“Where’s the locker room please?”

Simon Wordsworth, chief executive of 59Club, examines the quality of processes at offered by golf clubs based on the type of operation.

What sets us apart from the other species on this planet – apart from the talent to occasionally hit long irons over water – is that man has the ability to communicate fully. We do not rely on signals or grunts; we have an extensive vocabulary in order to express everything from instruction to emotion. It is a rare gift, yet one we often fail to appreciate and use correctly. As George Bernard Shaw sagely observed, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Never has a truer word been said when it comes to our latest batch of statistics, which, this month, relate to processes. Often, the things we do regularly become so familiar that we may miss something obvious. Take the results of our testers who were asked if they were, upon arrival, given directions to key facilities – such as the locker rooms, pro shop, first tee, practice area and bar. Logic suggests this would be a pre-requisite for a pay-and-play (PaP) venue, whereas a members’ club could argue that its members are fully aware of the facilities on the basis they are, well, members.Mystery Shopper Graphs March

Yet PaP venues scored a disappointing 48 percent, which means visitors were only given suitable directions upon every other visit and suggests that at some courses there may still be, even now, golfers wandering around in tattered golf attire desperate for a visit to the locker room facilities. Members’ clubs have a better track record here, 54 percent, but only just; while resorts, where such communication should be an essential part of the overall hospitality experience, still come in only at 73 percent.

Figures for the ‘traditional’ three 59Club categories – podium, a score based on the three best-performing venues in a particular criterion; 59Club venues, clubs in the 59Club benchmarking system; and the golf industry, clubs tested by 59Club, but not part of the benchmarking system – also indicate some disparity. While the podium score comes in at 86 percent, 59Club venues drop to 59, while the industry average is a further 10 percentage points adrift. How are visitors supposed to know where to go guys?

 

Poor etiquette

Likewise it’s important to relay the correct information to visitors with regard to etiquette – a reminder about repairing pitch-marks, raking bunkers, etc – but, it would appear, this is overlooked by many. Just five percent of PaPs offer this information, and neither resorts (22) nor member clubs (23) perform well in this area. This general oversight is reflected in the score of just twelve percent achieved by the industry as a whole, with only the podium score showing any respectability whatsoever (53).

On-course facilities also need to be outlined to visitors; for a start they may need to answer a call of nature, or of more relevance to the turnover of the venue, you should want to ensure they avail themselves of any food and beverage offering. PaPs perform poorly here too, with just a nine percent rating, and again, nobody comes out of the test with too much credit. Members (33), resorts (38) and 59Club venues (26) all struggle with the concept, while the industry average drops as low as 18 per cent. When you consider that part of this is a revenue generator – not the spending a penny bit obviously – it’s hard to see why there is such an issue.

The 59Club research also shows that industry-wide we’re missing a trick. Data capture is the fuel which drives your marketing; without it, you’re left on the hard shoulder of the industry superhighway waiting for the fourth emergency service to … well, you understand the analogy. So why are so few visitors asked for their contact information? If it’s simple shyness on behalf of staff, that can be addressed quite easily with training. And something does need to be addressed …

The highest-scoring category here was the podium with 33 per cent – but that’s still only one in three. It gets worse: PaPs scored a paltry 13 percent; members clubs – who again may offer, however valid, their raison d’être as an excuse – managed only 24, while resorts, who should be gunning for return business, achieved a relatively successful 32 percent. With the industry average at just 18 percent, it’s clear that more than four in five visitors leave without us having a clue as to who they were.

 

First impressions

First impressions matter. Experts in such things believe we make a judgment on people somewhere within 30 seconds and two minutes of meeting them – and, it’s fair to assume, we’d make an assumption on an environment even quicker. So venues are reliant on staff to ensure that shop displays are tidy and professionally maintained, and that the till area isn’t littered with old receipts, cellophane wrapping or the remains of the club pro’s elevenses croissant.

Taking these two areas as one figure – combining both and using an average – the good news is that most of the time we achieve this comfortably. While no category scored the ultimate 100 there were still a few scores in the 90s, which, as any middle-order batsman will tell you, is a decent knock. Resort courses managed a more-than-creditable 96 percent, with members clubs just behind on 92. Even our much-maligned PaPs – it’s nothing personal guys, honestly – came in with a respectable 84 percent.

What the figures don’t quantify is what our testers tell us on a personal level: that the desire is there among staff, almost universally, to be helpful, informative and professional. It just seems that sometimes the policies aren’t in place to help them, or that, quite simply, they’re lacking in training. These figures don’t suggest we’re going to Hell in a golf cart, just that there is room for improvement all round – in performance, education and training. And at least we know now what to do to achieve the required results.