White on track

Alex White had been at the same golf club since he was 16 so moving to Romiley Golf Club was a big decision. With two awards under his belt and turnover increasing year on year the decision was obviously the right one, so Andy Brown caught up with him to find out the reasons for his success.

For all golf pros the game is their life, but for Alex White it is all he has known; he was just 16 when he joined Tilsworth Golf Centre after leaving school and he spent the next 16 years of his life there, eventually becoming the right hand man of the proprietor and head pro. For someone who has been in the same industry for over twenty years now, White’s enthusiasm for the game and the trade is great to hear, and he credits this as one of the reasons for his success.

“I am very enthusiastic about the job and the game – as much today as when I first started at 16 and that transfers through to what we do in the shop and how we interact with the members. There are some pros where it seems like the longer they have been in the trade the more resentful they get but I’ve been in it for 22 years and I am still in love with it,” comments White.

As well as enthusiasm one of White’s main qualities is perseverance, something that was needed when it took five years for Romiley Golf Club to open a swing studio. White says that when he first had his interview at the club installing an indoor golf swing studio was mentioned, but it took five years of him and the club working together to make it happen. The studio opened in December 2016 and the head pro enthuses about the new space. “We have a state of the art golf studio which I believe is as polished as anyone’s; we have a full custom fit area, a seating area, coffee machine, a widescreen GC2 simulator and swing catalyst coaching software.” White says that by the end of the first week of January he had already done as many lessons post-Christmas as he had in the whole of January in 2016. The new studio also has a three metre custom fit wall with a host of club heads, shafts and iron heads – White says he was recently talking to a member who didn’t know he did such comprehensive fitting even though they had offered it for years; a perfect reminder that just because you offer a service it doesn’t naturally follow that all your members will know about it.

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 11.53.30The reason the studio took so long was down to a lack of space – the club isn’t blessed with spare land, with the current practice ground sandwiched between the 17 and 18th holes. The old ladies’ lounge was eventually decided upon by all parties and on December 11th the new area officially launched, with more than 50 members there for the opening, taking on Royal Troon’s postage stamp in a nearest to the pin competition. As the north west of England isn’t, as White drolly acknowledges, the ‘driest part of the world’ having an indoor studio is an essential. White’s message to fellow pros is to keep on pushing for whatever they think will improve their club: “My point to fellow pros is don’t give up, as I could quite easily have done that three years ago so perseverance was the key and now we have the perfect location.”

Located east of Manchester, Romiley is a traditional private members club which has been established for over a 100 years and is pitched towards the upper end of the market. White says that over the last few years their membership numbers have been steady, something which he views as an achievement in the current market conditions. When he first joined the club one of his priorities was the Pro shop and ensuring that is looked as good as possible. “I make sure that everything in the pro shop looks really professional, so no handwritten signs and no florescent signs – we’ve tried to create a little mini John Lewis,” he confirms. “When I go shopping I’m always looking at what other retailers are doing and how I can incorporate that into what we do and I prefer to shop in places that are nice environments, rather than somewhere that is messy and unorganised, so that is what I try and do with our shop.”

A professional looking shop can only boost sales, and White says that in 2016 the two standout hardware brands for them were PING and TaylorMade. Following the well-publicised withdrawal from the hardware market of Nike – for whom White is a brand ambassador – the pro shop has taken on Callaway and will also be doing more work with Ben Ross in 2017 to ensure that different price points are offered. White says that iron sales were a bit slow last year, but this was offset by MetalWoods. He praises PING and also has kind words for a brand that he feels has been unfairly maligned by some pros in recent years – TaylorMade. “PING has been a really consistent performer for us and the G series has performed really well in our club fits and is a product that can suit nearly every golfer. Last year was a good one for Metalwoods and some of that will have been driven by some good publicity behind the M2 – some people are down on TaylorMade because of the perception that they bring out too many golf clubs but they have done some really good things and M2 is just a really good product.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 11.53.50White has been at Romiley for five years now and it would be an understatement of sweeping proportions to say that his time there has been successful – the club have increased turnover every year that he has been head pro and in that time he was been nominated for three Foremost awards, winning two. In 2014 he was named Foremost Professional of the year award in 2016 picked up the EMP Professional of the year award – he understandably views these awards as vindication for the decision to move his family away from Tilsworth in Bedfordshire to Manchester and in leaving a club and area where he was very comfortable and well known.

Interacting with the club’s membership and the shop looking professional are two of the main themes of our conversation, and the EMP programme ties in with both of these. As White explains: “EMP creates a seamless link from images in the newsletter to the signage and special offers in the shop and then back to the website, so it creates such a professional image that a normal pro would never be able to afford themselves.”

That’s the professional side of it covered then, how about communication? “I spend a lot of time on my newsletter and it can take me half a day to write it – I think if you spend five minutes on it then it looks like you have spent five minutes on it,” he says. “I make sure I involve lots of different aspects of the club, from the social side, members, fitting advice, coaching advice and add in some personal stuff about me and my assistants and what we have been doing so everyone feels invested in us, more us just being a pro shop. We do get above average open rates; for most of last year we were around 40 per cent and I put a lot of that down to how personal the newsletter is; it isn’t just a sales pitch. If we aren’t contacting our members then you can bet someone else will be.”

The head pro is very excited about 2017 – and who can blame him with the new swing studio in place? – and says that he hopes to be able to coach more as this is something he loves and provides another opportunity to interact with members. “I have always said I am a coach in a retailer’s body and before the move coaching was my main passion but since we have been here it has taken a back seat to the business. With the studio I should be able to coach more and be able to help golfers as that’s where I get the buzz, helping golfers to get better and seeing the look on someone’s face when they hit that 260 yard drive for the first time or that perfect lob shot over a bunker. For us as golf pros I think that is our main skill and our best way of interacting with members and making them customers for life.”