and tie just to get into the swimming pool,” he said.

He added that sometimes traditional clubs make changes that aren’t quite as progressive as they think.

For example, one club in south Florida passed a rule that members could only answer their cell phone in the club if the call was important. Another decided that members could wear jeans in the club if the jeans cost more than $100.

Although Spitzig has a lot of fun at the expense of clubs that Ogive gives a snootiness factor of 10, he stresses that most clubs are more accessible to average people and are good reflections of their city and state.

When he conducted a general manager search for the Country Club of Mobile, a staff member summed up the person who should be hired in one sentence.

“She said to me in her wonderful Southern accent, ‘Norm, just get us somebody who understands sweet tea.’ That told me everything that I needed to know,” Spitzig said.