UK Golf Club Management Blog & Podcast

UK Golf Club Management Blog & Podcast

#7 Table Service – A Genuine “Win / Win” Situation

The year was 2014 and I was half way through a 5 day golf trip alongside 7 other members of the Wales GCMA Region.

Following some internal pairs competition days at Cork Golf Club and Monkstown Golf Club came the day of our unofficial team match against members of the Irish GCMA at Kinsale Golf Club.

As Regional Captain that year I had the honour of joining our Regional Manager in the first pairing of the match so we were first into the Clubhouse at around 15:00. Our hosts went home to change before Dinner, but the Wales Region were on tour and for us that meant one thing – beers.

We went upstairs to the bar and sat on the impressive balcony overlooking the final hole and no sooner had we sat down than the Clubhouse Manager joined us at the table and took our order. He gave a fabulous welcome and intermittently chatted with us and the rest of the Wales Regional members as they began to join us in the Clubhouse.

However, as I reached my 4th drink it occurred to me that none of us had actually gone to the bar yet. I was also aware that we were consuming these drinks at a pretty swift pace. We had also ordered some snack foods because it was still a couple of hours until Dinner at his suggestion.

I started watching this Clubhouse Manager in operation and as his staff members clocked on I watched them follow suit. A glass would reach around 25% full and the nearest employee would come and offer another drink and ask if there was anything else they could get for us.

In short we spent a fortune that day in the bar even before going through for Dinner, but it also occurred to me that having not had to constantly break the group up standing at the bar ordering and collecting drinks that the group had enjoyed an even better time of it as a result.

As I returned from that trip I remembered what I had seen that day and a few times in the years since then half heartedly preached my belief that table service was both achievable in a golf Clubhouse and would bring increased service satisfaction and income with it. I never quite got the agreement I had wanted from others and the commonly held belief was that in order to do so you would have to dramatically increase the wage bill.

Fast forward 6 years and the arrival of the COVID-19 Coronavirus measures. Clubs across the land were forced to implement table service in their Clubhouses and the software providers even helped this along with table service options on their systems.

On Day 1 of opening under these restrictions at my Club I attended work that day to oversee and assess its implementation with the team and found that they “got it” almost immediately. It was also striking to see how well received it was when staff were monitoring how much people had left in their glasses, offering them another drink and even saying “don’t worry I can take it from your Club Card, no need to get your wallet out.”

Members and Staff also both commented on the number of times people had that extra drink, or half a pint or even ordered food that they may not otherwise have offered.

Despite having all of this enforced upon us it is striking to see that this arrangements actually benefit both the Club’s coffers by increasing income AND the members by offering an enhanced level of service to them.

Best of all is that at Long Ashton Golf Club we have found that we have been able to offer this enhanced service without the need to increase staffing numbers from what would have been required pre-Covid. The team have performed fantastically in getting to grips with this new way of serving the members and having embraced it since day one they have shows everyone how to make a success of it.

I have been amazed to therefore continue to see quite a number of people within the UK Golf Industry still using phrases such as “while we still have to do table service…” or “when we go back to normal and don’t have to do table service any more..” I know there will be some Clubs who due to their Clubhouse and patio layouts they may have had to increase their staffing levels, but even those Clubs – if done correctly – should be able to increase their sales into the Food & Beverage department by running this service efficiently enough to more than cover any additional wage costs.

I am also a member of a Club myself in Cardiff. I will be disappointed if when we return to normal – whatever that looks like – we don’t keep our table service and work hard to make it work for both the Club and the Members.

There haven’t been many positives from COVID-19. However, I believe that showing the staff and the Committees of UK Golf Clubs of the financial and service level possibilities that can be achieved without much or any increase to staffing levels has to be one of them.

Even if it were cost neutral or a little more expensive to run this way I believe that the service upgrade it provides would be worth it. With it having proven to make members want to use the services more than before it has to be as close to a “no brainer” as we can get moving forward, surely?

It will certainly be staying for the long term at our Club.


#6 Our 59Club "Bounce"

On the week where I am delighted to be travelling to the 59Club’s Annual Service Excellence Awards at the Forest of Arden Hotel & Country Club near Coventry I wondered what better way to mark the occasion, and my Club’s 3 nominations and one confirmed award, than to reflect on the journey and benefits I have witnessed since joining with them a year ago.

I had worked with 59Club in a previous job and had seen some genuine benefits in the way of increased focus on the detail involved in delivering excellent customer service, a desire to improve with each passing visit report and a thirst for training to help achieve these improvements.

I have seen these positives in spades at Long Ashton Golf Club over the past 12 months. The team have genuinely engaged with the process despite my once debated plan to complete an entire assessment year before undertaking the formal team training on how to improve our scores.

