The Golf Consultants Association’s Business of Golf Conference is a shop window for the unique range of services offered by its members. The Association (www.golfconsultants.org.uk) provides clients with expertise in such disciplines as corporate finance; development and investment appraisal; environmental management; market research; marketing and public relations; operational management; and property and real estate development.
The theme of this year’s gathering at The Celtic Manor Resort was ‘Profit from Golf’ and it attracted representatives from the length (Estonia to Cyprus) and breadth (Ireland to Slovakia) of Europe.
Naturally the majority of delegates came from the UK but, again, the range was impressive: from the owners of single courses to the operators of multiple facilities; from municipal pay and play to destination golf clubs and golf hotels and resorts, and from hands-on owner/managers to the directors and senior staff of companies running professional golf management contracts.
By way of providing a case study in high end golf development, the conference opened with Tom Sheehy, Cape Verde Development and Keith Haslam, operations director of PGA Golf Developments, describing how one of the world’s largest golf resort developments came about, and how it is taking shape. The role of master planning of golf resorts to optimise cash flow and profitability was described by Russell Bragg from Premier Resorts.
Financial advice came in presentations on both days. Norman Jackson and Gordon Miller, from Sunningdale Corporate Finance, described ways of avoiding mistakes when raising finance for new businesses. They encouraged their audience by demonstrating that they have actually succeeded in raising finance for a number of golf and leisure related clients, both conventional operations and also indoor golf centres.
Ian Henderson from Golf Finance explained that the financing of golf operations has come a long way from the days of hire purchase. Flexible funding is now readily available. This takes account not only of the life of the asset but also the individual requirements of the customer. Also, not only is finance available for golf course machinery, it can also be used for clubhouse improvements, new irrigation systems, additional land purchases and course extensions.
There were many presentations which concentrated on how profits can be improved – either by driving down costs or increasing revenues. David Rhodes, of Rhodes Consulting, encouraged many delegates by telling them that it is quite possible that they are spending too much, rather than too little, on water and their golf course consumables. Alan Prickett from Ransomes Jacobsen described ways of making the most of budgets for golf course machinery and maintenance while Ian Bulleid, Impetus Golf & Leisure, talked about the cost of poor service and how to avoid this problem.
Increasing revenue by yield management was the theme of Paul Heeney from Online Tee Times, who explained how the Internet has started a “tee time booking revolution” which is now a financial reality for many golf clubs. Gill Wilson, owner of Rye Hill Golf Club in Oxfordshire, explained her methods of “Open Golf” to increase participation. This means sweeping away many of golf’s prevailing attitudes to dress, which are perceived as being absurdly stuffy, unnecessary and dated.
Rye Hill’s Executive Membership package not only suits most people better than a conventional annual membership scheme but also provides management with improved systems control and marketing opportunities. The innovative ‘golf park’ facility for very young children not only introduces youngsters to the game of golf but also creates an awareness of environmental issues, IT and other skills. Gill explained that this package will become available to other operators early next year.
This emphasis on profit reinforced the presentation from Mark Smith for owners who wished to plan their ‘exit strategies’. He left delegates in no doubt that it matters little how much their courses had cost to develop nor how scenic their location; the only relevant factor in establishing value is the EBITDA (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) that their business had achieved in the last two or three years.
Summing up the conference Mike Shields, Chairman of the Golf Consultants Association, said, “The feedback we received from delegates was unanimously positive. I thought it was an inspiring and provocative Conference, both in terms of the presentations and the contributions from the floor.
“In those open sessions we detected a considerable degree of unrest from the industry’s commercial sector at the lack of communication, co-ordination and forward thinking in promoting the game in the UK, despite the commendable world-wide leadership provided by the R&A.
“The GCA Conference is now established as one of the industry’s less formal, more debate-driven events, which we know delegates find highly stimulating. The networking opportunities at the GCA Conference are outstanding. Next year we once again hope to provide a vehicle for debate between all involved in managing, developing, promoting and leading our beautiful game.”
Golf Consultants Association www.golfconsultants.org.uk