Bruce Glasco, managing director of Troon Golf – Europe, Middle East and Africa – explains how his company’s management techniques and training separate Troon from everyone else in the golf business.
Geoff Russell talks to Bruce Glasco of Troon Golf. The interview was conducted during the KPMG Golf Business Forum at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Powerscourt, Ireland.
GR: Bruce, you are responsible for a very large and varied area, correct?
BG: Yes, Europe, Middle East and Africa; it’s a pretty extensive region for us and all three areas have very different characteristics. Europe is going through a renaissance at the moment, while the Middle East, obviously, is growing dramatically. In Africa, the north is an emerging market and South Africa, where we are currently managing, is now established.
GR: How long have you been in your current post?
BG: Well I’ve lived over in Europe for the last year and a half. Prior to that I had gone back to the US after spending four years in Australia, where I had responsibilities overseeing Australia and the Middle East, as well as parts of Asia.
GR: ………and with Troon Golf?
BG: Nine years now. Prior to that I took advantage of a rare opportunity to get out of the golf business and move into the property development side, so I have a development background as well. I was a decent junior player in my day with no real short game, but was bitten by the ‘golf bug’ I guess; I just loved it and so became a club professional, and eventually worked my way through the ranks at some phenomenal clubs.
I was very fortunate to work for what I consider to be some of the best teachers in the business of golf. I was an assistant at Pine Valley, New Jersey – the number one ranked club in the world – as well as being an assistant at Bay Hill for Mr Palmer. I was an instructor under Rick Smith and would eventually become the head professional at Kapalua, in Hawaii, which is a great tournament venue and now host of the Mercedes Championship, so I was very fortunate to work for some wonderful people in some wonderful places.
I love the game and everything that golf represents – not just the camaraderie but also the self-policing. We just don’t have a lot of sports today that puts the onus on the individual to police themselves – that’s what makes golf special.
GR: Now you’ve made your home in Geneva – how do you like living there?
BG: It’s fantastic; I just wish I had more time to spend there! With a growing business, I tend to spend a lot of time on the road, but it is a necessity given that business is booming. It does however give me the opportunity, particularly in the high-end, luxury part of the golf business where we operate, to visit a lot of pretty special places. I go to such a diverse selection of locations and each one is unique in their own way; just like here in Dublin.
GR: Who do you consider the key members of your team?
BG: We’ve got offices in several locations around the world, though the bulk of Troon’s resources are still in the US; our headquarters are in Scottsdale, Arizona. We’ve five offices worldwide in Geneva, Dubai, Hong Kong and Brisbane, Australia. Right now we’re making quite a commitment to our Geneva base, as we’re securing more space and adding quite a few new individuals to our team.
GR: Do you find it easy to recruit the right people?
BG: I find that’s our biggest challenge. To grow the company it is necessary to make sure the people involved are committed and knowledgeable enough to deliver the service we offer. It is imperative to understand the strengths, weaknesses and characteristics of those we interview to make sure they are suited to the culture of the company. Our growth is really limited by the people that we can find.
70% or more of our management staff in the field have come from within our system; we’ve trained them, so we take great pride from that. We’re a preferred employer worldwide and a lot of people move with us around the world and get great experiences. We may find a general manager with a resort background who, with the proper training, can become a private club general manager.
So we try to give them the opportunity to experience all aspects of the golf business, to really find out where their strength and passion is; we’re large enough to be able to provide people those opportunities.
GR: And you employ a large number of PGA professionals?
BG: Well, I don’t know if this statistic is still true but at one time we were certainly the largest employer of PGA professionals in the world. I’m a former PGA member myself – although I’ve got my amateur status back – and I’m very committed to the PGA of America, the Club Managers Association and the Golf Course Superintendents Association. From our standpoint, we’re very entrenched with these organisations to try and train and improve the skill level of all people.
GR: Do you ever recruit people who don’t have a golfing background?
BG: Well the hospitality business has some wonderful training programmes and we have quite a few people who come with a hotel background. We have a very diverse group of employees across the board, but primarily they come from the PGA or CMA for the club management side.
I think that for the training and the hours you work, you need to have a certain set of skills and understand that golf is a very fluid environment. Your play levels change depending on what Mother Nature throws at you, so you can have the best business plan in the world but if you have a bad turn of weather in your peak season it can really impact your bottom line.
GR: Are KPMG the golf consultants that you regularly use?
