Simon Wordsworth, chief executive of 59Club, discusses the standard of club facilities across the country and finds that standards slacken in relation to distance from the pro shop.
Take a look around you quickly. Make sure nobody’s listening. OK? Then fine, let’s be honest with each other. Golf is not the cheapest sport to play, whether as a member or a visitor. However, golfers are, generally, happy to pay a supplement for the enjoyment of their sport because it is not just about nine or 18 holes – it’s about the whole experience. And that’s also why we, as an industry, need to maintain high standards throughout our facilities. Cleanliness may be next to Godliness, but it needs to be seen more often than the Almighty.
Our latest regional 59Club statistics on the tidiness and cleanliness of our facilities shows a distinct disparity in the way some aspects of the clubs’ offering would appear to be valued. For example, locker rooms are generally clean, tidy and well decorated. London and the Home Counties (L&HC), the south-east and the south-west fare worst here with 70 percent.
But, given the number of people who will be walking in and out, abluting and generally ridding themselves of the accumulated detritus of a four to five-hour walk in the countryside, that can surely be regarded as an acceptable figure. The north-west produced the best result with a 98 percent rating, which, to be frank, is an exceptional performance given the inclement weather.
The figures for ‘lockers free of rubbish’, however, drop significantly, with the overall industry figure – excluding venues that work with 59Club – sitting at a far-from-acceptable 40 percent. L&HC once again fares poorly as the lowest-scoring region with 44 percent. And, it’s hard to find an excuse for that. Even service stations – almost universally reviled by all social classes – perform hourly check-ups on their rest-rooms to ensure they are kept in a clean and tidy condition. How would you feel if a visitor to your club said they felt more inclined to get changed at Toddington Services?
And the same finger of culpability can be pointed when it comes to the general cleanliness, stock and litter-free environment of on-course toilets. The best rating here was achieved by the north-east, but even they attained only a 47 percent level of satisfaction. In the Midlands this dropped as low as 22 percent, which, while a long way from the ankle-deep facilities so familiar to male visitors to 1980s football stadiums, is still falling way below even ‘acceptable’ standards.
The service-station comparison is also valid here; for while the price of a coffee and a pastry at a service station may set you back the same amount as a pitching wedge at your local pro shop, the toilets are almost always in a state of perpetual cleaning. And there are thousands using these facilities every hour. If on-course facilities are so low on the priority list, why offer them at all? Such elements are, after all, an integral part of that ‘experience’ we mentioned earlier.
On-course toilets are, it would seem, a less than joyous experience across the country, with even the Podium score – the best three performing venues – achieving only a 68 percent mark. Too often it would seem, we are – and, if we’re not careful, golfers will be soon too – merely going through the motions…
Not every course has a starter’s hut, but, where they exist, they need to be well maintained and clear of debris. Again, this is not always the case. Across the industry the overall score is a measly 20 percent and, although the north-east clearly take more pride in a facility which is, often, a visitor’s first impression of the course, with a rating of 81 percent, it falls as low as 34 in L&HC once more. Scotland and the north-west also performed above average here with scores of 73 and 79 respectively.
I’ve personally often picked up a buggy – admittedly more so on the continent, as I tend to walk in the UK – only to find the last person’s drinks bottle and a couple of broken tees sitting forlornly at the back of the shelf next to the steering wheel. It is but the work of a moment to pop them in a bin, but why should I do it when I’m paying for the privilege? Surely, a quick tidy up before it’s rehired is the least one could expect?
Not everywhere it would seem. Across the industry – excluding venues that work with 59Club – the rating was a mere 40 percent. And although that figure rises to a much more acceptable 88 percent for both the north-east and Podium, this is surely an area where the minimum target of clubs should be a rating in the 90s. How difficult is it to ensure a buggy is clean and free from debris? Would you accept a hire car with the last driver’s boiled sweets still attached to the door pocket?
As we draw to a close, following a round in which we eschewed the unsanitary on-course toilets and crossed our legs until reaching the sanctity of the locker room, we repair for a beer in the clubhouse bar. And, in doing so, we ask ‘is our chosen table clean, wiped, and free of glasses and plates?’
Here it would appear, the industry is much more conscious of its obligations to its customers – be they members or visitors. And top marks for Scotland here who achieved a maximum 100 percent rating in this category. Indeed, five other regions – north-east; south-east; L&HC; south-west; and Wales – also attained a high mark in the 90s.The lowest-performing region was the Midlands, and even there, the score was a not unimpressive 85.
It would appear that because, like the locker room, the clubhouse bar is closer to the hub of the golf club, it is – consciously or subconsciously – seen as a higher priority, and more effort is made to keep it in pristine condition.
But don’t let out of sight mean out of mind – or it could leave you out of pocket!