Golf Business News talks to Colin Mayes, chief executive of Burhill Golf & Leisure, owner/operator of a portfolio of ten golf clubs in the UK, about the current state of the golf industry and what BGL is doing to take its slice of the increasingly competitive leisure market.
GBN: How has the first quarter of 2019 been for BGL across the business?
Colin Mayes: Very positive. Q1 has been the driest and mildest winter period for nearly 40 years, so many more golfers have been out playing golf than this time last year. We’ve had a minimal number of days when our courses were closed so, overall, we have got off to a great start to the 2019 season. This has been further helped by the good weather in April, and particularly around the Masters Tournament, which always excites the UK golfer and prompts many of them to dust off their clubs from the garage and get out on to our courses.
GBN: What are the primary factors that have led to rounds played being up in 2019? Is it simply just favourable weather or is there more to it?
CM: Weather is always a critical factor, and there is no getting away from that simple fact. However, I also firmly believe that our golfing customer is becoming more quality conscious, so golf businesses that are investing in their product, staff, food and beverages will be winning more customers than those who are not. Just like all retail customers, the golfer wants value for money and that comes in many different shapes and sizes. Whether it is a championship course at a private club or the nine-holes at your local golf centre, the key focus is that you are listening to your customers and delivering what they want at a price they can afford.
GBN: What does a golf club have to offer to succeed in today’s marketplace?
CM: Clubs have to look after their core product – the golf course – as well as ensuring that their staff are welcoming, and that their customers – members and visitors – have a great day. I am consistently reminding our teams that our customers all have a choice where to spend their leisure time and their hard-earned cash.
Golf course owners/operators need to recognise this and fully understand that they are in the hospitality business, and therefore guest care must be the number one priority. Managers must also make sure that they stay in touch with their customers through effective sales and marketing strategies, and be very aware of the financial performance of the business. They must have the necessary business reports to ensure they have their fingers on the pulse of the business, as without profit they will not be able to continuously invest in their facility and people.
GBN: Who realistically do you see as your venues’ competitors now? Is it more than just neighbouring golf clubs?
CM: As golf operators/owners, we must recognise that we are competing for a slice of the leisure spend. Most people in this country work hard and now have quite a choice on where and how they spend their disposable income. Everyone will have seen the continuous growth in what is available to entertain families, groups and singles. Be it restaurants, bars, traditional favourites like ten-pin bowling, visiting the cinema etc. Just look at the way cinema viewing has changed in recent years, with the ever-increasing range of facilities such as small boutique-style operators where you can have service to your seat and choose from quite a selection of drinks and a restaurant-style food service. Our competitors are anybody that encourages our guests to enjoy themselves at their business.
Golf is best played with your friends and family. Yes, the professional game is all about individuals, but the majority of our customers play golf because they want to enjoy social interaction with their friends and family while also getting some exercise and fresh air. For some, the competition is also fun and engaging, but, in my view, often it’s not the number one priority. It’s the time spent with your loved ones and the enjoyment you take from it that really matters in life, and more and more people are slowly realising this.
GBN: Tell us about the growth of BGL’s Adventure Leisure division?
CM: Well, from very humble beginnings, opening our first outdoor Adventure Golf Course at Abbey Hill Golf Club in Milton Keynes, we now operate six outdoor sites and by July this year we will be at seven indoor sites, all of which are performing very well indeed.
Our Adventure Leisure business will soon be turning over in excess of £10m a year, and we already have our sights set on a minimum of another three or four sites next year. I know many in our industry are very critical of Adventure Golf, saying it’s not ‘real golf’. My answer to this is that there are a great many people, both here and in the US, who first picked up a putter and a ball at a seaside crazy golf course, and for many this interest with golf remains with them. It is not a coincidence that where we have an Adventure Golf site at one of our clubs, our junior programmes at those sites are always very busy.
The more people using a club and a ball in any form can only help drive up participation numbers. So, operators like Topgolf, and those people operating similar experiences, should be congratulated for bringing so many potential new customers into the game.
GBN: Do you still foresee growth in your traditional golf club portfolio in the short/mid-term?
CM: That’s unlikely, unless it can be combined with wider health and leisure facilities. Or it would be a simple driving range/adventure golf course/9-hole par 3 facility? I firmly believe that there are still too many very poor or average golf clubs in the country that are probably only just getting by. They don’t generate enough profit to reinvest.
Speaking with my commercial head on, they should close. That way the healthy will survive and prosper, and, in turn, our industry will become stronger. This is starting to happen as I predicted when I first came into the industry, it’s just taken longer to so that than I expected. Albeit I think the pace [of closures] will change as more and more towns and cities around the country are revisiting their options for land that can be used for housing.
GBN: What are the primary issues facing the golf industry over the next five years?
CM: Very simply, it is about getting more people to participate; that needs to be the number one objective for all of us in the industry, be it owners, private members’ clubs or the professional organisations – R&A, PGA and England Golf.
Those of us that are highly customer-focused are all doing well; last year BGL grew memberships and revenues in all areas, with group operating profits almost 20% up when compared to 2017. Why? Because we all work very hard at giving our customers what they want, and are constantly looking at what we can do better.
Given the fast-changing trends within the leisure industry, today my overriding message to our people is that we constantly need to be looking over our shoulders and saying to ourselves: “How can we do this better?” It’s not easy trying to convince yourself that we can always do better, but if you want to consistently succeed, this is one rule you firmly need to buy into.
Colin Mayes, thank you very much
For more details, visit www.bglcompany.co.uk