Amazingly though, despite me setting 2019 out as little more than creating a baseline to work from for the future and providing only partial feedback to the Head of Departments throughout the process, the team has consistently delivered mystery golfer scores in the top 10 on the Continent for visits as a whole, and at times we have had sections of multiple visits up in the top 3 for those months.

We won’t know whether we have achieved it until the night of the Awards Ceremony, but I think we are very close to achieving the Bronze Flag standard. Speaking personally, if we could achieve this as a Club as a whole in year 1 with 59Club I would be absolutely delighted. I genuinely didn’t think we would have a hope in year 1 when we started our journey.

I knew our Food & Beverage offering was strong and that we had a fine reputation, but the scores consistently delivered by this area of the Club are why we are travelling to the Awards Dinner with a nominee for F&B Manager of the Year in Glenn McNaughton. Delivering the news to Glenn that he had been nominated was one of the highlights of my career in golf. He is such a hard-working, unassuming guy who despite having long since turned around a previously struggling food business at the Club he continues to strive for better and is a real leader to his team. Glenn was long overdue some recognition and our involvement with 59Club has delivered just that, not based on any perceptions or hearsay, but based on the delivery of consistent quality of food and service across a whole year to impartial strangers.

We also travel to the Forest of Arden on the shortlist for the overall winners for our consistent strong mystery golfer scores for the entire visit. This cannot be achieved without consistently strong performance across the board and to achieve this in what was supposed to be a benchmarking year just shows the strength of team we have at Long Ashton.

However, while everything I have said so far is important, the greatest benefit I have witnessed of our involvement with 59Club has been the “bounce” I have witnessed it give to the staff team.

When scores have been good, we have shared this with the team and given them a lot of information including showing them where we had scored on the league tables for that month.

When we have had the odd departmental slip up the Head of Department has taken this information, relayed it to their team and the next visit we have never seen a repeat of the same shortcoming twice.

Some of the operational staff even now try to spot a Mystery Golfer when they arrive – I can confirm they haven’t correctly spotted one yet! However, when they do suspect a visitor of being a 59Club assessor its actually greeted with a bit of excitement rather than dread and its often then talk of the back office area for most of the day when they think there has been one in.

We are now overdue our team training and we have several staff asking when this is going to take place. The greenkeeping team are telling us they very much want to attend, even though parts of the customer service training is not going to be directly relevant to them.

In short, I have seen a real sense of togetherness grow and thrive partly as a result of our work with 59Club this year. If we are successful in one or two areas at the Awards Ceremony later this week that will be a huge plus, but the benefits to the Golf Club have already been achieved and I for one have been delighted to see it happening in front of my eyes!

Having witnessed all of the plusses to my Club outlined above, it has been to my amazement that our 59Club Regional Manager informed me that we do not yet have many Clubs signed up to the scheme from the Bristol & South West Region as a whole. I know one or two have recently joined from the region but if any of my fellow Managers want a reference for the benefits of working within this scheme then please do not hesitate to contact me.

The “Bounce” alone makes our continued involvement with 59Club a No Brainer for us!

#5 New Year Resolutions – A Better Way

If you read Blog #3 (Scroll down to read if you wish) you would be aware of several changes I made to my life during the second half of 2019.

These changes, without question, have improved so many aspects of my work and home life.

So as we move into the period of the year where so many look to start the new year positively and set themselves one or more resolutions I thought I would pass on what I learned about how to not be one of the 75% of us who fail to keep up our new found goals for very long.

Studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them. Forbes claimed in a 2018 article that the main reason for this was because people were setting vague resolutions without really setting any goals that would make them more achievable.

Using my own example, for instance, despite being a qualified Personal Trainer myself from a previous life I had often fallen into the trap of setting the “lose weight” resolution after a heavy festive period. However, I never used to really dig down into what that would actually entail so come the start of January I would look to eat more healthily – generally – and would look to fit in some exercise when I could.

When you read this about someone else I am sure you can spot the flaw in this plan – there was no plan!

However, having done some of my own research into the matter I came to the realisation that what I needed to do was to identify the activity that would help me achieve my goal and then concentrate on carrying that activity out for a consistent and prolonged period so that it became habit or routine. In practice this became about concentrating on going to the gym x number of times a week, preparing my meals for the week on a Sunday and getting all of my work clothes ready and in my car the night before on each and every work night.

I set myself the initial goal of not missing out on any of these three key activities for 3 months, knowing that if I did so the results I was looking for would come as a result.

The theory is that you need to do something for 66 days on average for something to become a habit, so my 3 month target took me well beyond that. From my experience I can tell you that if you do manage to make it to month 4 and you are still carrying out the activity – whatever that may be – the results will almost certainly be there.

