In the spring of 1998, Chris and I joined a golf club in Scotland sight unseen. That is, I had seen it on television and read about it in a book. It looked and sounded extraordinary.
The initiation fee was $5,000, plus two letters of recommendation. I worried about both. Marriage was finally in the air and this was an expense and a distraction. Would it be worth it?
As humans, everything we do is based on a value matrix. Time and money are the most common. But we apply value to every moment of our existence. Is it better to be asleep or awake. To listen to music or news. Classic or rock. To eat now or later. Well or carelessly. To listen or ignore.
Each demands a judgement. And as a species, and as individuals, we have developed a sophisticated matrix that allows us to make decisions and move forward, or not, thousands of times a day. It happens at light speed and you’re using it at this moment, and this moment, and this one.
For deciding it's worth coming a little further with me.
At the core of this matrix are definitions of value. Sometimes sophisticated. Sometimes simplistic. Some are static. Some are fluid. Some are provided. Like the law. Some are personal. The trick is knowing when to re-assess them. A value equation in itself.
In early 1998, we plugged $5,000 and two letters of recommendation into our value matrix, added a magazine article we had just found about the Club to the soup and stirred.
Three months later we drove up to the guard gates for the first time as members and, without introduction, were greeted by eleven words. Eleven words which set a standard that, for the next nine years, never wavered.
“Ah, Mr Day. Welcome to Loch Lomond. We’ve been expecting you.”
First impressions are powerful. And set a tone. They define value instantly and reinforce it over time. As a business owner, your first impression is one of your most valuable assets. Making it powerful is under-valued by most entrepreneurs.
This, however, was a first impression of magical proportions. Our first visit. A rented car. No photograph. And four months before Google existed. As owners of a service business we were mesmerized by this small but powerful feat of customer connection.
Loch Lomond, we were soon to discover, was a place where magic happened on a regular basis. A breathtaking, romantic, timeless place where dreams came true. A real life Brigadoon. With the added benefit of five star facilities and six star service.
Driving into the stunning grounds on that first afternoon, past two of the most beautiful golf holes I had ever seen - the hills as backdrop to one and the Loch as backdrop to the other - I started to worry there had been a mistake. Could we really be members of this?
Aspiration is a delicate attribute for a business to instill and maintain. Too much and you seem aloof and disinterested. Too little and it becomes cheap glitz. Affected and inauthentic. Creating an aspirational brand requires taste. Maintaining one requires sensitivity and judgment.
As we parked the car, desperately trying to hide the accumulated sweet wrappers and empty Coke bottles of a three hour cross-country drive, we sat for a second and looked at each other. ‘Can you believe this?’ Chris asked, straight faced. I shook my head. ‘Let’s leave the stuff in the car for now until they actually let us check in,” she suggested.
When the pair of matching Range Rovers suddenly screeched to a halt on either side of our car - one for us and one for the luggage - the choice was taken out of our hands. Nonchalantly, we tried to act as though this was how we arrived everywhere we went.
Moments later we were deposited gently at a set of stone steps that led up to the most magnificent Georgian mansion I have still ever seen.
One man stepped forward from the phalanx of uniformed staff. “Mr and Mrs Day. My name’s Robert. Welcome to Rossdhu.”
He turned and led the way up. And after a moment’s hesitation, we followed. As we reached the imposing front doors, I stopped to survey the sweeping views of the Loch. ‘It’s quite something, isn’t it,” said Robert proudly.
I nodded and glanced at Chris. She smiled.
“Robert,” I said, summoning up my most casual voice. “Do you do weddings?”