Fynn Valley Golf Club was named most welcoming club at the England Golf awards earlier on this year so Andy Brown got in touch with Ryan Parfett, Director of Golf, to find out what makes the club stand out and their plans to engage with even more people this year.
If you were to play your own version of Pointless, the popular BBC game show, and ask 100 people what words they associated with golf clubs then there’s a better than average chance that ‘friendly’ and ‘welcoming’ would both be pointless answers – no one would have mentioned them. Of course, things have moved on a lot over the last few years and increasing number of clubs are now more welcoming than ever before. One of these is Fynn Valley Golf Club, which was awarded the honour of ‘Most Welcoming Club’ at the England Golf Awards earlier on this year. From talking to Ryan Parfett, Director of Golf, it becomes clear this is not a new development and that this attitude comes from the top down.
“Being welcoming has been a fundamental part of the club since it started over 25 years ago. The owner, Tony Tyrell, and his family, have created the ethos and it has grown into what it is today thanks to his hard work,” says Parfett. “I think being welcoming has to be a big part of the future plans for any club; if people don’t want to walk through the door then they will struggle. When they are in you have to explain to them that this is a place where they can walk in at any time, whether they are a member or not, and have a look around and a drink and a bite to eat.”
Parfett has been at the club for three years having worked in Russia and Turkey previously and will be taking over the general manager role from owner Tyrell before the year is over. However, it is in his current role of director of golf that we speak to him, and it is clear that the ethos of being a welcoming club is positively reflected in their membership numbers, with approximately 550 on the main course and then more members on the par three course where for the most expensive age bracket (40 years plus) unlimited golf is only £200 a year. Fynn Valley is an extremely well equipped golf club with the main course, par three, driving range and practice facilities and Parfett acknowledges that this is one of their greatest weapons. “One of the biggest strengths we have are the ways people can get into golf, so we have the learning facilities of the driving range and practice ground and then the par three which has real greens so it means people are practicing what they need to.”
While not all courses have the space or the money to have such facilities there is one thing which Fynn Valley do which they could copy: reduced distance tees. “We have some strategically placed tees on the main course which allow people to cross over,” explains the director of golf. “We were seeing people going from par three casual golf to try and play the main course and it is a real brick wall for some people and so we were seeing people disappear. It is vital to have that bridge for them and for lots of golf courses this is something that they can actually do fairly easily.”
The club actually have two pros shops, one located by the main course and the other by the driving range. This means that the golf club can cater for two different demographics – members and casual golfers – with the store by the driving range obviously catering to the more casual end of the market. While having two stores means more planning is involved for twice the amount of stock it does open up revenue streams and the pro shop by the range does a brisk trade in balls, tees, gloves and starter sets of clubs. Even if your retail operation is not bringing in as much money as you would like Parfett believes this component is an essential part of a golf pros’ offering. “Retail is important to us in a couple of different ways – it is a way of providing customer service for the membership, so even if you are not making mega money out of retail it is a way of servicing members and providing them with something extra,” he comments. “We provide a members discount and that is all part of the whole service, it is a big picture thing, and it is part of the reason that people want to join a club.”
Parfett says that the club are doing quite well at hardware and is very happy with the three suppliers that they work with. They aren’t the biggest names in the business but this is partly what attracted him to them. “With hardware we do Wilson, Ben Ross and Lynx. What I like about those companies is that there is very good customer service and all three of them have been really good on the demo days which are obviously very important for those products because not everybody knows about them. They are also good at making sure that they leave us with less stock and helping us with the sell-through.”
The club are very active in trying to get more people to experience the club, such as on Bank Holidays where there offer free sessions for children and charge adults just a pound and, when you have the director of golf himself getting dressed up in a Velcro SNAG suit and getting balls fired at him it is clear that this is the opposite of a stuffy club. Being proactive is also key to the approach and helps them get ‘bums on seats’. “We have reached out to the local community and often the guys who are struggling are the ones who are sitting in their club house wondering where everybody is. We have been out to the Suffolk show, local schools, to see members of Ipswich Active which is those aged 50 plus looking for something to do, different companies in the area and to the local football clubs. We have thought outside the box to get people in.
“I think that is why we won the England Golf award, the idea that once people join it is a very welcoming club and when you are here you feel like you can progress with your golf. We have lots of evenings where you can come along and meet people and we have a WhatsApp group to find people to play with during the week so we make it as easy as possible for people to play golf.”
The director of golf is justifiably proud of the award and the club are not resting on their laurels with a new clubhouse due to be opened at the end of March 2018. The club are obviously investing heavily into their facilities and the new clubhouse will, if possible, make the whole environment even more welcoming. “Our new clubhouse will be purpose built to be multi-functional so mums dropping off their kids at the junior academy will want to sit and have a coffee and wait in there and feel comfortable,” he comments. “We don’t want people wondering if they have the right clothes on – if someone walks into the clubhouse with some jeans and trainers on and wants to have a drink why on earth would they not be able to? It is a ridiculous old school idea.” Indeed it is – and not the sort of idea that wins a club an award for being welcoming.