My own experience of this happens to be in possibly the most common area when considering New Year’s Resolutions. However, this can be applied to literally anything. If you are looking to get your golf handicap down this year, work out the activity that will be required to make this happen. Lessons? X number of visits a week to the practice area / driving range? X number of visits per week to the putting green? You get the picture.

So, in conclusion to this shorter than normal piece…..

The TRUE key here is consistency. If you only work on your goals sporadically, you aren’t going to see results. Put in the work and most of all keep going with the activity and it will pay off.

You might not see results immediately, but don’t let that deter you from continuing to carry out the all important activity you have identified.


#4: Why Attending My Regional GCMA Meeting Is High Priority

I’m in my 14th year as a Full member of the Golf Club Managers’ Association. I have been a member of the Wales region (formerly South Wales) for the same length of time and I have been a member of the South West region for nearly 3 years now.

I can safely say that the regional meetings I have attended and the network of peers I have built up as a consequence of attending them has been the single biggest force for good in my 14 year career to date as a Golf Club Manager.

With my opening words in mind, it has always mystified me when Managers from some Clubs, particularly the bigger, more busy ones, do not attend regional meetings. “What…” I ask myself, “could be a higher priority than what we get from these meetings?”

Following a recent meeting of the Wales region I took the time to reflect upon my relationship with the GCMA and particularly my regional meetings.

Early Days
I will always remember the call. I was a 27 year old General Manager who had just joined the industry from the outside. The classic Golf Club induction of “here are your keys, this is your desk, good luck” was still fresh in the memory and I received a call from Colin Duffield, Manager of one of my most local rival Clubs. He welcomed me to the industry and invited me to their next meeting.

I nervously went along, not knowing what to expect and was given a great welcome. The format of the morning meeting was a presentation on what should be included in our Club insurance policies and some tips on things that maybe weren’t quite so important from an industry expert. This preceded an Open Forum discussion from the 20 or so Managers in attendance.

I sat silent, for once, writing copious notes and taking in the dozens of what I considered nuggets of information that were flying around the room. I left that meeting with mixed emotions – I had found somewhere where I could find out more about this crazy job I had just started, but I also realised just how much I didn’t know!

3 weeks later I was at Ashburnham Golf Club taking part in a golf event – the annual GCMA Wales vs England match. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a day that would shape the next 10 years of my career…. I was partnered with a fellow Manager names Ian Church who had revolutionised the concept of attracting visitor golfers to Clubs in his role as a Club Manager.

I am sure I must have annoyed him by the end of the day, so frequent were my questions regarding what he had done and how he had achieved it. I had identified the need to increase visitor income as a priority in my own role so learning from a guy who had increased visitor income at his Club by 300% was an opportunity I wasn’t willing to let pass. I even drove back to Ashburnham a month later and spent the day shadowing him and discussing his policies and working practices.

Before I left Wales to cross the Severn Bridge for my job in 2017 I had spent the previous 11 years or so driving green fee income at the Clubs at which I had worked in South Wales. The vast majority of those success’ I can trace back to those two days with Ian back in 2007. If you’re reading this Ian, thank you again!

As I have moved along my Golf Club Management journey I have been fortunate enough to have been in the room when several new initiatives in the Golf Industry have been presented. Back when Clubs all had 5 or 6 departmental paper diaries that MIGHT be synchronised once a week at a staff meeting we were introduced to the BRS booking system. I went on to install this in two golf Clubs, offering online competition and visitor bookings for the first time to each Club. Later on I discovered the Intelligentgolf system through a regional meeting and, having seen the advances this system offered it has been my pleasure to install this in two Clubs aswell.

In one regional meeting I came away enthused having been introduced to Europest for my Pest Control and Washroom Solutoins, Movo Insurance for Club Insurance and Capricorn Cleaning for our Clubhouse Cleaning Contract. Having contacted just these 3 companies my Club at the time saved over £3,000 a year just for switching to them.

Case Studies & Best Practice
With South Wales having struggled more than most in terms of Club Membership and Golf Club Financing during my time in that region, case studies of those who have enjoyed success at their Clubs and sharing the ideas that have brought them said success has been a huge benefit of attending regional meetings.

I make no apology for having pilfered many of the ideas that have brought success to others over the years that I would never even have heard had I not been in the room…..

One Club had dropped their joining fee for 30 days and taken in 80 members (back when South Wales Clubs had joining fees). I heard the case study, asked some questions and tweaked how I would do this myself back at my own Club – basically I maintained the need for individual interviews which said Club had not done – and we enjoyed similar success, which transformed the Club’s finances in 30 days.

