Golf club managers can go a bit quiet when you start talking about membership renewals. There isn’t much else that can turn their knuckles whiter than the contemplation of a number that’s leaning towards the side of a heavy loss.
Industry experts talk about it in bleak terms too. It’s known as the resignation rate. The aim is to come out with as few of those as possible and, hopefully, breathe a sigh of relief as you contemplate another year ahead. Such has been the way of the golfing world over the last decade and a half.
But add a pandemic into that already frantic mix, and try and encourage people whose own economic prospects looked bleak as lockdown took hold, and the shuttered windows and bolted doors at the club made everything look even more terrifying.
Some turned to what they knew to get through in one piece – a month free here, 15 for the price of 12 there, pay the interest deals: get the numbers in now and bank on things turning around when golf became the socially distanced sport of dreams.
Holme Hall Golf Club went another way. Perhaps there was a hint of anguish when 76 members disappeared as the Scunthorpe club started their new membership year at the height of the shutdown.
If there was, though, they stood firm and then decided to make a wider point about the way they priced what they had to offer.
“We did lose members – who either didn’t re-join or didn’t want to pay while they weren’t getting any golf and simply cancelled,” says club general manager Andrew Watson.
“They weren’t the traditional members. Once golf returned, we very quickly got most of them back and the number returned to a normal figure.
“There were obviously some offers and discounts being offered (by some clubs). We’ve taken the view that part of the problem in this area is that golf has been driven down. It’s the price spiral and it’s always been a bidding war between the clubs.”
It’s the course where a young Tony Jacklin honed the iron play that won him Opens on both sides of the Atlantic but Holme Hall is squeezed on all sides by golf clubs – from the massive Forest Pines resort, to the likes of Grange Park and Normanby Hall.
In an area that’s far from over populated, there’s only 170,000 people living in the whole of North Lincolnshire Watson says, there’s not really enough golfers to go around.
And while they may be relatively unheralded against their more famous near neighbour, the newly incorporated board at Holme Hall don’t lack self belief.
“We made a decision on what our strategic plan was going to be and that was to make ourselves the best place to play golf in North Lincolnshire and also the most desirable course,” Watson adds.
“You can’t be exclusive, and provide a service to your members, if you continue selling cheap.
“We’d been prepared, over the years, to have a twilight rate of £10 and member guest rates of £15. There’s no incentive with so many golf clubs around.
“If I give my mates £15 a round every time they play with me, they’ll stay at the club where they are paying slightly less and just enjoy golf here. We said we’re not going to do that.
“We’re aware that the big issue for golf clubs is 12 or 18 months down the line, when the real impact of Covid hits, and we upped our green fees, and we maintained the level of our subscriptions.
“We didn’t put them up but we didn’t offer discounts. We said to people ‘this club is worth something’. We get rave reviews from good golfers.
“This is what we are about. We’re about quality golf.”
Full value are two words being touted around the club’s inner sanctum now and, far from being an empty mantra, it’s something that has brought a calm to what’s still an unpredictable outlook.
“It’s focused our minds. There was a lot of panic in the golf industry at the start, and quite rightly too, but there was no panic here.
“We thought we know there’s going to be an issue in 18 months time.
“There’s plenty of cash being thrown around by the government. (We have to) Take advantage of that and make sure we are operating within our boundaries.
“I’ve got so much cash I can use each much and I don’t exceed it. It’s a very easy way of working.”
They’ll look to franchise bar and catering, realising that in Holme Hall’s case it was little more than a millstone – a “dead duck” as Watson now calls it. A driving range, still relatively new, generates over £2,000 a month and is an effective way of bringing people to the club and getting them into the retail areas.
They’re looking hard at how they use their distinctive clubhouse, a path that could see them hire out the restaurant and bar area more often to complement other functions as well as the weddings that are stacked up for the day coronavirus finally loosens its grip.
At the heart of the club’s strategy is longer term planning – even if the world as it is now screams at everyone to not move from the day-to-day.
“It’s no good saying to members ‘we’ll still be here in April’,” concludes Watson. ”We need to say to them we’ll still be here in April 2022. That’s where our forecasts now say we are more than able to say that.”
What do you think of Holme Hall Golf Club’s stance? How has your club coped with the coronavirus pandemic? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.
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