BG: We’ve used KPMG and vice versa, as we’ve been brought to prospective clients as a result. We would certainly recommend them to a client who needs a firm with their background and reputation to validate assumptions. They certainly have a global reach and resource base that we as a company certainly do not; so we’ve been big supporters of theirs and this event in particular.
I find that the data that Andrea (Sartori) has always opens my eyes a little wider. It seems to be very much out in front of what is happening in the market. I think that it’s very beneficial for people that attend this conference to glimpse into the future with some hard facts.
It’s not the same as attending a conference where all you are looking at is stuff from the past. Yes, we learn from the past but we need to be very, very active. We don’t want to be reactive in our business, we need to be proactive to make golf evolve in profitable and emerging markets.
GR: When you’re talking to potential new clients, a new developer for example, how soon to you like to become involved with the project?
BG: We think we add value from the moment a golf course has its approvals in place and, hopefully, water as well, although I can reference certain examples where we have helped clients get water. As a result of our relationship with the Audubon or our knowledge of various hydrology studies, we’ve helped clients get water to the site plan so that this can become a golf course.
GR: Have you ever undertaken development work for your own company?
BG: We have a tremendous amount of our portfolio that is currently under construction. We have in-house expertise, including a civil engineer, clubhouse design, interior design, HR, IT, agronomy, food and beverage and operations – all the typical disciplines.
We are a full turn-key service. We can provide help in any aspect, including the construction of golf courses; we have the full toolbox which is really what sets us apart from a lot of the other management opportunities that are out there. They may have one or two people with relevant expertise, but they don’t have the full locker of resources to draw upon. Therefore, they might attend a meeting but then they would have to outsource somebody to consult on their behalf; at Troon Golf all that is in-house.
GR: Typically, with your owners what’s the deal? What are the terms of your normal contract of appointment?
BG: We’re a third-party manager. Meaning just like Four Seasons in most cases or Ritz Carlton, you’re hiring our standards and our systems to ensure that your facility gets the maximum return. As a company, we are not investors. We have a couple of places where we are involved financially but our business model is very much like a hotel model.
People are paying us a base fee and then various incentives based upon performance, but taking a strategic ownership position in a facility is not what we do. In all the various countries in which we operate it would mean understanding all the laws and it would be too difficult.
GR: Do you look for a minimum set period for a contract?
BG: Ideally the longer the better, but as a company we have a very wide range with contracts anywhere from five years to 25 years, depending on the relationship and how it’s structured. Some of the longer ones are in emerging markets where you need to achieve a certain stabilised growth in order to make the project viable, so we work with those owners from the conceptual stage with the fees, in some cases, deferred until the project has actually materialised.
GR: You’ve already mentioned the full skill set that Troon Golf brings to any project but what are the other special contributions that you make towards a project’s success?
BG: We bring significant marketing assistance. The fact that a new facility can market itself alongside such iconic venues as The Grove, Turnberry, Troon North, Cap Cana – that’s a new facility, incidentally, but it’s getting rave reviews around the world. We bring instant credibility to our clients. We allow them to tap into marketing avenues that they otherwise would never have had the opportunity for. We provide cost savings on irrigation, materials, golf carts, IT systems and support to help them work out what’s best for them.
So, again because of our size, we provide extensive buying power; the opportunity to limit the learning curve so new projects are not going to make the mistakes that others have. By having a watchful eye over the whole process we can bring to light various questions that are sometimes overlooked by a person who has never done this sort of thing before.
There are so many examples where we have gone in and helped people with their clubhouse design, space planning and fitting-out of golf shops. These are things that we’re involved in. Building business plans, building membership programmes, depending upon how sophisticated somebody wants to be. There are some great companies like Giesen Kenny that specialise in memberships who are here right now and very much specialize in that.
From our standpoint we can also give a conceptual overview to clients who are trying to figure out how to pay for the project. What is best? We can draw over a hundred golf courses that all have different models and reference those, and explain the strengths and weaknesses of those membership structures.
I think that because of our size – and we’ve got around 11,000 associates worldwide – people are under some sort of direction from us on a daily basis. That’s a lot of experience to draw upon so it’s nice for owners not to be out on their own trying to guess.
GR: You talked about a KPMG involvement lending a project credibility – I guess the same could be said about Troon Golf?
BG: Without question; not only do we bring experience and knowledge, we bring credibility. We’ve done it before, it’s not our first time. We’ve been first in market in many countries. We understand the pitfalls that face many developers and I think that with that, we have saved a lot of developers a lot of money.
The expenses in golf are quite heavy at the front end and as Mr Nicklaus pointed out in his overview today, in the grand scheme of things his fees are quite small and, if done right the value of having him on board is exponential.