Another time an attendee explained in an open forum how they had used e-mail to increase their visitor income. I took that away, tweaked it a bit using my previous career as the GM of a Bingo Club where offers such as these were common, and rolled out something similar. At the end of that year we had increased green fee income by £25,000 without accepting a single extra society golf day.

I could write for hours just on the ideas and success’ other GCMA regional members have shared with me that have gone on to benefit me and the Club I work for, but that wold be over baking the cake so to speak. However, this heading alone makes the relatively small time and financial sacrifice to any Club more than worthwhile.

I recently played a singles knockout match against the Secretary of a small Club in the Welsh valleys who didn’t even have one paid greenkeeper and were running their bar themselves. I was awash with questions about how their Club members were making this work – it was an amazing insight and real food for thought for those of us who have never faced such challenges.

Network & Support
Saving the biggest and best benefit of active participation in my GCMA’s regional meetings for last, I can say with complete confidence that without the network of fellow Golf Club Managers that I now have I would not have survived so long in what can be, at times, a pretty lonely job where praise can be rare and criticism all but the norm.

It is amazing to be able to be in a position that, no matter what the scenario, no matter what the problem, there is always a Manager in a Club who has been through the same thing before you. When I had problems with golf balls hitting a neighbouring property.. “Speak to Newport Golf Club, they’ve had that problem…” or I recall when reviewing two different accountancy packages “Speak to Pennard, they just changed from X to Y….”

I spent 18 months chasing one young manager to come to regional meetings in Wales. I finally got him along, and simply by attending, he met someone who was a stand in manager at a Club and from talking to him he applied for and got a job that he was delighted to get. Though not ideal for his current Club, for the GCMA member’s career simply turning up that day has had a monumentally positive effect on his career.

In more modern days there are even a couple of WhatsApp groups I am a member of with other Managers where on a frequent basis someone will as a question regarding what each of us does for any given matter, so we all answer but also get the benefit of seeing everyone else’s answers here as well.

Having said all of this, the help and support that I have myself received from my fellow GCMA members at a time in my career when I was going through the sort of thing within my Club that I am sad to say is all to common in the industry for Managers it was my fellow GCMA members who supported me and frankly got me through the toughest year of my professional life. I could never name them all, but there were some of my network who were always making the call to me at a time when I didn’t feel like talking, would listen and support me throughout.

Without the people and the support I describe, I quite simply would not still be in the Golf industry today. This was all possible because of the relationships I have built over the years almost exclusively at GCMA regional meetings.

I hope that the sort of nonsense that I needed supporting through is something we can make a thing of the past in UK Golf. However, I sincerely doubt this is going to be the case anytime soon. While this is true I hope I am in a position to support others within my network in the future.

To attend every single GCMA Region meeting will cost you and your Club what? 5 days? 6 Days out of 365 per year? A bit of mileage and the odd participation fee?

We all run marketing campaigns where we assess our return on investment. The ROI for attending regional GCMA events in my career to date has been huge. Those managers who say they are too busy frequently or say they aren’t interested, having fully committed to these events myself and reaped the rewards, baffle me.

This is not meant as a criticism. I just genuinely don’t understand how when considering our own growth and how to best serve the interests of our Clubs and our members, attending these meetings aren’t extremely high at the top of the list of priorities and why some Clubs do not feel the same way. They certainly sit extremely high on mine!

I hope to see some of those reading this at future meetings. You really won’t regret it!!

#3: My 6 Month Personal Efficiency Experiment

It was early April 2019. I was a couple of months into the General Manager’s role at my new Club, still very much trying to get to grips with how it all works at my new home and it was right in the middle of the subscription renewals period.

I had been tucking into the GCMA “New Manager Checklist” that I had downloaded from the Member’ Library on the website when the renewals had to be sent and I suddenly found myself looking for the 25th hour in the day and the 8th day of the week.

The staff were already working over and above their expected hours to keep our heads above water and, frankly, to hold my hand through a plethora of things that were very different in nature and practice to what I had left behind in my pervious Club.

I really was enjoying the challenge of a new role, but came to the realisation that to truly be able to do the job I am paid to do to the best of my potential I needed to find ways to become more efficient and definitely more effective.

I was working hard at my desk and often at home during the evenings, but was feeling tired and had that all too common feeling that no matter how hard I was working, the “to do list” was getting longer not shorter.

As is my way for anything I take truly seriously in life I sat down with my notepad and started to write down the things I thought were influences for good and the things that were to the contrary.

Then, as though fate, the latest GCMA Monthly Magazine landed on my doorstep (April 2019 Edition). There, on the inner pages, was a photograph of me proudly standing in front of my new Club’s logo. “Blimey. You look awful” I thought to myself. Now some of those who know me will at this point be thinking “what? You only just realised that” and for that I say a polite “Thanks very much 😊” but all joking aside it was a wake-up call. I went back to my notepad, scribbled out a lot of things I had written down that when I read them back looked more like excuses than reasons for me feeling so drained.

