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A Quality Lesson for Scottish Golf Clubs

At the recent AGM of central Scottish golf club Kirkintilloch it was revealed that the seemingly impossible had happened; the club which had battled the elements of economy for almost a decade had turned their fortunes around and were on the up again. This was seen by the members as nothing short of miraculous, but as you and I know, there’s no such thing as miracles.

What this 120 year old club had experienced was commonplace; an economic downturn combined with a changing picture of leisure time, no waiting lists, the national capitulation on joining fees, with the net result being a devaluation of club golf up and down the land. A new set of rules had been laid down for golf clubs which involved running with reduced income and resources, whilst trying to maintain the standards expected by the members and visitors alike; a delicate balancing act on a narrow wire between a rock and a hard place. This less-than-rosy annual business prognosis had become endemic, until the announcement at the AGM gave cause for optimism.

So what prompted this trend reversal? Firstly; a willingness from successive committees to change things for the better, then the determination to see it through and the faith to keep going.

Clubs in general had done no new learning for decades because the playing field was always level, but now Kirkintilloch had to work hard, trying new ideas and looking at ways to halt the decline. Scotland’s national golf body Scottish Golf were consulted; their knowledge and experience proving invaluable in helping the club to plan for the future, but there were 2 inescapable questions: How to get more members, and how to generate alternative forms of income to offset the attrition rate? Almost every club in the land had the same story of falling member numbers and their efforts to stem the flow of the nomad towards the exit signs. The time had come to up the ante.

Kirkintilloch introduced a member referral offer scheme and then a reduction in membership fees to attract new members. Trial and error were the only guarantees and discounting was rapidly reversed, but the learning process was well underway.

Real change came in the shape of the club’s first ever professional. Secured on a commission basis the new pro established his shop and a new way of trading, breaking the traditions of a retainer and giving the club a greater profile amongst its peer group, members and visitors alike. The pro also leveraged social media, an effective weapon to generate numbers. A new online tee booking system made the process of teeing-up easier, and his coaching improved the quality of play, for some. The scenic course was further enhanced by his knowledge of course management and the greens staff worked tirelessly to maintain the standards. A push to attract sponsorship from local businesses, and the club was heading in the right direction.

But what underpinned the success for the club was the strength of the committees who were determined that the club should prosper, and who were not easily deflected from the task. A successful club will ultimately be measured by the bottom line and having input on committee from those with a financial background makes the balancing act easier to achieve. Throw in a cheerful bunch of willing volunteers and you just might be looking at better times.

Most clubs have long histories and with good governance can look forward to long futures, but sound process alone is no guarantee of success, and the learning curve can be long and steep.

Kirkintilloch learned that members are a clubs greatest asset and they should be treated with respect. They marketed their club in a professional way. They got good people on committees over several years. They knew that change could be contentious but were determined to see it through. They accepted they would make mistakes on the journey but they kept going.

Happily the vast majority of members proved their loyalty to the club through these changing times. Hardly a marriage made in heaven, more of an unspoken contract, but a declaration of faith nonetheless. Possibly the biggest lesson learned was in realising how good the club could be by building its reputation for quality. Affordability doesn’t build loyalty, quality builds loyalty, and that’s a great platform for success.



Colin Barrows

for CB Golf Marketing

17 February 2016


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