We believe the same. We believe that getting expert advice early on when you can still make changes is far more cost effective than saving on the front end only to have to come and undo things later. The cost of undoing mistakes, especially on the golf course, is extremely expensive.
GR: Leisurecorp owns 2.5% of Troon Golf. Who are the other shareholders?
BG: Well, we’re a privately owned company but we do have some institutional-type investors who are quite active. Dana Garmany, our founder who is here this week, is obviously one of our large shareholders. Goldman Sachs, they have a fund which has a very large shareholding in our company as do some private investors from the leisure industry which is well represented.
GR: One of the things that Troon Golf is well-known for is its revenue management systems – maximising tee time revenue and so on. Can you tell us more about that?
BG: Sure, absolutely. First, whenever you talk about revenue management it starts with the need for data. One of the things that has plagued the golf business, and where KPMG comes into things, is that over the last twenty years the data which has been available to help decision-making has been of rather questionable quality.
Nobody accounts for a round of golf in the same way. Some people consider nine holes a round of golf; some say it must be eighteen. What we have tried to do in order to take the golf business from a ‘Ma and Pa Single Own’ structure to a sophisticated business, based on the hotel model, is to work very hard to put systems in place that measure all aspects of the business. Revenue management is just one of those areas, whereby you have real data that is collected consistently across multiple facilities to build metrics.
As an example, we know because we collect the data, what a resort destination has the potential to do or should do in many instances on a merchandise spend per square metre of golf shop. So when as a developer you’re trying to work out what your yield is on space, the ability for us to go in and say that a semi-private golf club with a golf shop of this size will roughly yield this amount of revenue, it is of significant importance.
That is kind of where the first question started: to understand how much yield you have got, not only out of every tee-time played but also how many tee-times are available so that you could truly work what your revenue per tee-time is, not just revenue per round sold.
So taking that and putting in a hotel model which is revenue management driven where you are looking at your play levels on a daily basis, depending upon the booking habits of your clients, you can build very strong systems by which to manage your tee-sheets and availability, so you know when you maybe need to provide a special deal for the market.
You know how many phone calls you get on the Monday after Easter Sunday so you know what your pricing structure should be. You know historically your weak points, when you have a shoulder season, when you don’t have one, the winter market.
So when you make business decisions about your inventory and your tee-times you’re making them based on facts, and revenue management is one of those where we can look at a facility that we manage in a mature market and, applying our metric, we know how many phone calls we’re going to receive for that eight o’clock tee time. Therefore we can establish pricing strategies based upon that, which really helps. We’re not guessing; it’s not putting your finger up the air and hoping that the wind blows your way.
We break our budgets down on a day by day basis. We know how much revenue we expect every single day of the month. We know when that break point will occur – when we’re going to hit a holiday or when we go out of season. It sure helps with staffing. It helps with your maintenance programmes on the golf course, when you aerify, when you overseed, when you ask the staff to take their vacations.
It’s not a matter of guessing, it’s a matter of looking at the facts and you run your business from that standpoint.
GR: Do all the clubs that you operate stand independently from a membership point of view or is there group membership across the board?
BG: We have the ‘advantage program’ as well as some reward programs. Troon Golf is an umbrella that you will find various programs working within. If you are a member of a private club within our portfolio of private clubs you get benefits at all our participating facilities worldwide.
It does not give you membership to all Troon Golf facilities by any means. What it does is that as a member of Troon Golf managed clubs, you are entitled to benefits at our portfolio of golf courses that otherwise you would be unable to get on. That’s a really powerful benefit for members who travel regularly.
They can go to a location that hosted a Tour event and get it at 30% discount and book 45 days in advance when maybe the normal policy is only 7 days. They can actually plan a vacation to play at a famous facility and they can do this within the Troon Golf network, whereas an outsider would not have that opportunity, so it’s a very powerful incentive for our members.
GR: Jack Nicklaus was this morning talking about pace of play and the problems caused by rounds of golf taking longer than ever at the very time when people have less and less leisure time at their disposal. How do you at Troon Golf tackle the problems caused by slow play?
BG: We marshal all of our Troon Golf facilities. At the level we operate that’s standard practice. Unfortunately it’s not standard practice for the industry as a whole, even though everybody recognises that it’s a problem and we need to find ways to deal with it.
It’s one of the biggest challenges facing the golf industry as time is getting shorter, especially for people with families, and as both Jack and Dana as well mentioned, it’s important to find ways in which people can get around golf courses faster. We will always be challenged by the lengthening of golf courses and the person that wants to pay a fee who thinks that that gives them the licence to play at whatever pace they so decide.
