Having completed MDP levels 1 and 2 in sunny Bournemouth, the next step on the road to CCM was to attend World Conference in (hopefully) even sunnier America. This year it was being held in San Antonio, Texas. Having got the green light to go, I started to read up and speak to colleagues who had been before. The overwhelming factor that was clear was one of size; World Conference was huge, approximately 2000 delegates from across the globe, crammed into one conference centre! What else could I expect in the country where everything is supersized!

Having shied away from working in large establishments for my entire career, I was intrigued to get involved in something on this scale. Fortunately I had a travelling companion for my adventure. Frankie O’Donnell, Reception Manager at the Caledonian Club, had been on both the MDP’s with me and I think we were both glad of the company. I would recommend going to World Conference with company, particularly for the first time. It always helps to know someone else to share the experiences with. However if that person also shares the same sense of humour, fondness for Irish bars and BBQ then the week will give you even more than you expect!

Get on board
One thing was clear from the moment I signed up; this was organisation on a whole different scale. For a start, the entire conference would be paperless, with all the information being available through a handy app. This had just about every angle covered which, for a World Conference novice whose main purpose in attending was the education sessions, was a huge blessing. There was so much on offer and being able to not only look at bio’s of the speakers but to look at the majority of the presentations beforehand made sorting out my timetable (another handy app function) so much easier.

So it was with a rather smug feeling that I boarded the flight to Houston. I had the diary planned and full, dollars in my pocket, cowboy boots on my feet and a rather fetching hat perched at a jaunty angle!! Having only experienced Easyjet and Ryan Air for the last decade, it was a joy to be on a plane where I could sit without having my knees up by my ears. The food was good and the flight crew very polite and helpful. As we landed I knew we were in America when a very smiley steward with impossibly white teeth and a Tintin quiff implored me to “have a nice day now!”

Alas, after missing our connection to San Antonio due to the efficiencies of the US Customs at George Bush International, being put on separate flights (eventually we did get on the same plane) and arriving at the Marriot Rivercentre in downtown San Antonio five hours late, the day was not quite as nice as it started, however a happy receptionist provided a smooth check-in and after a couple of beers, things had brightened up.

The next day was a one of rest, time to explore San Antonio and get over the travel before getting down to the real purpose of the trip. Although I was genuinely looking forward to the educational sessions, what I really wanted to learn was how other Clubs are run and what, if anything, could be practicably transferred back to England. Presumably what happens in America, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand and all points in between is fairly similar, however human nature, traditions and working practices differ so much from country to country that not every idea I picked up would travel. The fun would be in the searching!

Passion, Energy & Enthusiasm
The first day was reasonably quiet, registration and orientation in the morning and educationals starting after lunch. There was much said beforehand about one of the speakers and as advised, at the appointed hour I filed in with about 300 others and took my seat to listen to Gregg Patterson. What followed was a ninety minute master class in passion. Never have I listened to anyone so enthused by his industry. There was lots of whooping, fist waving and declarations that as Club Managers we are “on a mission from God”! The only way to describe it would be very American. Now I do not mean anything negative by that, just that the reserved way of presenting that tends to be the English way was nowhere to be seen in the auditorium that afternoon!! Looking around the room, there was a very definite sense of being mesmerised by Gregg, especially amongst the young students present, rather akin to a rabbit caught in headlights. And didn’t Gregg know it and play to the room. I must admit that I got totally caught up in it and left feeling energised.

The whole week was like this, full of speakers from the industry, giving their time to ensure that everyone in the room left with as much as they possibly could. Admittedly I got much more from some than I did from others, but that said, they were all useful.

The two sessions that I took the most from, and certainly am using more from them, were the two General Education Sessions. The two speakers, Dr. Nido Qubein and Bill Courtney were undeniably inspiring. These were held in an auditorium bigger than most West End theatres and full to capacity. Neither speaker were hospitality based and were quick to point this out, however what they both had were passion, experience and a desire to share and they did in spades. Of all the stories I repeat to people, these two are at the top of the list.

