With a new owner and significant financial investment The Nottinghamshire Golf Club has recently undergone major development. Golf Retailing’s Miles Bossom headed north to meet with Bill Mackenzie, the clubs Managing Director to learn more.
We currently have nine hundred and eighty members split between 7 and 5 day. They are fairly well split between those categories. We have one hundred lady members and around seventy juniors. Our membership is on the mature side and we run lots of competitions for them which are very well attended.
Do you know how old your eldest member is?
Yes, he is ninety one years old and is our longest serving member. He is the oldest by some way! One of our challenges as a club is that we are based in an area with an older population and as such we have to expect attrition.
Eighty is a good number of juniors, how do you go about serving them?
We recently appointed Daniel Parks as Academy Director, and he is recognised as being the best junior coach in Nottinghamshire. He coaches the Nottinghamshire County junior team and he is coaching around fifty junior a week himself. As a result we are seeing a good influx of junior players coming to the club.
Our vision is to become the destination for beginners and junior golfers in the county.
The Golf industry ‘s biggest issue is participation and youth players can be put off due to time constraints, choice of activities, the hardness of the game and cost. What are your views on how we combat this?
Well of course a lot of these kids play football and rugby in the winter so their free time is short but in the summer we see a lot of them here every day of the week. When they start playing regularly and seeing improvement we try to get them with an official handicap and involved in the junior side.
It is important to let people know about you and to that end we advertise and promote our services including our junior section. This has been a step change for us because previously we had teaching pros who were self-employed but they weren’t as focussed as Daniel on the junior golfers. The term academy really applies here where beginners are taken through all aspects of the game and take part in a development programme.
We offer beginners a number of options and we dedicate time on our Open Course where they can play three, 6 and nine holes with a bit of oxygen around them so they are not so under pressure. It is very off putting to a beginner to have to tee off in front of the club house with a big group watching them. We try to provide an environment where beginners can enjoy the game without the pressure.
In terms of the facility here have you had to change things around a lot?
Absolutely, we are currently looking at areas within our land to develop a fantastic short game area and there are a number of options. We have reasonable practise facilities here but they can always be better and we have made a commitment to provide the best facilities in the area.
What is the biggest major event in your calendar this year?
We have The Trilby Tour returning for the third consecutive year this year with The Trilby Two’s which takes place on 16th July. It is a fantastic event and is great for the club. We will typically have a couple of hundred people on patio and balcony.
With TV cameras, William Hunt introducing and taking the mickey out of you and your family watching it is really hard to hit your first shot.
Have your membership numbers increased since the investment was made in The Nottinghamshire?
In honesty it is tough, the market is what eight to ten percent down so staying even is quite an achievement. We have gained around sixty five new members in the past three months but because of the timing we have also lost some as their contract came to an end and for whatever reason they have not renewed.
We are in a county where we are surrounded by golf courses with some removing joining fees and offering really low unsustainable prices for membership. If we hadn’t made the investment we would probably not be doing as well as we are but time will tell. It is still pretty early days for people to understand exactly what we have on offer here.
What was the size of the investment in the Nottinghamshire and where has the money been spent?
After the purchase we have received one million pounds which has been spent on the club house refurbishing upstairs and down and adding a large balcony offering views onto the course and a superb function suite which is used for conferences and weddings . The Pro shop was doubled in size and the entire building was renovated offering a really quality environment.
We have already spent around four hundred thousand pounds on the golf course adding two new lakes, several new tees and we have lengthened what was probably our weakest hole and added three new pot bunkers, opened up a stream and lengthened the green making it arguably one of our signature holes.
Who is your investor?
Alan Hardy, he owns Paragon Interiors Plc so his expertise in terms of the refurbishment was extremely useful. He has a passion for developing the course so that it is the best in the area.
Did you employ a course architect?
Yes we engaged Kimber Golf who are well renowned and we have learned from them. We had very little knowledge when the project started but we now implement a lot of our own ideas and they sign off on them. We need them less and less but they are always there for us if we need advice.
What was your background Bill?
I was a retail ops director in main stream retail working for B&Q, Asda and Vision Express. Whilst it may seems very different you are still selling a product and dealing with customers so actually it is very similar. The financial models are similar except here you have an outdoor shop and an indoor shop so you have to treat them slightly differently.
Is it a conscious decision not to be a part of a buying group?
No, it’s just that we have had other priorities and we have been developing the shop from a retail space point of view but it’s not to say we won’t consider it.
Does the club own and operate the Pro shop environment then?
Yes, all of the staff are employed by the club so that the entire experience is seamless. All of the shop staff are engaged to provide the complete service to the customer including equipment sales coaching and membership sales.
We have gone away from the self-employed professional model and our staff have really bought into this.
Obviously you have a strong membership but do you work hard to attract societies and corporate golf days?
Yes all clubs need the revenue and we do attract a good level of corporate golf. Having two courses our facilities are still fairly underutilised but compared to other clubs we are at an advantage.
There is a lot of competition in your area, how do you differentiate?
There are probably ten in our immediate area but far more within half an hour’s drive. To stand out requires constant investment so you can demonstrate value and offer something different. We have had to increase our fees because of the investment but our members feel that they get value for money.
We have two very different courses offering real variation from a playing point of view and the investment is clear for all to see in both the courses and the club. I truly believe we offer the best facilities in the county for golf.