Profile: North Weald Golf Club’s owner Andrew Lloyd Skinner15th October, 2012 by Jenny Yu
Andrew Lloyd Skinner has been able to indulge his passion for golf by purchasing North Weald Golf Club in Essex and is now committed to helping both golfers and fellow club owners get the most out of the game.
“After a career in the software industry I originally decided to buy the club in 2004 as part of a consortium but my partners were more interested in the development potential of the land,” he explained. “However, in 2006 the local development plan suggested that the area would not be impacted by property requirements so the partners wished to withdraw and I then raised the capital to buy them out.”
North Weald Golf Club is now run as a family concern by Andrew and two of his three sons, and over the past eight years considerable investment has been made in the club.
“We took three and a half years to redesign the course, working around the members and visitors, creating undulations and rebuilding tees for more challenging play as well as building a 22-bay floodlit driving range and short game area,” Andrew explained. “This year we have finished remodelling the clubhouse and increased the size of the pro shop which is now a ‘Nevada Bob’s’ licensed pro shop. We will continue to make tweaks to improve the golfer’s experience.”
Andrew commented that the club remains at the budget end of the price range for the area with seven day annual membership costing £795 as opposed to £900 to £1,250 found at nearby golf clubs.
“We want to attract people back into golf,” he said. “Membership is currently 360 – it dropped to just above 200 while we were doing the renovations. The economy is certainly continuing to hit golf – in 2011 we had 125 new members whereas this year the figure was only 35 by mid-June. The weather has not helped.”
Andrew works closely with England Golf and North Weald GC is a ‘Get Into Golf’ centre which gives it access to the organisation’s knowledge, contacts and funding. Coaching for 16 new golfers a month is funded by the scheme, and they are then offered a one-off trial membership for £200. “This has worked well – ten have joined in the past six weeks,” he said.
The club also holds a large email database, the data for in part generated by a loyalty card scheme and also from the Nevada Bob’s licence which can be used for general marketing as well as for the pro shop.
“England Golf supports the amateur golfer and is very committed to golf generally, not just to member-owned clubs,” pointed out Andrew. “We are about to complete our GolfMark accreditation, and as long as clubs are prepared to commit to certain quality standards, there is generous funding available with schemes such as Get Into Golf.”
Andrew has also recently been elected to the board of the UK Golf Course Owners Association (UKGCOA). “The association was initially made up of representatives from larger organisations such as Crown Golf, De Vere and Burhill, but was keen for owners of smaller courses to join. I find it useful for networking and support, and was also attracted by the access to the Material Matters buying group, which has cut our costs considerably,” he said
His involvement with UKGCOA has led Andrew into political debate as part of a joint working committee with England Golf on taxation for clubs. The committee is battling for equality between privately owned (proprietory) and not-for-profit (members) clubs on VAT charged on membership and green fees.
This contentious issue came to a head this summer with the conclusion of the Chipping Sodbury tribunal. Chipping Sodbury Golf Club argued that club membership is made up of a ‘package of services’, of which one is the provision of a facility for the ‘playing of sport’. Under EU law, this would mean that that aspect of membership can be exempt from VAT and if so should be for all sports’ participants regardless of where they choose to play their sport, explained Andrew.
“In my opinion, HM Revenue and Customs [HMRC] will appeal this case if Chippping Sodbury wins, so clubs will probably be advised by HMRC to continue to pay the VAT.”
However, the Bridport case is closer to conclusion. Last year Bridport & West Dorset Golf Club won a case against HMRC to claim back the VAT it had spent on green fees for non-members of the golf club, but HMRC appealed the decision, which is due to be heard this July. If the appeal is unsuccessful then private members’ clubs will be able to claim back several years of VAT paid on all green fees.
A popular rumour in the industry shows the implications of this – KPMG are acting on behalf of the industry on a no-win, no-fee basis in the expectation of receiving 20 per cent of the payout – £60m, which brings the total to £300m.
Andrew stresses that it is vital that the Treasury develops a strategy for taxation in sport.
“England Golf in partnership with UKGCOA is actively lobbying the government on this matter via the Sports and Recreation Alliance as it is not just a matter for golf, but for all sports where there is a private and not-for-profit sector. The government needs to realise that if the HMRC loses the appeal, clubs can claim large sums back for VAT paid since the rules changed in 1990,” he said.
“So a compromise needs to be agreed which would ideally be the UK lower rate of VAT of five per cent for all participation in sport, not 20 per cent for those who play sport at private clubs and zero per cent for those who attend not-for-profit sports clubs as is currently the case. Those who participate in sport should be able to choose where they play without being penalised in the form of VAT for their choice.”
Whatever the outcome, Andrew will continue his drive to get more people involved in his passion, which interestingly was not his first love. “I was a footballer, and at one time played the two sports side by side, but along with many friends the same age, find golf more attractive as I mature.”
The links between the two sports will be strengthened at North Weald by the construction of 3G artificial five-a-side pitches on land recently sold by the club.
“Much of the football will be played on these pitches under floodlights when our driving range is also in action, so we may well see footballers and their families attracted to try a new sport,” he explained.