You have been consulting for 10 years now, how have things changed?
My experience in golf is all around operating and making the business financially successful. It was very difficult at first as, while there was an acceptance to engage a consultant in areas of speciality, such as agronomy, HR or legal advice, clubs already operate with a general manager or secretary and therefore they questioned the need to engage someone like me. That has changed considerably.
How did you overcome this and where did you find work?
It was all about talking to the right people. Ideally the chairman of a club or an owner who did not operate themselves – then maybe start on a particular project that was a little away from the day-to-day operating of the business. During this time, I would gain the trust of those running the business day to day and slowly integrate. I was also fortunate to talk to the right people and successfully gained some management contracts.
How do you see this going in the next 10 years?
I think with the current market in golf, many clubs ae starting to struggle and beginning to accept they may need some help, even in the private sector, which, considering the tax advantages they have, is somewhat surprising. But the use of an operational business consultant or contracting a manager from a commercial golf background is now more prevalent. So I see the future being positive.
Where do you see clubs going wrong?
In most cases they do not have a focused strategy aligned across all aspects of their business. I fully understand this can be tough, if the need is very short term, for cash-flow reasons or just trying to make next month’s figures, because that is how you are being judged. But you need to be defined in what you are trying to achieve to be successful.
You talk about a golf business needing to define itself, how do you see this?
The more I visit different clubs, both successful and not, operating in different market segments, the more I see those who have defined their brand, defined their position in the local golf market, aligned their costs to produce a product and a level of service that is appropriate to the charges they are asking, then the more successful they are.
Have you been successful in implementing this through your business?
Yes, most recently at two clubs, in very different market positions: Windlesham Golf Club, in Surrey, and Worldham Golf Club, in Hampshire. Windlesham is in an area surrounded by some very notable clubs – The Berkshire, Swinley Forest, Sunningdale etc – along with a lot of similar newer clubs all vying for the same market and competing mainly on price.
There was a gap in the market to sit between the two, to be ‘top of the first division’. Investment has been made in the product, both the course and clubhouse, and in service standards by recruiting the right people and implementing training programs; and, most importantly, ensuring everyone understands the brand and direction of the business.
It is a membership driven business and, by implementing this, we have driven the membership to a level that now makes the club successful.
Worldham is very different: it is on the edge of Alton, in Hampshire, with a mix of membership and green-fee income. Again, it was about defining the focus of the business, bringing costs in line with the product and service standard, and focusing sales on the core product: golf.
We wanted to ensure that anyone who thought about playing golf and lived in the Alton area would instinctively contact Worldham. The ethos was to make everyone feel welcome and enable them to enjoy the facilities irrelevant of their standard of golf. The focus was on selling golf and giving the customer choice in how they purchased it, whether they used the course, the range or played footgolf.
Moving to the wider outlook for golf, what do you see needs to happen to enable clubs to be more successful and encourage more people to take up or continue to play the game?
First, we have too many clubs, so, if some stop trading as golf clubs that is no bad thing for those that remain. Then there are too many offering the same middle-of-the-road product and only seem to compete on price.
The market needs stretching, so the customer chooses to go where suits them. There needs to be more and better ranges; more short courses; nine-hole courses and then a variety of 18-hole courses – some where you pay only £10 a round, can wear what you want, and it’s just fun. And others where it might be £100 a round or more, where you have to adhere to their rules and dress code on and off the course.
So long as the individual feels they have had value, then they will return and play again. People migrate to where suits them and where they feel comfortable with other like-minded golfers. We need to offer choice and a variety of venues so we appeal to a wider customer base, enabling as many people as possible to enjoy the game in whatever format and to have fun.
Neil Dainton, thank you very much
Neil Dainton Golf www.neildaintongolf.co.uk
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