Membership boom or not, there are still plenty of clubs wary of the wrath coronavirus may still bring. But at Boyce Hill they are refusing to get the unknown get in the way of their plans
A ‘normal’ Monday once meant 40 golfers – now you need to put another digit in front.
A half-century have been signed up as members and all of them have paid a joining fee.
Scott Clark looks back over 16 weeks and can barely believe the numbers he is seeing. The daily average spinning round the course at Boyce Hill is more than 170 players.
Golf has enjoyed a golden summer. Membership is through the roof. Courses have been packed for months as the UK basks in the world’s biggest golf spike.
Yet the future looks so murky. Is the second wave now on the way, and another lockdown with it? Will clubs have to close their doors once more if coronavirus takes hold in winter?
In such uncertainty, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see clubs acting on the cautious side – to put on hold projects that might spend precious resources should things turn again for the worse.
That’s not how Boyce Hill see it.
“The key factor is looking after the bread and butter that is the core of the membership,” says Clark, who is the general manager at the Benfleet club.
“We wouldn’t have been able to sustain anything without the membership and it is about making sure they get the best experience.
“It’s making sure we carry on our investment into the golf course. This year, we are committing to in excess of £35,000 to £40,000 of drainage.
“We’ve got a five-year rolling bunker programme. We are not going to let Covid halt our progress in that respect.”
Lockdown came with familiar concerns for Boyce Hill. “Did we have enough time? I don’t think anybody had enough time,” adds Clark.
But the ticking clock meant pressing decisions needed to be made quickly – especially with membership renewals fast on the horizon.
The club made a choice that has split private institutions all over the UK, and has filled plenty of column inches since.
They gave their members a month for free. Plenty have warned of the potential folly, arguing that clubs which took this path are storing up a revenue shortfall.
Give it away now, and you have to pay for it next year, so the received wisdom goes.
But Clark explains: “It was obviously a calculated risk as, by giving a month’s subscription free, we could compound our problem.
“It was a bold move but we felt it was definitely the right one to make. It was going to buy people some time to assess their finances and it was one less thing they had to worry about.
“If you grant it, you know where your shortfall is immediately. If we hadn’t and people turned round and said ‘we’re not going to renew until this is over’ you then create yourself a longer shortfall, which is unprecedented, and you don’t know exactly how much money you could be chasing or you could be losing.
“We knew what we were in for and the decision was based on having a healthy enough reserve to make that calculated risk.”
He added: “It was a test to the loyalty of the membership and, as it actually happened, we had in excess of 120 members turn round and say,‘The club supports me through everything, I am going to support the club and I’m going to pay my April subscription.’
“In essence, 25 per cent of that shortfall was paid by the members anyway as, effectively, donating their April subscription to the club.”
Members then responded by committing themselves for another 12 months too – the club coming through that tricky renewals question with a year that was better than average. Would that have been the case had Boyce Hill not made a magnanimous gesture?
“I’m not so sure,” admits Clark. “I think it would have forced the hand [of some] and it was so early on in Covid [lockdown] that they would have withdrawn their membership until the muddy waters were clearer.
“We took that decision out of their hands.”
He adds: “We thought ‘we will make a statement of intent to our members that they have the club’s full support’. For us, it paid off.”
Seven disaster forecasts later, written within the two weeks of lockdown, and Boyce Hill knew where their liabilities stood.
Clark cut expenses in half, 80 per cent of the club’s staff were furloughed as the doors stayed shut, and he then set what surely must have looked like an ambitious target of breaking even throughout May, June and July.
“We were slightly ahead,” he says. “We actually made a little bit of money in June and that was really through solid cost control and the fact we had a good membership renewal.
“I looked at the positives [through lockdown]. We knew there would be a boom. We knew the quicker we could get open that golf would be the number one thing on everybody’s mind.”
And so while the scenes of full courses, and bar tills ringing loudly in recent weeks, has been a source of relief for some – a chance to take stock and ponder what’s coming next – that’s far from what’s happening at Boyce Hill.
Clark and his team have decided it’s the moment to push on. Time to reinforce the club’s place in the minds of members and visitors as leisure activities that have traditionally stolen golf’s thunder in the past, but have been stymied by social distancing, start to return.
“Post-Covid has provided the boost for the golf industry that it has needed for decades,” he concludes.
“It has given us the boom we need to carry on the momentum that’s been created.
“We can’t rest on that. We’ve got to ensure the experience is better than it was before. We’ve got to make sure the product is better than it was before.
“That’s the only way we are going to ensure people see the value in what they are paying, rather than drift away into anything else.
“They’ve made a commitment to us – if you are paying £1,000 [joining fee] we have to make sure we are giving value for that.
“So they tell the next person we are the club to join.”
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