At the end of the process I gave myself some crucial action points to free up time and space in my own mind for the important things – the job at hand and the time I have with friends and family.

In a nutshell I wasn’t living a healthy lifestyle which would give me the energy and focus to keep up with the demands of working for such a busy and prestigious Club in the long term. I had allowed too many distractions to creep into my life, particularly during periods of what were supposed to be rest and recuperation.

Though I have made some smaller alterations, I do hope that by sharing some of the main changes I have adopted for the last 6 months I may be able to help just one person who can maybe identify with what I have described in my opening paragraphs.

Maybe until you read this you hadn’t even realised that you were feeling that way – it certainly jumped out on me from out of nowhere!

1. Dramatically Reduce Digital Distractions
This first bullet point may surprise some people. They still see my twitter account ticking away and I still use Facebook. However, the time, focus and attention I was giving to this area of modern technology – mainly in my “down time” - has been dramatically reduced. Here’s how…

• I deleted a long standing Twitter account that I used for personal use rather than the one I used for work. It took me 5 minutes to deactivate!

• I changed the settings on my remaining Twitter account and Club Twitter account so that I no longer received notifications on my phone for anything other than direct messages. I will see any mentions, likes, retweets etc if and when I choose to log in. I don’t need to be told every time someone clicks “Like” on a post I have retweeted or written.

• I changed the settings on my Facebook account so that I no longer receive notifications of any description on my phone. When I log into Facebook at a time of my choosing I can see these things then.

• On both Facebook and Twitter I dramatically reduced the number of people and business’ I am “friends” with / follow. In doing so I have a far slower moving timeline on both platforms and definitely won’t miss posts from people who I really want to keep up to date with. I went from following 1,200 accounts on Twitter to 188 at the time of writing this blog. I cut down my Facebook Friends from 1,300 to under 500.

• I removed myself from some WhatApp groups I was a part of. You know the ones. You pick your phone up after a meeting and see 180 unread messages – not a single one of them worth reading.

• I started using a great app called “Buffer” to pre load some tweets / posts for appropriate times throughout the week ahead so I no longer had to remember to write it and post it at a particular day and time. One less thing to remember, or more likely at times in our job – forget!

2. Remove Work E-Mail From My Phone
I already know that at least half of the people who read this have already rolled their eyes at this. “You must be joking” is your likely reaction. Well I would have been exactly the same myself before I looked at these things, but having already switched notifications off my e-mails on my phone I found at a regional GCMA meeting that there were a few managers that I both rate and respect who had taken the extra step of removing this communication format from their phones altogether.

I tried it initially for 30 days, and 5 months later I still have no work e-mails on my phone. Naturally you have to put things into place to ensure that emergencies don’t get missed until it is too late such as ensuring the staff and Committee members know how to get hold of you on days and evenings off in the case of emergency.

You can’t just stop replying on evenings or weekends and not let the key stakeholders within the Club know what you have decided to do. What I would say to anyone who thinks this is a step too far would be…. Try it. If you can’t let yourself remove them altogether just yet, take notifications off for e-mails on your phone so that at the very least you only read the sort of e-mail you wish you hadn’t read during your rest periods when you choose to log on rather than your phone beeping the second it lands in your inbox.

3. Exercise – Real Exercise
I had long since abandoned the practice of what I used to preach in my days as a Personal Trainer, so this was something I felt could make a great difference.

I started going to the gym again 3 or 4 evenings a week after work. However, in a short time I realised that if I wanted to make this something that I could keep doing indefinitely I saw this as unsustainable. I value my time at home with my family and this just wouldn’t do.

Rather than give up on this plan, I took a look at when I could attend the gym within my current schedule and reluctantly identified that if I woke up at 6 instead of 7 each day I could get an hour in before work which would leave my home life after work unaffected.

Since June I have carried out this practice and at the time of writing this blog I have not missed a single weekday. I have proven the research that suggests that you have to repeat an action for 66 days for it to become a habit. It now no longer crosses my mind not to get up and go.

Importantly, when I wake up my bag for work has already been packed, my breakfast and lunch are already prepared and sat in a bag in the fridge waiting for me and my gym clothes are laid out ready. All of this reduces the distractions and delays which could prevent me going one day.

By the time I reach work now I am ready to hit the ground running rather than needing at least one coffee to get going.

More recently I have added some road running into my schedule, but importantly I fit these in around times when the other members of my family are otherwise occupied. I hate running with a passion so this has been a good mental battle with myself.

