Scott Evans, managing director at Centurion club, is overseeing the evolution of a new golf club that is eschewing convention in terms of membership structure and club culture. Evans spoke exclusively to Robin Barwick at the Hertfordshire Club
We bought the site in October 2010, and I knew the land had the potential for the shaping of this golf course, and to create interest and drama in a golf course. That is what excites people. To see the land go from muck, to grass, to grass being cut, to having sand in bunkers, to being played is an emotional journey.
What gave you the confidence to establish a private club from scratch, when all around in the golf industry there is plenty of negative news in terms of participation numbers and the viability of golf venues?
Location is a huge factor: in 40 minutes from here you can be in Park Lane, and that is huge in terms of succeeding at a premium price. We found the location, created the golf course, and then it was a case of creating a model that is going to work. Keeping the club private is key to selling: if people want to play the golf course they have got to join. But within a joining scheme you need to have options, and between our shares, Centurion membership, corporate and international options, we have good flexibility.
I am surrounded by some of the best people in the golf business, and we have set-up a new strategy to sell a private golf club. Our model works; we have a structure established for 99 years and people are buying it. We don’t see ourselves as owners or developers as much as we are custodians of this club.
A lot of new golf projects move the goal posts down the line at some point, in terms of membership benefits, and that is what causes all the friction. Our biggest challenge is fighting against the disasters people see elsewhere in the golf business. We have seen how other clubs around the world have been set-up, and we have seen what works and what doesn’t, and rather than set up as a model where we are trying to get our money back, we are considering the full circle of how it will unfold down the line.
The club opened in July 2013, so how have membership sales gone since then?
We have around 160 members so far and we are on schedule, which is the pleasing thing. I will be happy when we get to 250-300, and the membership will be full when we reach 480 Centurion memberships and 100 shareholders. The surprise has been that the shares have sold quicker than anticipated, which has brought in quite a chunk of capital.
How does the share offering work?
We are selling 25 percent of the business in the form of 100 shares, at £50,000 per share. Through the Enterprise and Investment Scheme our investors receive relief on inheritance tax and capital gains tax on their share. The shareholders then pay £17,500 plus VAT for a 99-year membership, which they can bequeath. That is quite an attractive proposition to a lot of people: they have paid for their golf for the rest of their lives, and they have paid for their son or daughter’s golf too.
How does the culture Centurion Club differ from other clubs?
We are putting into practice what our membership wants to see, which is a relaxed environment. I have seen other clubs get beaten down by an older generation looking to impose rules, and we are trying to avoid that and we are trying to allow people just to go about their business and enjoy their golf. We are not here to tell people how to dress. We expect that if a golfer has spent between £10,000 and £70,000 to come to the Centurion Club, they know how to appreciate what they have bought into. I am not a headmaster at a school.
It’s golf attire. It’s smart but casual. The issue facing the golf industry is that it is turning away the younger generations. Life is changing quicker every day and the golf industry is not geared up for it. We have less time for everything in our lives and we want less fuss during our downtime, but I am not going to preach about the golf business. I am interested in what we are doing here, and it is proving attractive to a lot of people, through a combination of the golf course, the location, the staff and members who are joining.
The clubhouse is under construction, so what are the plans for the fabric of the club, beyond the golf course?
The builders started in the summer and they are cracking on. We will get the club building up in the first instance, and we are on target, and then we will look to add elements such as a spa further down the line. We hope to fill our membership within five years, and as we do that we will look to improve the facilities. We are going to make this site the best it can possibly be.
What are your plans for the pro shop?
We will keep the pro shop in-house and it will be more of a service than it will be a business. I don’t think we will get heavily involved in hardware as there is no margin in it. Sitting in a pro shop with £5,000 of stock through the winter does not stack up for me. We will get logoed apparel sales going, and I will get a real kick if one day down the line, I am walking through an airport and I see someone wearing the Centurion Club logo.