How one club is attracting more women members

Stoke Park have a thriving ladies section so GOLF RETAILING took a trip to the award-winning golf club to find out why they are seeing such success in this area.

Chris Murtagh, PGA Pro – 
Chris is heavily involved in coaching the club’s Academy membership and works on the group coaching timetable

When I first joined the team Stuart Collier, Director of Golf, was very keen that we get more females engaged in the academy and put a pathway in place to take them from beginner golfers through to full membership. We have had around ten now that have made that journey. We offer free taster sessions and we decided to create a golfing timetable similar to the ones that you see in gyms. So we have short game classes, long game classes and putting classes all on at different times of the week and at three different levels: beginners, improvers and advanced.

chris-murtaghFrom month one the aim is to get them out onto the golf course playing. The traditional beginners course of week one focusing on the grip, week two the stance can get monotonous so we want to take people out on the golf course early on. We might only play three holes in two hours but we get them to hit some shots and understand the game.

From there they can join the Academy membership, which is a three-year membership opportunity which allows them to play holes 19-27, use the practice facilities and receive some instruction. One of the reason it has been a success is because we have groups of ladies together – ad hoc individual ladies who come in once or twice often don’t continue with golf, but we have had a nucleus that started and progressed together. We have a competition every Saturday and when the scores get to around 50-55 for nine holes consistently it is a yardstick for them to get out on the course and start playing 18 holes.

The monthly timetable of sessions is there for people to choose what they want to do – to sign up for a month is a £100. For this there are ten to 12 hours available and the average uptake is between 6-8 but it is up to the person how much they want to attend, there is no need to book.

From 2-3 months in, on average, the beginners progress to the improvers class and then after another few months the academy membership becomes more realistic. Academy membership is £1350 a year and that gives access to the golf course whenever they want to go out. There is three years maximum as an Academy member which we feel is ample time; we don’t want to grow academy membership too much – it is a stepping stone into full membership.

The biggest thing is providing some structure and keeping in contact with them and having that pathway in place. The classes that make the biggest difference are when we go out onto the course because it makes them feel like there is real progression. From a technical perspective there’s not much difference between men and women, but one difference is that men don’t respond to group coaching in the same way; ladies aren’t as keen on having an intense one-on-one but seem to like being in a group a lot more. They also tend to listen more than the men do, they take on board what you tell them a bit more.

Stuart Collier, Director of Golf – Stuart is responsible for ensuring that the atmosphere in the club is relaxed and welcoming to all and is responsible for the overall strategy of attracting more lady golfers

The golf club has around 140 academy members at different phases and two thirds of these are ladies. We are getting into a cycle of around 40 a year who are coming to the end of their three years and if we can get half of these to progress onto full membership and another 40 a year join that would be a real success. On the retailing side many of them are coming in without any gear so need clothing, trolleys and hardware. For a lot of them their whole golfing experience is with us so as long as there is a relationship with the pros we can do very well as they are loyal and aren’t trying to find a pair of shoes for £5 cheaper.

stuart-collierBack in 2001 when the pavilion opened and we had the spa and tennis facilities we had lots of ladies drive through the golf course every day to get to those things but not actually play, so we thought we needed to create a golf experience. We knew we need something in place in-between having lessons and becoming a full member so that’s why we opened up the Academy membership. Having a timeline of three years means people know it is a pathway to full membership.

Our current lady captain here was an academy member initially so it’s great that she has come all the way through the system. In our ladies section we have around 150 and it is quite an active group and they have regular weekly competitions and golf tours away which is a great way for new members to integrate and get to know people. The ladies started doing this four years ago and it has gone very well – the Majorca trip for 2017 was fully booked in a day.

We work hard to create a relaxed and warm environment as we can forget how intimidating it can be for people to come into a new environment and a game that they don’t really know. We work as a group to make sure that everyone here, and all of the PGA pros, are as welcoming as possible and this is led by the owners, myself and the senior staff and it has become the culture of the club. It’s a much more modern way for clubs to operate.

The timetable model that we have makes it extremely attractive and affordable – for £100 a month someone can really get good value. People won’t come to all of the sessions as they have their own commitments but it gives them more choice and flexibility to choose which ones they want to attend and it also gives our new members a chance to meet all of the pros if they do a few different lessons. Doing something different rather than just offering six lessons for the price of five can work really well.

Tim Harris, Head assistant professional – Tim is the Pro Shop retail manager and has played a key role in ensuring that the pro shop is stocked with apparel and hardware that appeals to female golfers

We are blessed here that we have quite a large retail space for the ladies, so we are able to create a nice environment and we almost have a shop within a shop. We have enough space to have three to four different ladies ranges of clothing and the fashion element is extremely important.

tim-harrisWe have different price points, going from entry level to more premium and a good selection of shoes with three different suppliers so there is variety in place. We also have a good selection of hardware and some really good fitting carts and a TrackMan so we can make sure they get the right clubs for them. Like any golfer, some want more data than others.

We have Rohnisch, Golfino, Daily Sports and Galvin Green as our main suppliers and they have been with us for a good number of years and have consistently performed well. Like men’s clothes, a lot of it is going down the lifestyle range; people tend to want to buy clothes where they know they are multipurpose, so they can wear them both on and off the course.

It is absolutely key for us to merchandise the outfits well with mannequin and various multi-buy options as ladies – more than men – will look for an outfit. They will want to have a trouser which matches a shirt and an outwear garment so that it is all synchronised. Men tend to me more impulsive, they will see a shirt and buy it, without necessarily thinking about what it goes with.

On a regular basis we will sell over £500 of Golfino to one customer, which is on average about three garments whereas you wouldn’t tend to do as much with the guys, it would be one or two items. On a Tuesday afternoon after the ladies have played and they all come in together it can work really well for us – when we had a new FootJoy boot it just took one lady to try them on and, before we knew it, we had sold four boots in one afternoon. Average spend per head does seems to be a bit more. Christina, who works in the Pro shop, is always here on a Tuesday and is a great point of contact to check them in – I do have a rapport with them and give them advice on clothing as I know what brands they like but Christina is better as offering advice on what clothes match with others.

The successful pro shops that do ladies clothing tend to do it in a big way and I think we have a good balance and a lot more ladies clothing than most pros shops. It is important to work with the clothing companies to ensure there is support, so you can rotate some stock if it isn’t working particularly well or just do a trial period. It’s vital that, before you get in any stock, ask your lady members what they want as otherwise you are just guessing what they want. Ask your customers what they actually want and work with them.