4. Eat Healthily
Again, my diet had become an area where I was not applying the knowledge I had in this area. I assessed why it was that I often made bad decisions regarding my food and a big part was that I was often eating on the hop or grabbing food and going during the day or evening.

Having identified this, I decided to write out a plan for weekdays that would be healthy and ensure I did not get hungry during the working day but also not take up my evenings preparing. I now prepare my meals for weekdays while I am out of the house on a Sunday afternoon.

Over the 6 months I have developed these meals and halved the time it takes me to carry this out to boot. Most importantly with this approach, after listening to a very good audiobook along these lines I learned that by doing this I have removed the decision making element of what I eat throughout the week – the time when I was most likely to make unhealthy choices.

By no means do I feel restricted by this. I have still eaten out several times and not been the guy ordering a side salad with a sardine – far from it. I have still been out for a drink several times, but these are now perceived as teats or occasions to me, rather than almost the norm.

5. Sleep
Having started physical training again and eating a healthy diet for the first time in a very long time it is unsurprising that I felt I was sleeping better than I had been. However, upon inspection of my FitBit sports watch it was shocking to me how much more deep sleep I have been getting in the last 6 months than I had been previously.

I make a conscious effort to go to bed no later than 23:00 which will give me at least 7 hours sleep on weeknights. On weekend I sleep until I naturally wake up, which seems to be around 8.5 hours. As you can see with these sleep times none of this is unrealistic or unachievable. I am not suggesting anybody needs to go to bed really early to get good long sleeps in, but I no longer go to bed at 01:00 AM on weeknights – after all I need to be well rested if I am going to continue my run of not missing a single morning session in the gym since June going.

Despite the extra workload physically I feel fitter and healthier than I have for years. I have more “brain time” than I feel like I have had since I was a student at University due to the removal of so many notifications on my electronic devices. I also feel that I am “in the room” a lot more at home than I used to be and that even rolls over into my time at work at times.

Most importantly of all though is that I no longer have that feeling that I am drowning in my “to do” list even if it still has plenty on there to do. I now look at it as another challenge to overcome. Because I am lucky enough to love my job I now feel like I can get back to enjoying the work for the long term again.

None of what I have set out above are either difficult neither are they unachievable. If I can do it from the starting point I was at when I decided to make some of these changes then quite literally anybody can.

Why not give some of the things I have set out a try for yourself? Commit to 3 months of having no e-mail on your phone or take all notifications off your devices.

If you only do one of these things to start with I am confident you will be amazed how you feel so quickly! In a Club Management role it’s important we take care of ourselves – only now that I have started doing so do I appreciate what a difference this makes!

#2: Bar Pricing & The Course Expenditure Drain

Bar Pricing and the Course Spend Drain It’s the first few months of the year, and you have just informed the Membership that the 3p per pint rise that the brewery are adding to their prices. I am told some Managers even run a book on how long it will be from that moment until the first complaint hits their inbox.

No matter how long it takes, it’s definitely on its way! “Our prices are now no different to the local pubs” and “we are a Members’ Club, we shouldn’t be making profit from Member drinks” are charging swiftly toward the conversation with the confidence of Baldrick and his claim that he has a “cunning plan.”

Ironically, the complainants in some clubs don’t realise is that their Committee likely debated whether to add such a tiny amount for a considerable length of time, supported by margin charts and gross profit calculations.

The Drain
The year end accounts often report the finances relating to the bar and catering operation in an entirely correct, but very unhelpful way for the purpose of this discussion. They will usually show that the bar and catering operation made a profit the previous year, usually in the following simple way:-

Bar Income – Products – Staff Costs = Annual Profit

However, in truth this is by no means the full story. There are many reasons that this is the case, but here are a few to consider: -

• Rates calculations for licensed areas of a Clubhouse are vastly higher than were they not licensed.

• The heat & light bill licensed areas are a very high percentage of the total Club bill, not to mention the additional hours that the Clubhouse stays open due to there being a bar / kitchen.

• The licensed areas of the Clubhouse will be the largest in floor size and will take at least half of the time that cleaners will spend cleaning the building.

• Insurance element of licensed areas, staffing and stock.

• Various licensing costs such as Sky TV / BT Sport / PRS, none of which would feature were the Clubhouse to just be an office, a meeting room and a couple of changing rooms.

There are some other cost considerations on a more ad hoc basis, relating only to the licensed areas of the Clubhouse such as: -

• Maintenance of licensed areas of the Clubhouse.

• Refurbishment of licensed areas of the Clubhouse.

Case Study: Golf Income vs Golf Expenditure of Example GC
Using the guidelines I have outlined previously let’s take a look at how this would actually look were the total related costs to be reported in a collective area of the Club’s accounts. These are true figures, extracted from the Club accounts of an unnamed Golf Club – not one that I have worked for I may add.

