North Cottesloe Surf Club is a standout success story among the nation’s amateur sporting organisations, boasting 1,350 members and a solid financial position. Noel Dyson outlines some of the reasons for the club’s good fortune.
NORTH Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club is something of an anomaly among surf clubs across the country, many of which are struggling financially.
With 1,350 members, North Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club has the highest membership of any club in Australia. And, not surprisingly, it’s running in the black and on solid financial ground – which would make it the envy of many other amateur sporting operations.
A large contingent of North Cottesloe’s members are counted among Western Australia’s business elite and include Malcolm McCusker QC, Marketforce chairman Howard Read and building magnates Len Buckeridge and John Roberts.
The club, which is the second oldest surf life saving club in Perth, has a strong legal membership.
This is partly due to its location, with many in the legal fraternity living nearby, but also to the work of former club president Jerry Knowles, a partner in former Perth law firm Parker and Parker.
Ask people which sporting clubs are the pick of the crop for membership and North Cottesloe ranks up there with Royal Perth Yacht Club and the Lake Karrinyup Golf Club.
In fact, the club has a two-year waiting list for associate membership – something unheard of with most other surf life saving clubs.
Associate members are able to use all of the same facilities as ‘active’ members but do not take part in club activities such as fund raising or beach patrols.
Part of the secret of the club’s success has been the deal it struck to rent its social hall to restaurateur Kim Gamble.
The social hall stands idle for about 90 per cent of the year and rent received from Mr Gamble’s Blue Duck restaurant provides about 35 per cent to 40 per cent of the club’s $500,000-a-year revenue.
So why have other surf clubs not taken the same route?
One of the main reasons for the success at North Cottesloe is that the club controls its own premises, thanks to a 50-year peppercorn rental lease it entered into with the Department of Land Administration for its beachfront rooms.
The club was originally housed in a Cottesloe Council-owned building across Marine Parade from the beach.
The club recognised an opportunity to take the DOLA land and was successful in ensuring that its members did not have to contend with traffic while trying to launch surf boats.
Most other surf life saving clubs are in council-owned facilities, and while they can turn their social halls to other uses, it is understood that most such deals involve sharing revenue received with the local council.
Besides the revenue it receives from the Blue Duck, North Cottesloe also gets about $120,000 in fees from associate members.
That membership level is frozen at 400 and each member pays $300.
The remainder of the club’s funds come from sponsorship and fund-raising activities.
Club president Alex McKenzie said the decision to restrict associate membership had been taken to maintain the surf life saving and competition culture of the club.
“We provide a rescue service to the community and we offer our members the opportunity to participate in the sport of life saving,” he said.
“We also decided that we wanted to be valued by the community. If you’re not valued by the community you run the risk of just becoming another sportsman’s club.”
Mr McKenzie said he felt the club had turned away from the sport of life saving over the past 10 years.
“The perception of most of the clubs on the coast is that North Cottesloe is more of a sportsman’s club, something we’re trying to address,” he said.
While the perception may be that the club is not as strong as it once was in the sporting side, in the beach patrolling environment it is going strongly.
Mr McKenzie said most clubs would have about 10 patrol captains.
“At North Cottesloe we have 30 patrol captains with up to 30 people per patrol. The majority of those people are of the non-competitive variety and are doing it for the community service aspect,” he said.
Surf Life Saving WA general manager David Armstrong said the strong community focus taken by North Cottesloe had been part of its success.
“The club has marketed itself to the area as a club for people to be involved with,” he said.
“To support that they have a very strong training regime that people seem to enjoy.”
That training approach has also helped North Cottesloe to continue to build on its membership numbers.
Mr McKenzie said keeping junior members who had passed their surf life saving bronze medallion was the challenge facing every surf club.
“We put about 120 bronze holders through each year. The question for us is retention. If we have an attrition of more than 25 per cent then it’s a waste of resources,” he said.
Another factor in the club’s success has been its determination to run as a professional enterprise, a decision taken about 10 years ago.
The managing committee created a strategic plan and the club, Mr McKenzie said, had stuck to it.
“We monitor our strategic plan virtually every three months. That way the plan becomes a living document,” he said.
“The club is approached and thought of as a business. If you approach it as a volunteer organisation you end up with peaks and valleys in revenue.”
The club has employed a full-time administrator and there are plans to add another full-time person to help with running the club.
Mr McKenzie said having the administrator took a lot of the pressure off the members – something that made being a member more enjoyable.
“Members aren’t expected to do everything,” he said. “Most surf life saving members are happy to do the core business of surf life saving rescues and then go home.
“They are not encumbered by a lot of the other duties that hit other clubs. In the 21st century you can’t impose the same sort of things life saving imposed on members in the past century.”
And what does the future hold for North Cottesloe?
Mr McKenzie said there were development plans on the horizon.
“We’re outgrowing our facilities and we’re putting together a three-year plan to see what facilities we might need into the future,” he said.
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