Nevill Golf Club in Tunbridge Wells is celebrating its centenary in 2014, which has made it a year to remember for the club’s members, staff and head professional Nick Duc. Robin Barwick made the long journey to his home club – about two miles – to speak to Duc
What is your career history in 50 words?
I was assistant professional at Lewes Golf Club in my hometown and I qualified there, and then I was assistant at Trevose in Cornwall for five years, working for Gary Alliss, until 2001. My first head pro’s job at Haverhill in Suffolk. I spent over seven years there and had a great time, and then came to the Nevill in 2008.
What has been your playing highlight to date?
It happened this year. I won the Sussex PGA Spring meeting at Mannings Heath, so it was nice to get that monkey off my back – to win my first PGA event. I finished second in a Sussex PGA event at Royal Ashdown a couple years ago – lost in a play-off – and I thought I had blown my one chance. I only shot level par at Haywards Heath, but nobody beat it.
In fact, one of my assistant pros, Michael Hart, finished second, and as a result we are both representing Sussex in a South of England tournament, along with another Sussex pro, Tim Spence. We are paying at Mid-Kent on September 16, and the winning team will play in a national final at the Belfry.
The course itself is second to none and it has been in superb condition this year. The greens have been magnificent, and the layout is as good as anywhere. There is not a weak hole on the course, and every hole requires good golf. This golf course will not give you a good score – you have to go out there and earn it. One or two bad swings and you can make six, seven, eight, nine without breaking sweat.
We have had a number of new members join this year and in fact, one of the reasons they have given for joining is that the club has a joining fee. These are golfers who have come from other clubs that are giving memberships away and filling the course up. There is a business model for that kind of operation and of course footfall is important, but it can annoy existing members.
The Nevill is probably the only course I have ever known where if a member turns up on a Saturday morning – if there is not a competition on – they would not have to wait more than 10 minutes to tee off. There are not many golf courses around here where members can just walk on.
What have been the highlights of the centenary year for you do far?
There have been many. The major events stick out and they have been incredibly well supported by the members. We had 380 people for the Centenary Ball in June, which was an incredible evening, and we have hosted the Sussex Amateur. We also had a ladies exhibition match with Laura Davies, Becky Brewerton, Trish Johnson and Charlie Hull.
They are four lovely people. They signed everything they were asked to, held a clinic, played nine holes, had lunch afterwards and did a question and answer session.
Tomorrow we have the Centenary Pro-Am, sponsored by Oscar Jacobson, with tour golfers Tony Johnstone, Ollie Fisher, Jamie Spence, Richard Bland and Peter Mitchell playing, and Trish and Becky are coming back too.
How much of a boost has the centenary give your business?
It has been two-fold. We have sold a lot more crested products, which actually started last year. We offered members a pre-book incentive on the centenary crested clothing in the lead-up to the year, because selling it starts before the centenary begins, but will slow from September onwards. From a retail point of view I needed to get the Centenary stock in 12 months in advance. We have sold a lot of shirts, sweaters in Merino and lambs wool, slipovers and zip-necks, and then caps, luggage, gloves and balls.
Footfall at the club has also increased dramatically due to the centenary, and we have had a lot of corporate events. Every tee sponsor has had an event, and some of them are bringing in as many as 80 or 90 golfers, and in the pro shop, that is the kind of footfall we want. We want different people coming in every day from a business point of view.
At the very least, when a group comes in, if we just sell more balls, gloves, tees, drinks and sweets, apart from balls those are high margin items. May, June and July were fantastic, which has helped everyone to forget about all the rain we had over a pretty poor winter.
We have had superb weather this summer – we are not going to get much better in this country.
You invested in Flightscope radar technology this year. How has that worked out?
We definitely increased hardware sales. Every customer who has been on the Flightscope has bought product. It is the convincer: here are the figures – this is how your old club is performing, and this is how the new club is performing, in black and white. The customer can’t argue with it and so they buy it.
After a quiet start to the year, Flightscope arrived in early March and we had a lot of early success with it in March, April and May, but since then we have been so busy that we have not used it so much in the summer months.
How have hardware sales been this year?
Hardware sales overall this year have been decent. We have held a demo day for every hardware brand we stock, and that has helped. I thought hardware would take a hit this year because our members have been spending so much time and money supporting centenary events, but we have done some good numbers, particularly during May, June and July. Sales really took off.
We have done particularly well with TaylorMade and Titleist. Titleist has this image of being the better player’s club, yet AP1 over-sized, cavity-back irons and the D2 driver work for a lot of golfers and they are nice looking too. When we get golfers on Flightscope these clubs have performed well.
TaylorMade has always been very strong for us, with SLDR and JetSpeed drivers this year, and recently we have sold some of the new Ping G30 line. I do like Ping’s two-year product cycles, which helps to generate interest when they launch a new line, as it does with Titleist and Yonex every two years. We also sold some of the Callaway Big Bertha Alpha driver at £399, but that is never going to be a volume product.
If a brand brings out a new driver every six months it is very difficult to keep up with that, and all it means for me is that I will book less.
What product or category has been your biggest success so far this year?
Probably the crested clothing, certainly in terms of volume, and in particular the Oscar Jacobson polo shirts, along with Titleist DT Solo logoed golf balls – we have sold thousands of those. In terms of turnover it would be hardware, and drivers in particular.
With hardware margins, I get reps coming in from mid-range brands promising 60 percent margins, but it their driver retails for £160 and I get a 22 percent margin from a driver that sells at £300, then the difference in profit is not that much. And the top-end brands are much easier to sell – people walk in and pick the top-end clubs off the rack, whereas it can be a hard sell with other brands. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got to offer the mid-range price point, but the margin argument des not work it their favour.
You are a TGI partner. Will you be going to the Golf Show?
I am planning on going, but I am waiting to hear if TGI is holding its AGM there this year, or whether it is going to be at its February business conference. If the AGM is not going to be at Harrogate, there is less of an incentive for me to go. I do like Harrogate – there are always one or two good products there that I might not have seen otherwise, and the show is also good for networking. It is not a necessity though, particularly when it is four and a half hours away.
My buying there would be minimal. I have always done all of my apparel buying before the show. Cut-off points for pre-books with some of the brands I am talking to are late August and early September. But then there’s no point holding a show in August, as no one would go. Unfortunately there is no right time for the show.
You can get sucked in at the show too, so you have to be careful, because you can get talked into thinking you can sell certain numbers, when what you should be doing in the cold light of day is ordering less product. Someone might say, “Don’t worry, it’s only 50 pieces from this collection, you can sell that,” but when you have already ordered 150 pieces from somewhere else, are another 50 pieces really what your shop needs? You’ve got to be sure you can sell through or you are wasting money.
You display your loft and lie machine in the middle of the pro shop. Do you get much business with it?
Certainly every week we use it – and I think we have developed a reputation in the area for offering club customisation, so people now come in to the shop asking for the service. The margins on alterations are fantastic, and it is offering golfers a service, so who knows what other areas it can lead to? It improves the perception of what we offer, and we want to be the first port of call for people for all of their golfing needs, not just to come in and buy a driver.