Had it not been for the infamous stock market crash of 10 years ago, Tony Judge might still be running the investment property business he launched five years earlier.
Instead, in 2010, Judge, and his business partner Gerry McKernan, launched Clubs to Hire (CTH) – a company renting hire sets of golf clubs to travelling golfers – after simply chatting about how the sector was not being serviced properly.
Eight years on, CTH has experienced consistent year-on-year growth and now offers the rental service to golfers from 28 locations worldwide.
But Judge is a firm believer in the old business adage that ‘if you stand still, you go backwards’ and so CTH is offering companies, resorts, like-minded individuals and even tourist boards the opportunity to be part of what he believes is currently ‘golf’s biggest success story’.
He has identified a number of geographical target markets and is looking for partners in those areas to whom CTH will lease new, top-of-the-range Callaway or TaylorMade clubs to enable the lessee to rent clubs to golfers in that territory.
The clubs will be replaced on an annual basis, while the leasee – a de facto Clubs to Hire for the region – will benefit from business driven to it by the CTH website and will be able to market itself, and its region, to the existing, extensive database. For further information contact email@example.com
Judge believes the subsequent relationships between CTH and its partners will be symbiotic, citing a successful scheme already in place with the five-star Cypriot resort, Aphrodite Hills.
He explained: “CTH has expanded at such a rate that we’re looking now for people to join us in certain locations enabling us to set up the service quicker and more effectively than we would if it were to be a 100 per cent CTH operation.
“People already in those locations won’t have to jump through the same bureaucratic hoops we would if we decided to simply launch a new outlet. After the initial, relatively small, outlay they would be able to hit the ground running utilising all their local knowledge and contacts.
“What they don’t have to concern themselves with is the marketing and international order taking. They will be included in all the marketing we undertake for all CTH outlets across the globe, while the customer-facing order process is dealt with by our existing ecommerce website. Any revenue the partner generates locally is theirs and is not shared with CTH.
“It’s a great opportunity for businesses and individuals to get involved in what is currently one of golf’s biggest success stories. At a time when we keep reading about a drop-off in participation and increasing numbers of clubs being sold to property developers we’re delighted that CTH is demonstrating growth and providing a positive story for the industry.”
He added: “We are already working on a similar revenue-share agreement with Aphrodite Hills, in Cyprus, which has seen club-hire business at the resort rise by almost 140 per cent during 2018. It’s a proven strategy.”
Judge’s background had previously blurred largely between finance and golf. He worked for five years as a marketing executive for the Smurfit Group, before becoming director of golf at Mount Juliet, in 1995, where he oversaw the successful hosting of the Irish Open, growing turnover by 100 per cent.
After a spell at St Margaret’s Golf & Country Club, in Dublin, he moved to South Africa, in 2000, where he ran an IT company with 180 staff and 7,000 clients. His return to Dublin, in 2003, coincided with the launch of the investment property business with McKernan, and a subsequent conversation over a couple of pints of the ‘black stuff’ alerted the duo to a business opportunity.
Judge recalled: “Just from our own experiences and anecdotal evidence from other golfers we knew, we realised that travelling golfers were being hard done by. Not only did they have to pay often extortionate fees for the airlines to carry their clubs, but they also had the hassle of carrying them through the airport and checking them in separately.
“We thought there must be a better way and Clubs to Hire was that way. A couple of people told us it wouldn’t work because golfers would want to play with their own clubs … yet here we are, eight years on, with 28 outlets across five continents and having rented out more than half-a-million sets of clubs.
“It may be true that serious golfers prefer their own fitted clubs, but, our experience has shown that the majority of golfers going away with mates are heading off for fun and, therefore, reducing the amount of stress – and, additionally, being able to play with up-to-date, top-of-the-range, top-brand clubs – becomes much more attractive to them.”
That may well be the case, but, for many, it’s simply the cost which determines they will give their business to CTH. With hire sets starting from just €35 per week, and with airline carriage charges as high as €100 each way, for a golfer who’s looking to enjoy some holiday golf, it becomes a ‘no brainer’. And there’s no immediate sign of the airlines releasing their cash cow.
The success of Judge and McKernan’s business did not go unnoticed and it sparked a number of enquiries from various elements of the golf industry to see if they too could tap into the market. Subsequently, two offshoots of CTH were launched – variations on a theme, if you like.
Clubs to Buy offers previous rental sets for purchase at below market value to consumers, while Clubs to Lease enables resorts to lease new, top-of-the-range sets to use as hire sets for its customers. With lease costs on TaylorMade and Callaway product from as little as €55 per month, it makes sound economic business sense for venues to lease knowing they will have new clubs every 12 months, while not having to pay the normal purchase price for a set of top-of-the-range clubs.
“Leasing from us make sense because, at around €55 per set per month, the golf club only have to rent them out once or twice and they’ve already made their money back, effectively increasing their profitability in one fell swoop,” explained Judge.
“What’s more, golfers are delighted because they have brand new top-of-the-range clubs – and the accounts department are pleased too, because they make money and have no depreciation to worry about.”
The demand is clearly there, and, with his latest initiative, Judge is hoping the successful CTH service and ethos will be available soon in a number of popular golfing locations, including Tunisia; Kalamata, Greece; Nice and Paris, in France; Italy; Portugal’s Eastern Algarve; Bulgaria; Slovenia; and specific regions in the British Isles and Spain.
And, with established relationships with more than 600 golf tour operators in 62 countries, it’s clear that both the golf and travel industries have delivered a positive verdict on Judge.
Pictured top: David Howell (left) is a CTH ambassador
Clubs To Hire www.ClubstoHire.com