I am a believer that you are either a fast golfer or a slow golfer and that whatever tools you are given you remain in that category. I think the people play fastest when they have a caddy – a caddy keeps them moving – but if you’re the sort of guy that takes six practice swings you’re going to be slow whatever. The Tours have their own problems with players that are perceived as slow so it’s in all areas of golf.
We struggle with it as operators, the Tour struggles with it as the biggest promoter of the game. Even with the world’s greatest players they’ve got a pace of play issue too.
GR: Moving back to staff and their training, you operate a lot within emerging markets where by definition there will be a shortage of suitable local staff. Do you try as part of your operations to train local people to take on new positions?
BG: As a company, localising our golf operations is something that is very important to us. It’s not always easily achieved but it is without doubt an important focus and a goal for us in any markets that we go into. We want to localise as many positions as quickly as possible because we think that it builds for a more stable and a more realistic experience. We want people to contribute and we want to be perceived as a company that contributes to the local environment, to training, providing tools for people and to help educate in their chosen career and so on. This makes us different. When you come to work for Troon we’re not just providing a job, we’re providing a career.
That really is why as a company we have such low staff turnover, especially for the hospitality business. We are so far ahead of the curve in terms of how many people stay with our company. Because, one we provide that upward mobility and, two, we are very particular about our standards so people can move from facility to facility without dramatic changes in the quality. Even though the countries may be dramatically different, our quality statements and standards are something that we pride ourselves on and that’s in place across the board in all countries.
We have the manuals and training and all that stuff very standardised, which makes it easier for us to go in and train people. We’re so much further ahead than going out and hiring a great general manager or a great professional to come in and try and untie all that wonderful knowledge that they have in their brain and be able to train people consistently.
Ours is all on paper. So that ability to go from place to place and ensure that it’s always the same message is critical to our business. It allows us to train our people better, faster, to hold them accountable – so that they cannot say ‘I didn’t know that was standard protocol and practice’.
From our standpoint having it written down, having manuals, having training sessions monthly with all our staff separates us from everyone else in the golf business. Outside of ClubCorp there are very few that have that commitment to training and have it written down so you can follow a road map to success.
GR: Your staff must be highly rated as candidates for positions with rival companies in the business. With the training that you give them – how do manage to hang on to them?
BG: We lose a few. David Spencer of Leisurecorp is one of them, as an example. David used to work for Troon Golf in Australia. We’ve got some alumni right here at this conference that we’re very proud of, whether it be David or Paul Stringer who is now with Nicklaus. People know where to go to find talent. In many cases we are able to hold on to them because of the career that we provide. So we lose very few but we’re usually the first point of contact when someone is looking to build something golf oriented and they want to try and bring it in house and do it themselves.
GR: How would you sum up the culture of Troon Golf, especially to other people in the golf business?
BG: I hope that everybody appreciates that we’re here to promote the game of golf. We have a business that we have built to enhance the golfing experience. We’re not trying to negatively impact anyone else’s business. There are vast amount of talented people in the industry who don’t work for our company, who we have a tremendous amount of respect for. These accomplished individuals help make the industry what it is today.
Our purpose as a management company is to enhance what individuals have managed to achieve, not devalue it. So from our standpoint we’re here to grow golf. We want to work with everybody, not within our own little world. Our intent as a company is to be an active participant with all owners, with all managers, with all superintendents to make golf a better game, a growing game that will further everybody’s career.
One of the things that people are often worried about when they hear that we’re a management company is that, for some reason, we don’t understand the business, when in fact almost all of us who work for Troon have been in those trenches. I’ve washed my fair share of golf carts and I’ve scrubbed my fair share of golf clubs. I’ve started people. I’ve picked up trash. I’ve driven around as a marshal. I’ve done all that stuff too and I’ve seen people that have impressed me in those positions that have become major players in our company.
So from our standpoint I guess that the message to others would be that we’re in the business with them too. As a company we may fall under one brand that has a very structured system but the only way we’re going to succeed is if everybody succeeds in promoting golf.
We’re not saying that we’re the smartest guys or the hardest workers. We learn from a lot of people. We come to these conferences not to tell people what we’re doing but to learn from the other people so they can make us a better company too. We very much want people to recognise that when we attend functions like this we come to learn as much as to help anyone that wants some advice.
GR Bruce Glasco, thank you very much.
Troon Golf www.troongolf.com