Meet Andrew Craven: The man currently buying one golf venue per year15th October, 2012 by Jenny Yu
Green Grass Golf provoked intrigue this summer when purchasing Broke Hill Golf Club in Kent, soon after purchasing the adjacent pay and play facility Chelsfield Lakes Golf Club.
While the company itself is little-known, director Andrew Craven is an established figure in golf, as a director of PGA official supplier International Golf Design, which seeks to develop golf resorts globally and also has interests in the United Kingdom. A golf course architect, his company has also acted as a PGA management consultancy.
Andrew explained: “We were approached in Russia by a client who wished to enter the golf market in the UK. They chose us because we were PGA design consultants and also have a background in golf club management.”
The client, Andrew said, was keen to source golf clubs in the UK, as he believes property to be undervalued, and with the weak pound, a safe investment. Both clubs were bought from Crown Golf. “Their assets were of particular interest as they are an established business model and are well run,” he pointed out.
Chelsfield Lakes was the initial acquisition and Andrew commented that the first year has gone well.
“It’s a great business, and it made sense to take on Broke Hill as well as they use some of the same staff and were originally part of the same farm, although they obviously operate in different markets. We have been able to introduce some economies of scale by sharing staff and materials, and if function facilities at one are fully booked, we can still accommodate bookings at the other club,” he said.
“However, there is no intention to merge them as such – we want to protect and enhance their identities. That said, members of each have access to clubs in the Crown Golf group, and we would consider that the nine hole practice course at Chelsfield Lakes offers an ideal introduction for learner golfers before they progress to Broke Hill. Although there are good golfers at Chelsfield Lakes who enjoy that course and have no wish to go elsewhere.
“We believe that clubs need to stand on their own feet rather than being run by the shareholders. We are not planning any major overhauls at either club, just refurbishments or minor improvements as required, in consultation with members. Both facilities are relatively new and have been built to modern standards.”
The only work required so far has been a bunker refurbishment programme at Chelsfield Lakes and continuation of bunker work already started at Broke Hill.
However the group’s management experience has been brought into play.
“It is a straightforward matter of making slight tweaks as we are taking on clubs with a good business model, but because we are a small company we have been able to go to local suppliers and negotiate local deals. We have already sourced local high quality food with a 13 per cent reduction in food and beverage costs.”
Andrew added that the group would certainly look at acquiring more clubs if the right opportunities come along.
“Although we have the design capabilities to start from scratch, it is cheaper to buy an existing course than build a new one. We have been approached by agents and are keeping an eye on the market; there are a few clubs on the market but few are good assets.”
Anyone expecting a rash of announcements or planning to cash in their club quickly may be disappointed however, as Andrew said: “It can be a complex and slow process from putting the finance in place to exchanging and completing on the property. Even if the right club comes along, it could take 10 months.”
A multi-faceted industry professional, Andrew said that his ‘obsession’ with golf led him along a path from being a landscape architect, into golf course construction and then on to be a golf course architect, but he has a word of warning for those wanting to follow the same route: “Although there are professional bodies and degree courses available, golf course architecture is a largely unregulated profession. Lots of people would like to have a go at it and it is highly competitive.”
Competition has never been fiercer in the market for golf club members either, but Andrew believes that the difficult financial climate has simply helped to remove weaker clubs from the equation.
“Some parts of the country have suffered from over-supply, and it is not always the best use of former farmland. It has been a painful process but at least the industry will become more sustainable. There are far fewer developments now – high profile constructions such as the Donald Trump course are definitely the exception!”
He is positive about the future: “Good clubs will thrive. There will always be a market for well-designed and well-run courses, and those that can cater for people coming into the sport,” he said.