Global Edition

Never mind the weather!

8.20am 16th August 2007 - Management Topics

Last month was the wettest July across Britain as a whole since records began in 1766. The first two weeks of August have seen the highest temperatures of the year but there are no signs of prolonged dry weather.

How has all this impacted upon the business of golf? Golf Business News has been speaking to some of the country’s leading operators.

John Weir, executive director of Crown Golf, said, “Whilst some sectors of the golf market are suffering at the hands of the weather, this is not the case at Crown Golf. We are fortunate to have the benefit of ‘weather proofing‘ much of our business – by implementing proactive golf society and golf break sales from our in-house call centre, based at our Club Support offices in Bracknell (ironically the former home of the Met Office!).

“Even though the UK has seen the wettest May-July period since records began over 200 years ago, the past four weeks has seen our Contact Team generate the second highest month of pre-booked society golf since the centre was started in earnest some 15 months ago. Similarly, a data capture initiative has generated more than 6,000 new golfers, to whom we are making targeted offers by text and email, converting them into regular players with us.”

Colin Mayes, managing director, Burhill Golf & Leisure, says that golfers still came to his golf centres during the wet weather but their spending patterns differed from the norm. “The recent wet weather has been a real challenge to anyone involved with outdoor pursuits, and Burhill and its nine centres have been no exception. We have certainly noticed a rise in driving range takings and lessons. Many regulars who didn‘t fancy a round in the rain appear to have decided to have a session in the range, or even brush-up with a couple of lessons.

“It could be argued this has encouraged people to take to the course as soon as the rain stopped – sales across the Burhill estate during the first two weeks of August have seen double-digit growth compared to the previous year. This all goes to show you can‘t keep a golfer off the course for too long!

“At centres which have been particularly badly hit in the West and Midlands, the teams there have done their utmost to encourage golfers to spend within the clubhouse, with particular emphasis on retail and food and beverage; this has proven to be a successful tactic countering some of the course losses.”

David Allen, Operations Manager at Master Golfer Ltd., is equally positive. In fact he reckons that the impact of last year’s Football World Cup followed by a heat wave was worse than the effects of this year’s discouraging weather.

“Yet again the extraordinary summer weather has impacted on the number of rounds played. Last year it was called ‘global warming’ this year’s trendy term is ‘climate change’,” says David.

“Who of us predicted in 2006 the impact of a Football World Cup in Europe on the number of rounds of golf played in the UK during a time when we should be producing profits to help see us through the cold dark winter months?

“Most were struggling to break even – cost control was the order of the day – put on hold for a few weeks anything but necessary expenditure – it won’t last long – but then came one of the hottest summers for decades, most have reported revenues down by 10% or more. Rounds played not only effects green fee revenue but also impacts on the bar, catering and pro-shop turnover, which increases our staff percentage cost.

“Never mind, one aberrant year! Let’s look forward to 2007. The early spring drought gave the industry dire warnings of another hot summer. We are used to this, we learned from last year – contingency is in place – but we all know what happened, one of the wettest summers in recorded history. Although revenues have not been effected to the same degree as last year some have had to endure flooded clubs and golf courses. At one of our clubs we had three foot of water coursing through our equipment compound twice in as many weeks.”

David concludes, “We will not be reporting such a severe impact as last year – however, what a bunch of whiners we golf operators are! Too hot to play golf; too wet to play golf – but on a serious note we must find a way of forecasting the impact of climate change on our business.”

From The London Club Heath Harvey draws up a balance sheet of benefits as well as problems. “The rains have without doubt created additional trading challenges this season,” he says, “however it is important to put them in to proper perspective and not use the rain as an excuse for poor trading.

• On the plus side, we purchased £80,000 worth of water last summer which we have not needed to purchase this year.
• Aggressive scarification / verti-cutting mid-season has been possible due to ground conditions = improved playing surface conditions. Quality of surfaces is directly proportional to green fee charged.
• Harvested run-off – we have collected rainwater and maintained eight topped-up reservoirs through the season so far.
• Less hand-watering by greens staff = more time for other tasks
• Continuous growth = good coverage of grass, less wear & tear, Less heat stress. Again, course condition is proportional to green fee.
• Newly planted trees / gorse = better % established & less loss.

• Conditions favour disease activity – greater use of fungicide & greater incremental cost.
• Greater frequency of cutting – increased labour & fuel
• Greater weed control
• Irrigating in April
• Playability – long roughs are un-irrigated and therefore tend to shrink in hot, dry conditions. This year the wet has meant the grass has not shrunk but has retained its density, resulting in tougher playing conditions and slower rounds. (5 hours)

Heath Harvey continues, “We are preparing for our busiest month of the year (September) and have a contingency to trade through October in a similar fashion – we are expecting an Indian summer.

“In conclusion, we have had to focus on being ‘adaptable‘. The varying and abnormal weather conditions over the last four months have meant there has been no opportunity to refer back to ‘the manual‘ – instead we have worn our July hats in April and vice versa.

“Despite the much wetter early/mid summer period than usual both courses have remained open throughout. The downpours and flooding of bunkers have created more work to repair washouts and highlighted the need to continue prioritising bunker renovation work this winter.”

John Weir is similarly positive about the future and concludes,  “Unpredictable weather through climate change looks as though it may well be part of the industry’s future and pre-booked, ‘weather proofed‘ business is increasingly going to be the bedrock of successful club management.”

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