‘Adventure Golf’ being used to attract women and children to the game
Some old guard members may scoff at small, themed ‘adventure golf’ courses aimed at children, but the clubs that are spending heavily on having them built are also seeing huge direct and indirect financial benefits.
Although the recession hit golf pretty hard, tough times can serve to focus the mind and direction of a business and some clubs have taken the market by the scruff of the neck to search out new revenue streams, rather than to simply make do and mend.
Adventure golf is one direction few might have considered, but dismiss it as gimmicky at your peril, because investment in this leisure offering is already proving a success at two markedly different clubs which both report the same outcome – profit. “Following the 2010 Ryder Cup, it was felt that the Celtic Manor Resort had established itself as a global brand in golf so the strategy was to develop other areas of the business and show the resort to be about so much more than merely golf,” explained Matthew Lewis, its director of Golf and Leisure. “The family leisure market was a particular target so £500,000 was invested in adventure golf and forest jump high ropes, which were both opened in the first half of 2011 to offer significant new facilities for this sector of the business.” The total cost of the build weighed in at £250,000 for two nine-hole adventure golf courses and it has already paid for itself in green fees received from more than 85,000 rounds played on adventure golf in its first two years since opening.
The money was well spent believes Lewis, who highlights the role that facilities like this play in attracting new visitors to the resort. “Adventure golf is a great introduction to golf for young children and we’ve seen quite a few progress to hitting balls in our golf academy.
“I don’t think the effect has been quite so marked with adults but it’s a great game for golfers and non-golfers to play together, bringing the whole family together to enjoy a leisure pursuit.”
The experiences at Celtic Manor Resort are not isolated, with Abbey Hill Golf Centre in Milton Keynes, reporting similar success since unveiling adventure golf there in October 2011.
“The decision to invest was really a response to what was, and still is, a pretty flat market,” explained general manager Gordon Forster, a finalist in the recent GCMA Manager of the Year competition. “We wanted to offer a new leisure element to what we already had, to help widen the appeal of golf, particularly the illusive 18 to 30 market,” he added.
“We accepted that we weren’t likely to suddenly see a boom in memberships so we wanted to add something new that would enhance the resort. The fact that we’re not a private members’ club was also beneficial as our members are already used to seeing non-members around the club so a new leisure activity was unlikely to ruffle any feathers.”
Despite the differences, both sites are reporting a similar reception to their adventure golf installations, particularly as an extra benefit for current and new guests.
“The adventure golf courses have undoubtedly been an important added attraction for hotel guests,” explained Lewis. “Day visitors are also welcome to come and play adventure golf and use other activities like forest jump and many will stay for lunch or a drink and make a day of it.”
Forster added: “One of the best outcomes so far has been the growth in the 18 to 30 bracket, and women and children. The fun element of it is a great way in and we often hear children bend their parents’ ears about playing the course or the driving range; it’s exactly what we want to hear.”
Those expecting an instant return on their investment though will be disappointed, Forster insisted. “It takes time to see results but 18 months down the line we are,” he said.
“There’s been a definite growth on the nine-hole and 18-hole course and on the driving range since the adventure golf opened,” he reported. “It’s only a 10 percent increase but we’re pleased with it and if current trends are any judge, it’s likely to continue.
“You have to look at the long-term, and this is a long-term investment that should help us attract a demographic that has eluded the sport for too long. Also, the boost to bar and restaurant revenue was instant, that’s guaranteed. Growth in bar and restaurant takings are just a small part of the business plan, but what rarely gets built in is the ‘will this help boost participation’ factor; ours is showing that it does.”
It’s all part of the total view of golf the sector should adopt, he added. “As a golf centre, a strong part of our remit is to ensure the sport stays healthy. For this to be achieved, we have to have leisure destinations like ours that exist alongside traditional members’ clubs. We all have our place in the market.”
The cost of installation was £650,000, funded through a capital investment but key to the success of delivery was the relationship with the contractor – City Golf (which also installed the Celtic Manor Resort facility). “They were excellent and there are loads of options for design and concept; you can really go to town on it if you choose to; it all depends how much theming you want,” Forster explained.
Lewis also highlights design as a key consideration. “The biggest challenge to installation was the theming of the golf holes,” he explained. “We settled on two nine-hole courses – the Celtic Challenge and the Kingdom of Legends. The Celtic Challenge has more fun obstacles like an ‘Iona Cross’ and ‘Dragon’s Lair’ and rafts across water for children, while the Kingdom of Legends is based on famous holes in world golf from courses like Augusta, St Andrews and Pebble Beach. We even have mini Swilcan and Hogan bridges!
“A key consideration was also its close proximity to the resort hotel where it would be clearly visible and within easy access for family and leisure guests. It is positioned alongside the Roman Road Course where it can be seen by visiting golfers but not close enough to be a distraction to serious golf. We also wanted a site with plenty of room to build high-quality courses with plenty of space between holes for water features and landscaping.”