With Airdrie Golf Club seeing membership numbers grow for the first time in years and the head pro Simon McLean installing an indoor swing studio Andy Brown decided to catch up with him for an update on how 2017 has been.
One of the very first things that you notice when you look at the website for Airdrie Golf Club, which is located east of Glasgow, is the number of membership options available. In terms of age range they have five different categories ranging from 18-21 to 25-30, three different junior membership options, a social membership and a lifestyle membership which comes with ten games of golf a year and £30 bar credit. The head pro at the club, Simon McLean, is heavily involved in membership and retention and played a key role in implementing all these different packages in response to several years of falling membership numbers.
“We had a declining membership year on year but 2017 is the first year that we have actually increased our membership numbers and it is because we totally restructured our membership,” confirms McLean. “We still have our premium full membership – in which we offer a very good reciprocal package with three other golf courses – and now do three day, four day and a ten game lifestyle membership.
“It’s great that we have increased the membership and it’s something which I am heavily involved in. We had to do something because we were getting to the stage where we were starting to lose quite a few members and we had to restructure it. The most common reason for people leaving was lack of golf, people not being able to justify paying a full fee if there were only playing a dozen times a year so we introduced the social membership for these guys so they had ten games a year and the opportunity to top up for a further five rounds.”
McLean did his PGA training at the Normandy Golf range which is no longer running but for a time was the largest golf range and retail outlet in the area. The range offered a great grounding in the retail side of things as well as in giving lessons and, apart from a brief stint at Brucefields Golf Centre, he remained at the range until it was sold in 2003 and joined Airdrie not long afterwards. The head pro describes Airdrie as a parkland private members club and it’s always good to talk to a pro who has had a positive year in both the retail and coaching side of their business.
The pro shop at the club stock three hardware brands in PING, Callaway and TaylorMade and McLean has had a good year with all three, although with the Epic Callaway are the standout performer. “I’m a Callaway ambassador and it has always been strong with me but the introduction of Epic this year it has been great,” he comments. “The higher price point raised the bar a little bit but I had no problems selling it for the higher price. I think people were initially nervous with stocking such a high-end product but it has been really good. PING with their second year ticked away and I’ve just restocked with G400 and that’s been quite strong already. I’ve been a bit in and out with TaylorMade – I’ve done it for one year and then not the next but they have been strong for me and there is so much Tour usage that your average guys sees on the TV all the time. I’ve had no issue with TaylorMade this year in terms of service and all three of those brands have been very good service wise.”
While no doubt part of the reason for the good hardware sales is that all three of the brands mentioned have very strong products there’s another factor at play as well; McLean opened a new indoor studio in February this year and he says that it has had a very positive influence on hardware sales. The studio has a Flightscope X2 and a simulator and McLean says that when people can see the distances they are hitting and all of the shot data it makes a purchase easier – this is arguably especially true of clubs at a higher price point. The head pro went to the golf club committee in September 2016 to put forward his plan to convert a disused junior locker room into an indoor studio and says that from the beginning they were very receptive. The club paid the costs of the building work and McLean fitted it out, something which he says was a considerable outlay but well worth it.
“It has been incredible the way it has taken off – lessons have rocketed and the fitting side of things has been really strong. Here in Scotland we had a very dry Spring, June was a bit mixed and then it basically hasn’t stopped raining since July! If I hadn’t had the swing room it would have resulted in a lot of lesson cancellations. It’s definitely had a big impact on hardware sales as it means that people can see the numbers that they are hitting.”
As well as hardware, 2017 has also been a strong year for apparel at the pro shop. The four brands stocked (FootJoy, Callaway, UnderArmour and Adidas) have all done well, although McLean says FootJoy have sold the best and also praises the online system of Adidas as it means that he does not have to carry nearly as much stock. With good hardware and apparel sales and the club increasing its membership for the first time in several years McLean seems, quite rightly, to be cautiously optimistic about the future and doesn’t believe that the biggest threat to pros comes from the internet anymore. Due to the rise in custom fitting he believes that the pendulum has swung back to the on course golf pro from the big box retailers and online stores as customers now want to get fitted and pros have the technology and the expertise to ensure they are the ‘go to’ guys.
“Most guys recognise now that they need some kind of launch monitor device and the fact that we have this technology and the expertise to make sure that the customer is buying the best clubs for them is why there has been a swing back to the pro,” he says. “I’ve been with TGI right from the start, since 2004. It was a complete ‘no brainer’ for me and they are great for my business. With being part of the group I feel that, with a few exceptions, it is a very level playing field with the big retailers and online when it comes to the prices we pay, so we can compete on price.
“It is tough out there but as golf pros the biggest challenge we have is membership retention – I don’t think the internet is as big a threat as it once was. Without a doubt golf pros are having to be more proactive now, particularly when it comes to increasing and retaining members.” As McLean says, the golf business can be a tough one but for the pros and clubs which are proactive and actively look to engage with their member and new customers, then the fat lady is an awfully long way off singing.