Clubs are closing their doors but Royal Norwich have tripled their membership – and in the most unconventional ways. This is how they did it

The kids are playing outside on mini John Deere tractors. In the microbrewery, a group are whiling away an afternoon creating their own craft ale. Grab a helmet and you can take one of the bikes out around the site, or get your locks trimmed at the hairdressers. This is what life will look like at Royal Norwich. And if this doesn’t sound like your average golf club – well, that’s the point.

They were so determined to make a new start when they upped-sticks and moved to a new £10 million course on the Weston Estate in September they petitioned Buckingham Palace to be allowed to take the ‘Golf Club’ suffix off their title.

The buzz around the new venture has been immense. In the space of a year, they have tripled their membership – with numbers now around 1,200.

Of course there is something of the shiny new toy about that huge influx but it’s also because Royal Norwich have very purposely widened their remit away from just golf.

“We are 110 per cent a private members’ golf club but we operate on a hybrid footing and we are driven by sustainability and by the future,” general manager Phil Grice, pictured second from the right, explains to NCG.

Royal Norwich

“We wanted to cross reference everything with time and with families. We’ve got a customer journey from a time perspective – whether you want to go on the short game area, the putting green, the range, the six-hole course, or play nine or 18, there is a time window where you can find something to do.

“But not everybody always wants to come and play golf when they come to the facility. We wanted to make it everyone’s happy place.”

It’s not reinventing the wheel, Grice adds, but whether it’s choosing the toppings and putting pizzas in the newly fitted ovens or spending time using the gin still, the purpose is to cater for more than simply people who want to putt.

“We always go back to Tesco for our fruit and veg and now you buy your petrol from them,” he says. “For us, we’ve got a big growing membership and it was looking at what other things they want.

“A lot of people in the industry want to get more women and girls into golf and, for me, that’s too narrow a driver. I think we want to get more families into golf and three generations of one family is absolutely at the core of what we are trying to do.

“If you’ve got more mums, children and more grandmas and granddads, what are the things they would like to do?”

Membership options at Royal Norwich are varied, from the traditional five-, six- and seven-day options to a points-based scheme that caters for the time restricted.

Those taking up the ‘Braid membership’, a reference to the famous golfing designer of their previous course at Hellesdon, can also spend their points on buggy hire, range balls, and even lessons.

“We’re just trying to give more reasons to come to the site.”

Royal Norwich

And they are coming in their numbers. In the weeks before opening, Grice revealed he’d signed up 30 memberships and had 25 enquiries in a single day – all because of word of mouth or social media.

“People are coming along, seeing what we do, and telling their friends,” he explains.

“There’s a really simple term, and it’s used a lot, but we are inclusive and not exclusive. Too many golf clubs, by having the words ‘Golf Club’ at the back end, are exclusive to their members and no one else.

“The world that we live in is trying to become more inclusive. For us, everything we want to do – all those additional activities – are to try and make it more inclusive for members, guests, friends and families of members.

“It’s not just because one or two members of the family play golf that they are the only ones that ever go there. There are the negative connotations which come from that.

“That’s really not what we want at our facility. We don’t want members to have golfing widows as their partners. We want everyone to feel as much part of the golf club and the membership, and the use of the facilities, as the member themselves.”

What do you think? Have Royal Norwich got it right? Have your say in the comments below or tweet me.