The Golf Club Managers Association held its biennial Conference at the Barcelo Hinckley Island Hotel last week and exceeded all expectations in terms of both attendance by delegates and take up of exhibition space.
Sponsored by Fairway Credit the 2009 Conference as a whole was attended by more than 250 people – a considerable increase over 2007 – so GCMA Chief Executive Keith Lloyd was not surprisingly in a very positive mood when introducing the programme which was entitled ‘Managing Change’.
Talking about the GCMA itself Keith said that the average age of members has fallen. Of the 172 GCMA members attending the Conference, 33% were under 50 years. “Golf club management is no longer a ‘tail-end’ career,” he said. An ever-increasing proportion of the membership has attended the residential training conferences that GCMA holds near its headquarters in Weston-super-Mare.
“Another change is that around 20% of the membership are women,” said Keith. “This is not as high as in the Golf Club Management Association of Sweden, where at least 45% of members are women, but it is a significant move in the right direction.”
The Conference included in-depth presentations and discussions about many of the issues that golf club managers have to cope with on a daily basis. These included affordable golf; course presentation; the great catering debate – ‘Franchise v In-House’; the Single Equality Bill; slow play; and Golf’s future in a ‘thirsty’ world. Expert advice came from Steve Isaac and Keith Duff of The R&A; Laurence Pithie of Turf Master One and consultant agronomist Peter Jones; Steven Brown of Inn-Formation; Michael Shaw from the National Golf Clubs’ Advisory Association; James Crampton of the EGU; and Robert Jackson of Lely (UK).
The Conference recognised that perhaps the biggest change in today’s economic climate is that it is now the golfer who chooses the club rather than the other way round. Few clubs still have waiting lists; most have vacancies and in England there are said to be around 1.4 million golfers who play at least 12 times a year but who see no need to join any one particular club.
How to attract these ‘nomad golfers’ was a major pre-occupation of the Conference and rightly so. All of the Home Golf Unions report falling golf club memberships and there are those who say that at least 100 golf clubs must close before there is equilibrium in the marketplace between supply and demand.
Of course these problems are by no means confined to the British Isles and the way in which New Zealand golf has been marketed to attract new members and regain lapsed members was commended with a visit to www.golfclubhub.co.nz strongly recommended.
The details of various forms of flexible memberships were presented by David O’Sullivan from China Fleet Hotel, Golf and Country Club and Mark Betteridge of Yeovil Golf Club with the implications for club constitutions closely considered. It was recognised that retention of members is almost always less expensive than recruiting new ones. Traditional golf club membership suits retired persons best while busy, working people with family responsibilities find that kind of regime to be completely alien to the requirements of their lifestyle.
GCMA research shows that top of the list when surveys are conducted about what needs to change in golf are things like the club structure, perceived elitism and ‘petty’ restrictions.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that such behaviour is confined to the men. Many golf club managers said that some of the biggest barriers to the recruitment of more and younger women members are erected by cliques of the existing elderly matrons, who, when it comes to ‘mixed golf’, can be more intransigent and less progressive in their outlook towards ‘integration’ than the men.
Over the years I have been to many golf conferences. Frequently I have come away feeling that the delegates have been given too little opportunity to ask questions and no chance whatever of making their own contributions to the collective wisdom of the assembled company.
This time there was no such regret. Opportunities for audience participation were abundant and contributions from the floor were positively encouraged. I can honestly say that I’m already looking forward to the next GCMA Conference – what a pity that I’ve got to wait two years!
Golf Club Managers Association www.gcma.org.uk