Recently installed as Chair of the National Club Association (NCA), Nick Sidorakis, CCM, has been the general manager and COO of Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa, Okla., for more than 27 years. He previously worked for the Marriott Corporation in a variety of general management positions and owned and operated Sleepy Hollow Inn, a continental cuisine restaurant in Scotch Plains, N.J. Under his leadership, the club has hosted the 1995 and 1996 TOUR Championships, the 2001 U.S. Open, the 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship, the 2021 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and the 2007 and 2022 PGA Championships.
Sidorakis attended The University of Houston Hotel and Restaurant Management School and Florida State University’s Hotel and Restaurant Management School. He is co-founder of The First Tee of Tulsa and The First Serve programs, and currently serves as president of The First Tee of Tulsa program and is chairman of the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame. He also served as a member of the board of the CMAA Kansas/Oklahoma Chapter and as its president.
[Club Director] Tell me about what brought you to Southern Hills in 1995 and why you’ve stayed so long.
[Nick Sidorakis] A good friend of mine, Joe Shershenovich, director of golf at Grayhawk, recommended me for the job at Southern Hills Country Club in late 1994. He knew the head
of the search committee, Ken Selby, who was the founder and owner of Mazzio’s Corporation, a chain of pizza restaurants in 10 states. At a young age, I always wanted to become a professional golfer, but things changed when my father got stomach cancer and died when I was 21. I felt if I couldn’t play in a professional golf championship, I might as well run one at great club. Lo and behold, I was hired at Southern Hills Country Club because Ken Selby believed in me. I didn’t have the pedigree that some of the other candidates had, but had the work ethic, experience running restaurants and multi-unit food service operations with the Marriott Corporation, and grew up in a country club, so I knew the service levels that the membership expected.
[CD] Tell me a little bit about your personal life. [NS] Southern Hills and Tulsa have become my home. My wife,
Karla and I—mostly her—raised three great children in Tulsa: Nick
and his wife Hunter, Christopher (CJ) and his wife Amanda, and Alexa and her husband Tye. We have four granddaughters: Char- lie, Campbell, Scottie and Banks.
During my downtime I like to play golf, still play competitive senior amateur golf events in Oklahoma, read, watch movies and garden when the time permits.
I grew up in Westfield, N.J., and have two older sisters and a younger brother. I got the golf bug when I was 11—my father had a membership at Shackamaxon Golf & Country Club, and I lived and breathed golf while growing up. I played a lot of competitive amateur golf events, won a couple. I won the Club Championship twice at Shackamaxon. The highlight was winning the regional USGA Junior Amateur qualifying in New York. and playing in the 1976 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Hiwan Golf Club, in Hiwan, Colo. I lost in a playoff to go to match play.
My father died in May, 1981, at the end of my junior year of college at Florida State University and I took over his 250-seat restaurant, Sleepy Hollow Inn, in Scotch Plains, N.J.
[CD] Southern Hills hosted the PGA Championship this year on pretty quick notice—just more than a year. Tell me about the preparation for that and what it was like?
[NS] The membership at Southern Hills is why I have spent over 27 years as general manager/chief operating officer. They are so supportive of our vision “to being one of the premier country clubs in the world.” When you have that in your vision statement, it sets the tone for all decisions made by our board. Our membership truly treats our staff like family and the leadership at Southern Hills has allowed me to run and operate the club without any interference in club operations. I cannot tell you how fortunate I am to have had 27 great presidents who have supported me.
Southern Hills was awarded the 2022 PGA Championship on January, 20, 2021, four months prior to hosting the 2021 Senior PGA Championship and 16 months prior to the 2022 PGA.
It was extremely beneficial that the PGA team was already here in place for the planning, organization and logistics for the 2021 Senior PGA. We had all the volunteers in place. Corporate hospitality sales had already broken all previous records for the PGA Senior Championship. Once we were awarded the 2022 PGA Championship, we started planning for both championships
[CD] Any surprising moments in that process up to and through the tournament? Best moment?
[NS] No surprising moments, we spent so much time and effort in the preplanning process of both championships. You deal with the normal Monday and Tuesday issues of a championship, but once Wednesday comes, things were pretty smooth. There are many great moments leading up to the PGA. You have a lot of Tour players coming to play the golf course because they haven’t seen it or played it, especially after the restoration in 2018. So we had Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Jordan Speith and Scott Scheffler—it was neat interacting with them.
Tiger Woods came to play the end of April and I had the oppor- tunity to walk nine holes with him. That was one of the major highlights. Our Director of Golf, Cary Cozby, caddied for Tiger that day—one he will remember for the rest of his life.
Another highlight was being on the 18th green for the awards ceremony with the champion, Justin Thomas, our executive com- mittee, our golf course superintendent Russ Myers who’s the best in the business and a dear friend, and Cozby; both are dear friends and the best in the business in their respective fields. Just to share that time with them after all the hard work and long hours and the sat- isfaction that we hosted the best major championship in the history of Southern Hills. All the preplanning, preparation and organization that went into the PGA paid off. It was one of the highlights of my career, knowing that everything we planned for executed to the best of our ability. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome, playoff, five-under winning score, great champion in Justin Thomas, just great theater. The golf course was magnificent!