The Club concerned has over 700 playing Members, paying just over £1,000 a year for full playing members. It has a function room, bar and holds the catering in house.

Example GC reported their Bar & Catering P&L as follows on their Annual Accounts in Year X:-

Bar Income                   £166,328.00
Cost of Sales               (£76,358.00)
Bar Gross Profit           £89,970.00

Bar Staff Costs            (£62,027.00)
Total Bar Profit             £27,943.00

Catering Income           £126,069.00
Cost of Sales                (£41,358.00)
Catering Gross Profit   £84,711.00

Catering Staff Costs    (£72,301.00)
Catering Sundries        (£3,372.00)
Laundry Costs              (£2,197.00)
Coffee Machine Lease (£2,100.00)

Total Catering Profit      £4,741.00

Total Bar & Catering Profit / Loss £32,684.00

I am sure anybody who has sat in any position of responsibility for any length of time in many (not all) Members’ Golf Clubs will have heard this section of the Annual Accounts discussed in a negative way by some Members along the lines of “the bar shouldn’t make a profit. It’s a Members’ Club we shouldn’t be profiting from the Members.”

It’s an understandable stance. Members can hardly be blamed for going off the Club’s audited accounts for their information. Sadly, in Example GC the reality is actually very different…….

Bar Income                      £166,328.00
Cost of Sales                   (£76,358.00)
Bar Gross Profit              £89,970.00

Bar Staff Costs                (£62,027.00)
Total Bar Profit                £27,943.00

Catering Income              £126,069.00
Cost of Sales                   (£41,358.00)

Catering Gross Profit      £84,711.00
Catering Staff Costs       (£72,301.00)
Catering Sundries           (£3,372.00)
Laundry Costs                 (£2,197.00)
Coffee Machine Lease    (£2,100.00)

Total Catering Profit        £4,741.00

60% of Heat & Light Costs               (£15,969.00)
Licensed Areas Rates                       (£21,634.00)
50% of Clubhouse Cleaning             (£6,679.00)
Licensed Areas Related Insurance  (£1,813.00)
Sky TV / BT Sport Subscription       (£9,324.00)
Licenses                                             (£869.00) 

Actual Bar & Catering Profit / Loss (£23,604.00)

In short, Example GC is actually subsidising its drinkers and diners to the tune of £23,604 per annum.

I am not saying that bar prices should suddenly rocket to cover the shortfall, or that there is anything wrong with the model I have outlined from Example GC. Maybe it may help another Manager or two to help a Member to not get quite so excited when the price of an all day drinking session is increased by less than the price of a 2nd class stamp – it certainly isn’t creating a scenario where the regulars in the bar are subsidising anything.

There are Clubs who's bar and catering income may be so great that their sales levels actually do cover all of the extra costs to those you would see in the F&B section of their annual accounts - but they are in the minority to say the least.  If your Club is in this bracket though - do all you can to sustain those sales levels - the greatest benefit of all will be seen out on the course!

#1 - Pesky Golf Societies & The “Raise the Subscriptions” Myth

The Removing Societies / Increasing Subscriptions Myth “Let’s stop allowing societies altogether. I’ll happily pay an extra £100 on my subscriptions” you overhear as you stand at the coffee machine.

It’s an idea that so many Golf Club General Managers have said that they have heard at their Clubs. I myself have held this very debate with Members in the Bar of four Clubs for whom I have worked, and I sit quietly in the corner of the Club where I am a Member listening to the same conversation play out on a fairly frequent basis.

Unfortunately, all too often I have heard this idea shot down with a reply along the lines of “you would have to up your subs by about £150” or something similar. In all but the big society income Clubs this figure is almost certainly inaccurate, but it also ignores the way that we should really look at this suggestion on a Club by Club basis, and provide a full answer to those Members who suggest this radical approach.

The “Increase my Subscriptions” Miscalculation
I’ll show my cards early on this matter. “Get rid of societies and up everyone’s subs” is not the answer if your goal is to have a society free Club.

At this point I feel I should clarify that I am neither ignoring the importance of societies for bar and catering income and for providing potential new Members to the Club, nor am I advocating doing so as a good way forward for the vast majority of Clubs. This is merely a very simplistic look at the merits of the idea in general.

So, onto the figures….

For the purpose of this discussion, “Example Golf Club” has the following membership levels: -

Category                            Qty                    Cost

Full Membership:             300                   £950

5 Day Membership:          50                     £820

Flexible Membership:      50                     £375 (Plus £15 per round)

28-30 Years Old:               20                     £580

24-28 Years Old:               20                     £500

Colt:                                    10                     £350

Student:                             30                     £250

Junior:                               60                      £100

To provide a full picture, the Club also has a visitor income of £100,00 – broken down as follows: -

Members’ Guests: £15,000

Tour Operators:     £10,000

General Visitors:    £20,000

Flexible Members: £15,000

Societies:                £40,000

So, in essence, the group of Members who are suggesting an increase in their subscriptions to replace £40,000 a year of society income. But before making a final calculation, there is also the consideration of the loss of food and drink that nearly all societies take advantage of during their visits.