Down to business
I have never been to a pep rally before and never thought I would until I went to the Opening Business Session on the second day. Once again I found myself in the auditorium, surrounded by various state flags, all being waved to ensure that delegates sat with their fellow chapter members. Old friends and colleagues who obviously meet once a year at World Conference were busy greeting each other, loudly, and slapping each other on the backs, even louder. The whole atmosphere was like a huge cocktail party. Then, all of a sudden, a silence descended, the lights dimmed and after a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, a procession of CMAA dignitaries bounced on to the stage. In the ensuing hour and a half, there was more flag waving and cheering, there were speeches from candidates putting themselves forward for CMAA board places and there were heartfelt and emotional tributes. The over-riding emotion in the room was one of pride, pride in Clubs, pride in the industry, pride in each other, pride in them, but overwhelmingly their pride in America. I honestly saw chests being thumped and tears of all emotions throughout. And all of this was repeated three days later at the Closing Business Session!

As mentioned earlier, I really wanted to find out how Clubs are run and what practices are used. One night we all had an opportunity to find out as three different Clubs had agreed to host us. The lobby of the hotel was jammed with people, if I had to hazard a guess I would have said well over one thousand. Over the next 30 minutes we filed on to an armada of coaches and set off, one third to the first Club the next third to the second and so on. There were three Clubs on the Club tour and it was clear from the first one that they were all going to try their hardest to outdo each other. The first one was The Argyle, an old fashioned dining Club was reminiscent of the old South, wide verandas, huge jacaranda trees and a quiet unimposing air about the place. Wonderful canapés on offer, grills with all manner of temptations and a bar that quite clearly was never going to run dry! Unfortunately the time flew and before we knew it was time to move on to our 2nd destination, The San Antonio Country Club.

This was what I pictured a Texan Country Club to be, bright lights, spotless hospitality, huge areas for entertaining and boy, did they do just that! Every room we went into had chefs preparing dishes, unsurprisingly most were barbecued. Again the bar was never going to emptied, however what did come as a surprise were the other three bars dotted around, equally well stocked. The 3rd and final stop for us was the Oak Hills Country Club.

This was much more down to earth than the previous two. In fact, I imagine the Oak Hills to be the club where those who work the oil fields go, the San Antonio is the club where the owners of the oil fields go and the Argyle is where you go when you have retired or sold your oil field. I must admit that this was my favourite. We got off the coaches to be greeted by real cowboys, complete with rifles and holsters, demonstrating the real way to use a lasso, whilst offering rides on very large Longhorn bulls. Next to them was the largest BBQ I have ever seen, at least ten foot long, with chefs offering delicacies from those poor Longhorns not chosen for the rides! Without doubt, the beef was the best I have ever eaten, indeed the best I will probably ever eat. It was here that I decided that to put into practice the old adage of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. In the entrance hall was a bar, no great surprise there, however this one only had tequila and tasting the various types was the order of the day. Having tasted 3 or 4 tequilas, some more than once, in both neat and margarita (frozen and not) form, I suddenly had my best idea to date, bull riding!! Fortunately the bulls had been taken off for the night, or maybe the BBQ was running low, whatever the reason for their absence I was very pleased when I woke up the following morning that they had not been around! I must admit that I did not learn a huge amount about how each Club was run but what I did find out was that no matter what type of Club you are in, the Southern charm and hospitality is sublime.

Valuable connections, Lifetime of learning
All in all I cannot recommend going to World Conference highly enough. I have gained so much from attending, not just from continuing the CCM path, but also from the educationals, the networking, the friendships that were cemented and the overall experience, being in a different country, slightly out of my comfort zone, learning that learning doesn’t only happen in a classroom or auditorium, it was all worthwhile and should be done as many times as possible.

And if you ever have trouble persuading the Secretary or Committee that you should be going, just remember what Gregg Patterson said, as a Club Manager you are on a mission from God! Who could argue with that?

Edward Plunket
House Manager, Boodle’s