Holtye GC’s Neil Clarkson is an old hand at organising pro-led coaching retreats – and he’s soon to relaunch them in his role as HowDidiDo head professional. He spoke to GOLF RETAILING about the do’s and don’ts of organising a successful golf trip
Previously Clarkson would spend ten weeks a year away on such trips and feels wholly comfortable organising them, but he has some words of advice – and warning – for those considering it for the first time. He explained, “It all starts within the golf club. You have a group of members or pupils you approach about getting some time away in the winter. Then you need to understand what they want, as there are different types of trips for different groups.
“If they want a golf-based trip with a little bit of tuition in the morning, they predominantly want to play golf. That’s effectively a supervised golf holiday and you’d put in a couple of hours’ coaching every day. Or, they may want a predominantly coaching-based experience, where you add in golf; so there’s less on-course time and a lot more practice-ground time for a deeper learning experience. The venues you’d use for a playing-based trip would tend to have more than one course, because people don’t want to play the same course every day.”
It is possible to build up your own trip booking everything individually, but it can prove laborious and, as Clarkson pointed out, it’s important for the travellers to have peace of mind. He continued, “Previously I always used the same golf travel specialist and I would now still go through a specialist golf-travel firm. Explain to them the trip you want to put together and they can communicate that to the resort.
“Although people may have their own travel insurance, I’d still always use a specialist. The customer then knows they’re paying money to a reputable travel company, with ABTA or ATOL bonding. As an individual golf pro you’re not a travel company and generally you won’t be offered the same rates as the travel companies.”
This brought him round to the subject of costs – an area one simply can’t afford to get wrong. Clarkson confirmed, “Often you can negotiate so that, with a decent size group, you, as the pro, go free. And, if not, I would build your costs into the overall cost of the trip; my cost would be divided by the number of people on the trip and put on their bill and then a coaching fee on top. Some travel companies will organise it so that you go free with £100 teaching fee on top per player, after all, you have to live for the week; it’s not a holiday.”
And remembering it’s not a holiday is just one of the pitfalls Clarkson highlights for first-timers. “Managing a group of people and what they want can be challenging,” he smiled. “You might not know the personalities of the people involved and who is going to get on with whom … or not. There may be unforeseen travel problems – flight delays or issues with the hotel or golf course. You’re going to be the first point of contact for somebody to complain. You have to expect the unexpected and have the capacity to be diplomatic – it is, after all, somebody’s holiday you’re dealing with.
“While you may be in a group of people with whom you’re friends, you have to remember, as the coach, you’re not on holiday. You have to be prepared to start every morning making sure people are where they’re supposed to be and have what they need. While it sounds great to be out in the sunshine in the winter, it is hard work. There may be the temptation to overlook that, and if you take your eye off the ball, that’s generally when you get into trouble.”
Naturally, whenever such trips are mooted, the destination should have good winter weather, which is why Spain and Portugal always feature strongly. La Manga Club, in Murcia, remains a popular venue, with three courses, a five-star hotel and four-star self-catering accommodation. Plus it has Spain’s only mainland Leadbetter Golf Academy, with the latest technology, four short-game areas and four teaching classrooms, ideal for visiting professionals.
On the Algarve, Quinta do Lago also offers three courses, with a mixture of four and five-star hotels on-site. It too is unique, in having the world’s first Paul McGinley Academy; plus there is also southern Europe’s only TaylorMade Performance Centre.
With an average seven hours’ sunshine daily during December, Sicily is another destination worth considering – with both the island’s two golf resorts boasting suitable facilities. Verdura Resort, on the south-west coast, has two championship courses designed by Kyle Phillips, an academy, nine-hole short course, and a five-star hotel. Meanwhile, Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa offers five-star accommodation, two courses and continental Europe’s only Darren Clarke Centre of Excellence.