A conservative estimate for this being a further £15,000 of lost profit that those groups would have provided.

So – we need to find an extra £55,000 in total.

To generate this sum from subscription income alone a 14.34% increase would be required to all categories of Membership, leading to the following increases: -

Category                       Qty             Current Cost      New Cost

Full Membership:        300                  £950                 £1086

5 Day Membership:     50                    £820                  £938

Flexible Membership: 50                    £375                  £429

28-30 Years Old:          20                    £580                  £663

24-28 Years Old:          20                    £500                  £572

Colt:                               10                    £350                  £400

Student:                        30                    £250                   £286

Junior:                           60                    £100                   £115

Now those who are making this bold suggestion may not baulk at these new prices, the huge flaw in their plan is the assumption that the other 98% of the Club’s Membership will agree.

Those making the suggestion, in my experience, often play several times per week and are invariably retired – though not always. However, there are many Members – many more than those who play many times per week – who play infrequently or can only play at weekends due to work commitments.

These are the Members who will already likely be assessing whether they are playing enough golf to justify the membership fees each year, and are rarely, if ever, inconvenienced by a society.

Clubs already lose Members each year at renewal. A sizeable increase such as this would almost certainly lead to higher numbers of resignations than would have been experienced had the usual 2% / 3% increase been applied. If an additional loss of say 30 Members to the normal budget were suffered, that would leave a £32,580 hole in the Club’s finances.

The Ironic Solution
So in the first Committee meeting following the closing of the renewals period there would likely be a priority agenda item required to discuss how the Club can replace the £32,580 loss.

There would likely be a few ideas thrown around – none of them desirable. Redundancies would likely be raised as a possibility, but I would hope that any properly functioning Committee would realise that these will only compromise the Club’s standards and could be the start of a very slippery slope. Most medium sized Clubs already operate on minimal staffing, so it’s unlikely that losing one or more of them would be palatable.

Increasing the Subscriptions further is neither possible nor wise – it’s another 10 months until the next renewals period, and you will likely already have at least a partially unhappy membership due to the increases you have just imposed.

Increasing the prices of food and drink in the Clubhouse to increase margins would not generate anywhere near the sort of profit required and were a Club to do so to the extreme, the trend they saw when they increased the subscriptions would likely be replicated with food and drink sales.

A new Member drive may be possible for some Clubs, especially if there is now more available tee time due to the departure of any society bookings. However, most Clubs were not full in the first place, and if they were capable of bringing in 30 + new full Members than they normally would organically then surely, they would have already been doing so?

So, the ironic outcome is that the Committee, desperately in need of a quick solution to the £32,520 hole in their finances and current bank balance will very likely need to be………

……. A drive to bring in Societies!


After the undoubted heartache of complaints from many Members about such a large increase in subscription prices to cater for the wants of only a section of the Club, in under a year it is very possible that the only thing that will have been achieved was higher subscriptions for the Members than would have been the case had the Club done nothing at all.

It is also possible that as a result of a 14.34% rise in subscription costs that my conservative estimate of 30 extra lost Members may have been too low. There will be many Clubs where a rise of this kind would make them far more expensive than near rival Clubs, or simply make the “price per round” equation that so many Members make each renewal period just too high. In these cases, the consequences could be even greater than half the Membership angry that having increased subscriptions, societies are still using the Club and the other half angry that their subscriptions have been increased for no benefit to them.

In these cases, the financial consequences could be long lasting, and very problematic.

An Aside
There may be Clubs out there who’s society income is either so low that the rise in subscriptions would be small, or even some where the society income is something the Club could actually survive quite happily without. If either of these applies to your Club, then this simplified model would likely not apply to your Club. You should be very happy that you are in such a strong position!

For those who would point out that the model I have discussed here is simplistic – I did warn you it was early on in the piece. However – I have found that providing this sort of response usually leaves those who want to banish societies to the history books at their Club at least consider their opinion. It is certainly a better way forward than throwing a figure you think sounds scary at them by way of subscription increases. If the figure you throw at them sounds a small price to pay for that particular Member or group, you have just inadvertently poked the bear!

Now if there are any Golf Club Managers out there who can offer a solution of how to manage the issue of making Societies a non-issue with the frequent playing Members of a Golf Club don’t write a blog about it. Write a book and sell it – you will be retired within 6 months!