Profile: Crowlands Golf Centre22nd February, 2013 by Alistair Dunsmuir
The recent England Golf survey revealed that there has been a sharp rise in the number of golf clubs that offer flexible membership categories in just the last two years, but still the vast majority of golf clubs do not offer this, even though many golf consumers are demanding it.
One club that does now offer flexible memberships – where golfers pay discounted annual fees to become members but typically pay reduced green fees if they play several rounds of golf each year – is Crowlands Golf Centre in Essex, and it is one of the most forward-thinking venues in the country.
Marcus Radmore, the PGA professional at the club, explained the story behind Crowlands.
“I sat down with the owners of the club one day and spoke to them about the possibility of making some risky changes that I felt could really work,” he said.
“I was asked to put a development plan to them with figures and forecasts. I also told them that I had read an article somewhere about the YMCA and how they have one of the largest drops in membership numbers each year, but gain exactly the same amount. This prompted me to go down to the local YMCA to see what their membership scheme was and why it worked so well – it turned out that it was operated like a leisure club.
“I then investigated the idea that golf should emulate the leisure centre membership ethos – for example I spoke to a woman who worked in memberships at Virgin Active, she said said the reason they keep getting people to join is that 85 per cent of the time the club is hardly used, and that there is only a short period of time when people are actually waiting for the machines that are in use during their peak hours.
“Well, I thought, exactly the same can be said for golf clubs and their tee sheets!”
At the time, the club charged £519 to be a member, which, with the cost of living rising during a recession, Crowlands was concerned that this would be hard for households to justify. A green fee was £15.
Marcus, armed with the research from non-golf clubs that had a good track record in recruiting new members, analysed his course usage statistics to see if, like at a gym where treadmills are often not in use, the weekly tee sheet offered spare spaces.
He decided the best option would be a membership structure in which golfers paid £99 per year to join the club, and then paid a half-price green fee every time they play a round. If they played enough golf that they had spent £420 on green fees, that is, this plus the £99 flexible membership cost that would equate to the original membership fee, then each member would receive unlimited free golf thereafter for the remainder of their subscription year.
“The new structure gives someone who feels like they won’t get value out of full membership true value, and anyone who plays a lot of golf the same good value they had before. The owners let me go ahead with it on that basis,” he said.
The membership also included 10 per cent off at the bar, 20 per cent off at the range, a discount on private hire for the club’s function suite and an England Golf handicap.
Next up, Marcus worked on getting these new memberships sold.
“The new system could only work if we are able to focus the staff on selling the product, so it was important to provide a commission incentive to staff that sell memberships,” he said. “We paid an extra four pounds to the staff per membership sold. They had to know the product and be able to sell it in the right way, that is, golfers that played there regularly needed to see the benefits of paying the £99 fee.
“All in all, this increased our membership numbers from 48 full paying members to 370 £99 members in one year, and it continues to rise. It has improved weekly cash flow for the club as there are regular customers paying a weekly fee. We can see that it’s also an attracting force for golfers that are members elsewhere; they see value in our membership and come to us as a second club, they can enjoy our competitions too.”
However, Marcus was adamant that flexible memberships was just one of many techniques that the club could offer to its customers and potential customers.
“We looked at other ways to attract people to the club,” he said. “In the USA, there are kids’ tees set out to 1,800 yards in accordance to American junior golf guidelines. This membership is critical because it feeds directly into your junior section, another example of good club growth.
“So I decided to convert the course to suit under 10s’ golf.
“I bought nine paving stones from Homebase, painted them turquoise, placed them strategically around the course, and created the ‘Mini Mite under 10s’ junior section’. To date we have 21 players playing bi-weekly, many of whom compete on national tours. They have a home ground and word of mouth means the Mini Mites continues to grow. Total cost to set up was £45, including paint for the tee stones. The return has been 21 children at £99 for a year plus their spend while at the club. Oh and a big factor here too is a strict dress code: wear whatever you like!”
Part of this recruitment drive involved letting the local community know more about the golf club.
“We needed to demonstrate to the community that we were there,” said Marcus, “so I implemented a fireworks’ night and, instead of it being a members’ event, I created an open to all event where we get to show off our club and invite people in to enjoy the facilities.
“We paid a professional firework display team to put on the show on our driving range; we had 1,000 tickets for sale, created outdoor food stalls, bars with live music, face painting and sweet stands and so on. Plus we added an inflatable net for kids to try golf.
“We sold tickets for four pounds each the first year, and marketed via banners, emails, leaflet droppings at local schools and word of mouth.
“We sold out the 1,000 tickets. We could have had 2,000 there but had to draw a line on how safe we could run the event comfortably. It generated £12,000 for one night. Now it’s a flagship event for 1,250 people [ticket prices in the second year were £5 each and this generated £14,000] that the community enjoys every year and its making use of our outdoor space in the dark that’s not otherwise used. It’s also our open day and leads to membership sales.”