[CD] Tulsa sports columnist Bill Haisten recently called your efforts to bring the tournament to Tulsa “heroic” and wrote you should be inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. What’s your reaction to that?
[NS] Over the last 25 years, my board has given me the responsibili- ty to network, develop relationships and lead the quest to secure fu- ture major championships at Southern Hills. I have been fortunate to develop great relationships and work with the PGA and USGA host- ing their respective championships. I wouldn’t call my efforts heroic, that’s a journalist’s view, but I had a small part to play in securing these championships. The leadership and membership of Southern Hills are the ones that have allowed me to lead them over the years.
[CD] What advice do you have for clubs hosting PGA events, especially majors?
[NS] The beauty of hosting major championships at Southern Hills is that it’s who we are— it’s part of our brand and it has been part of our tradition since 1945. Our membership knows we host majors every 10 to 15 years, and it’s important that you commu- nicate this to the members. The membership is extremely proud to host major championships and amateur golf events. They are proud of what it does for the City of Tulsa and State of Oklahoma. This year’s championship is estimated to bring in over $140 mil- lion of economic impact to the City of Tulsa, over $4.6 million in sales tax and $4 million in state tax.
[CD] You head up the Citizens Golf Advisory Com- mittee in Tulsa, which recently kicked off a $1 mil- lion fundraising campaign to renovate two public golf courses. Why are public courses a priority for a country club GM—why are you spearheading that?
[NS] I grew up playing and competing at public golf courses— public golf courses are important; that’s where most golfers get their start. Our First Tee of Tulsa program is headquartered at Mohawk Park Golf Course. I founded it with one our members and past president of Southern Hills John Johnson in 1999. Mo- hawk GC is one of the city-owned golf courses. With all the budget cuts over the last 10 years, the golf course condition deteriorated and it was painful to watch. A friend of mine, Ken McLeod, who owns Golf Oklahoma and who’s on the board of the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame with me, asked if I would get involved.
When I toured the golf courses, I wanted to throw up. They were just in terrible condition and it was embarrassing. So now I am spearheading a grassroots fundraising campaign to raise over $1 million in the next four to six months so we can get the City of Tulsa match of $1 million.
[CD] What is your club’s recipe for a successful GM- Board relationship?
[NS] I have been fortunate to have such a long run as GM/ COO at Southern Hills. I have served with 27 presidents dur- ing my tenure. We have somewhat of a unique structure: the Southern Hills Executive Committee is comprised of president; first, second, and third vice president; and the GM. The third through first vice presidents ascend to the presidency after serving one year in the respective VP positions. So I have the privilege of working closely with each of them for four years, I get to know their thought process, their hot buttons, how they like to receive information and how they make decisions. If one of our executive committee members doesn’t agree with a deci- sion, we don’t move forward with it. The committee is very uni- fied and cohesive and it makes for a very successful GM/ board/ executive committee relationship.
[CD] What’s the long-term outlook for private clubs from your perspective? Where should
GMs and boards be placing their priorities right now to succeed?
[NS] Country clubs and golf clubs have experienced significant changes since COVID-19. Golf participation has experienced a resurgence along with many outdoor activities.
The average age of our new members joining Southern Hills is 42 years of age with two to three children. This demographic wants all the amenities clubs can offer, they want unique experi-
ences that favor clubs. That’s what clubs do best is provide, unique personalized service.
Many clubs are planning for renovations, but the recent down- turn in the economy, inflation and the supply chain has placed many
clubs in the predicament that they have to delay their renovations until we get a better understanding of what the future holds.
[CD] The Great Resignation, spurred by COVID-19, doesn’t seem to want to give up. What’s your best strategy for hiring and retaining great staff?
[NS] COVID-19 has forced clubs to relook at themselves when it comes to staffing, recruiting and retaining hourly and salaried per- sonnel. Many clubs are still finding it difficult to get to a fully staffed model and cannot open dining rooms, kitchens and other areas of the club. In addition, the days of managers working 60 to 70 hour weeks are gone and what used to take one manager to run a dining room
is now taking two managers because they don’t want to work those hours. Work-life balance and quality of life are extremely important when recruiting managers and it has become increasingly difficult to fill entry level and mid-management level positions. It has made the life of HR directors, GMs and managers much more difficult.
Clubs need to have a great culture that treats employees with respect, pays a competitive wage, listens to them, provides posi- tive and constant feedback and thanks them for a job well done.
[CD] Why are you an NCA member?
[NS] I am an NCA member because the Association serves as the voice of the club industry on Capitol Hill, and we are the leader in our publications, Club Director, Club Trends, Club Governance and Club Business. In addition, the best practices and guidance we pro- vide in the latest on laws and regulations are outstanding.
During the last two and a half years of the pandemic, NCA has separated itself from other industry organizations with our educa- tion, webinars and guidance during this very difficult time. NCA is in the boardrooms, guiding the GM/CEO/COO and the board members, helping them navigate strategic issues with their club governance.
[CD] What professional advice would you give to your younger self?
[NS] The best advice I can give is to always be visible with the membership. The club business is a relationship business with your members, their guests and our team. Provide outstanding service and experiences for the members and always anticipate your members needs and wants.
[CD] What’s the last great book you read?
[NS] The Bible.
[CD] What’s something people don’t know about you?
[NS] That I am a shy person and keep to myself.