Bob Buckingham, a member of Golf Business International, spent more than 43 years in the grounds-care industry – 24 of them masterminding sales and business development for industry giant Toro – before setting up his own successful consultancy, Consult BB Ltd
You’ve been involved with the golf industry for more than 40 years, in various roles – what are the biggest differences and changes you’ve noticed in that time, for good and bad?
Wow, that is a big question. Since the time of greens being cut at 5 to 6mm and fairways with gang mowers, yes, a lot has changed and not just with the heights of cut and improved maintenance practices in all forms of sports turf maintenance.
The real changes have come in the way facilities are managed, buying practices, player expectations, the formation of buying groups, the qualifications requirements for the practitioners and the overall professionalism that now exists in what was, only 30 years ago, deemed to be a very ‘agricultural’ industry.
Having spent so long working for some of the industry’s major players, how have the last couple of years working as a consultant been different for you?
Having worked with three excellent manufacturing companies in my 40-plus-year career, most of my perspective of the industry was driven from the position of trying to help my company supply the best products to support the growth of this new-found professionalism, demand for productivity and consistently improved playing surfaces.
When I made the move into business development consultancy, I was better positioned to understand the customers’ needs rather than just trying to fulfil the company’s market share or fiscal objectives. There are many more purchasing options available to customers today than just buying from single-source suppliers.
Which areas do you find yourself working in now, more than ever?
Unlike many of my colleague members of Golf Business International, my background is not closely aligned to the services of golf and sports turf facility development and or improvement, but about the supply channel of both product and services to the practitioners. My area of expertise with Toro saw vast improvements in how product and services were supplied from manufacturer to end user.
What I have been doing as a consultant is to utilise that experience in supporting some smaller businesses improve their own channel processes, enter into new markets and/or improve their market shares within existing markets.
What is the biggest – or most difficult – career decision you’ve made?
To take the step out of the security of working for a large mainline manufacturer, earning a good salary, and to enter the more nebulous arena of consultancy, not really knowing how viable my services or experience would be to others.
What’s been your biggest success?
Having worked for six different businesses since becoming independent, I am currently focused on two. One is a small niche market manufacturer out of Australia, and the other an equipment supplier out of the USA. Both are very different business and both excellent operations, BUT each offering today’s more discerning end user alternative viable options other than feeling either committed to, or beholden to, the three or four mainline suppliers.
If I was an end user today I would be far more discerning in my purchasing practices to ensure that I could buy the BEST or most COST-EFFECTIVE product option for my facility. Too many of us today are restricted by conformity and just doing it because this is the “way it was always done”.
You joined Golf Business International – or the Golf Consultants Association as it was then – in 2015; what role do you believe the organisation can play in the future of golf?
I was very fortunate to have had a friendship with (chairman) Howard Swan that has existed since the mid-80s. I originally met with GCA as a guest of Howard. During this first meeting I listened to some excellent presentations and speakers from within the membership and was very impressed by the professionalism and depth of knowledge about the industry within the membership. Having seen many of the individual and team projects won and completed by the members, here is an organisation that truly can offer all services required in sports turf and facility management or development.
Which of the many services available with Golf Business International have impressed you the most and why?
For me it is the depth of skills within the membership that allow for either individual consultancy projects for existing facilities or ‘turn-key’ type projects, where members operate together to manage a complete project.
What are the biggest issues currently facing the golf industry?
For the past 10 years, at every annual association function that I have attended, be it KPMG, FEGGA, EGCOA, CMA etc, or even our own meetings, the main message has been “how do we grow the game of golf?”
With an ageing membership, the current work ethic/pressure on the younger generation, which doesn’t allow them the four to five hours required for a full 18 holes, the industry needs to find ways for bringing in new members – kids, families, women and the current business executives.
What changes would you make to the game of golf – and why?
I love the game of golf and I love it the way it is today, pretty much. Tradition has made golf an 18-hole game set, in many venues, against a backdrop of too much formality. Maybe there are two areas to look at.
Design / layout courses that more easily facilitate nine or 12 holes of play, such as Felixstowe Ferry GC. Many of the younger players now enjoy an after-work short round
Dress code: While I don’t want to see a complete drop in standards I do feel that there are facilities where the younger generation don’t feel comfortable. This generation dresses differently to the older formality as required by many facilities today and if this continues then clubs will struggle to bring in new membership. Do we want jeans and tee shirts on the course? No, but if a branded pair of jeans and a shirt is the “going out” uniform of today, then should it not be accepted clubhouse attire …?
Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC, in South Africa, changed its clubhouse attire rules 10 years ago and now enjoys a membership far higher than it did in its glory days.
What or whom has provided the best memories for you in your career?
Two-fold. Golf has no borders. I have travelled the world, played golf and met so many like-minded people. This industry is like a very big golf club. And new builds: Starting a project with an architect and then through all of the phases of construction to finally seeing (and playing) an end result. That’s fabulous!
If you had forged a career in any other part of the golf industry what would you have liked to have done – and why?
I suppose a bit of the above: golf construction. Taking a piece of virgin land and turning into a facility that gives so much pleasure to so many for so long.
The non-profit Golf Business International, formed in 1999 as the Golf Consultants Association, is unique in the UK in its ability to make available a team of highly-respected and experienced golf industry professionals to deal with any aspect of the business of golf through from conception to end.