Crowlands also explored how it could improve membership renewals.
“This was an easy hurdle to overcome,” said Marcus.
“Any club these days that has membership renewals on a set date every year is doing this for ease of admin. This will bite you.
“We had 20 people leave us for another club several years back and that cost the budget over £10,000. Basically, if John likes playing golf with Harry but John’s renewal is in April and Harry’s is in August, chances are they will both continue to play golf at the same place as there memberships overlap. So what we do is – the day a person becomes a member, they are a member until that day the following year.”
Part of increasing renewals involved Marcus examining the club’s database.
“Database is an easy word to use,” he said, “but not a lot of people conduct good practice when it comes one. “What if the course closed tomorrow as a result of snow? How would we let every person who played the course, used the range and had a lesson, know that we are back up and running for business when the snow cleared?
“Is it unreasonable for the people who play at our centre to give us some information of theirs like a mobile number or email address? I can’t buy anything from Direct Golf or American Golf without giving them that info. We as a club should always share offers or provide information relevant to an experience, as its probably information our customers would like anyway.
“Part of my plan was to train the staff. I remember asking a member of staff that used to work at reception what an old boy who used to play at the club did for work. She couldn’t even tell me his name, but he made a point of saying good morning to her on a daily basis. So I got her to ask him and find out something about him for me. As it happens, she was gobsmacked to find out that, just after the war, he traded horses to New Zealand and ended up owning over 40 properties in the UK.
“It’s not hard to greet people as they walk through the door, ask what they would like from us, find out if there is anything else they would like and suggest an item, for example, ‘do you have a drink for today madam’? Ask how they are, did they play well today and so on, and therefore up sell on the original sale. At the point of handling money, ask for their details so we can keep them informed of offers at the club. Not everyone would opt into this but you have to let people know you’re still there.”
Marcus is proud of what he’s achieved at the club.
“Golf clubs have running costs like any business,” he said. “So your sales have to exceed them. You should target a market and don’t focus solely on existing members, while not forgetting how important membership retention is.
“The club will always move on, as will your members; constantly target on building your database and selling techniques. Train all staff to sell. Our system of membership might not work for all but the market place of 2013 is one of the UK coming out of recession, so families are finding it hard to justify the disposable income. With that backdrop, golf clubs have to be flexible.”
‘Don’t bow to the pressure of members that don’t like change’
Marcus Radmore explained that some clubs are in potentially terminal decline because they are failing to embrace change.
“You don’t do yourself any favours bowing to the pressure of your members that don’t like change,” he said. “You have to change direction to keep ahead of the game.
“An example I use a lot is a private club close to us that’s in debt and has dwindling member numbers, but they still don’t want visitors there at a weekend as it might upset the members that pay full fees. They charge a £45 fee to play on a weekend, the pro has only the members to serve and they have an empty restaurant most of the time. The common argument from the remaining members is: ‘I want to play when I like and that’s why I pay full fees’. I have said to the club that to take eight green fees and watch 40 members go out is ridiculous. If they bought themselves a tee sheet and saw how many empty spaces there are, it would make you cry.
“Why not charge £20 a green fee instead of £45 and fill the tee sheet up? It would only take 18 people to take the same amount but the spend at the club that day would be more as they would spend in the restaurant and bar, and maybe the club pro would even do well. You have to be realistic about what your product will sell for.
“One of our biggest changes was the culture of our staff – they were shown the value in being employed and that they were there to work for their money, sell on behalf of the club and be given key performance indicators (KPIs) to work towards.
“Too many clubs these days feel that their product is something someone should want, whereas it isn’t these days, it’s something that needs to be sold, shown the benefits and how it can fit into someone’s life. It must offer real value, not perceived value.”
Profile: Marcus Radmore
Marcus Radmore is a PGA professional and a sports consultant at Crowlands Golf Centre.
He originally worked at sports management company 1966 Entertainment, which looks after the England football team’s commercial interests and player rights, as well as the England Footballers Foundation charity.
Through this he managed Henrietta Zuel, now a golfer on the Ladies’ European Tour. “My role changed over time with 1966 and I became a consultant with them as they ran projects across the board, this included large property and sports’ projects globally. As part of the group I was tasked with sourcing the best price and assembling the best teams to deliver golf course projects in emerging economies such as Brazil and Nigeria,” he said.
While doing this he was also coaching part-time at Crowlands. “Some of the best coaches work there, Chris Jenkins for example, Oliver Fisher’s coach from the age of nine. Oli’s career speaks for itself but Chris is now building an incredible reputation; he is now an England regional development squad coach, Essex County squad coach and currently working with some brilliant emerging prospects,” said Marcus.