If a week is a long time in politics then a year at a golf club can be an eternity.
But what a difference 12 months has made at Oxford.
When Stephen Nicholson became general manager at one of England’s oldest clubs, it had just posted yet another loss and looked to be lacking purpose and identity.
Fast forward a calendar year, though, and the Harry Colt redesign looks to be in a much healthier position.
Eighty new members are flooding the clubhouse and many of them are defying what you’d expect a golf club stalwart to be – occupying the 18 to 25-year-old age brackets.
We asked Nicholson how, in this era of stagnant membership, the club had been turned around so quickly…
How have Oxford turned things around?
One of the first things I did was try and give the membership more value.
I contacted local businesses, hotels, restaurants, car dealerships – all sorts of businesses we could team up with and provide a service and they could provide a service to us.
That was quite a good move and we have continued to develop those relationships.
We’ve had plenty of business on the back of it. One of the pieces of business we have started to do now are golf breaks and residential golf bookings.
We don’t have accommodation, or a hotel, on site so we have teamed up with a hotel to give us preferential rates on various nights of the week and then we can buffer that up with a golf package from our side as an all-inclusive package.
You also gave free membership to juniors…
We needed to entice the members we already had to bring their children and grandchildren down.
If they could do that for free, and we don’t charge an awful lot for junior membership anyway, and to get quite a strong number of junior members into that category, then we thought giving it away wouldn’t cost the club stupid amounts of money in terms of the members that could be gained.
Far more beneficially, we’d be bringing the juniors down, people would be bringing the families down.
Mums and dads now are starting to play golf, starting to pick up the clubs off the back of their sons and daughters actually playing.
We had a really good response from that. We’ve been working with the Golf Foundation and we’ve been following some of their initiatives to really start to drive a campaign for juniors.
This will be the first year we have that fully implemented and integrated into what we do. We’ve also got a junior academy membership we’ve just finalised with our professional.
What have the results been?
We had 430 members this time last February and we now have about 510 members. That includes junior members, full members and intermediate. We had quite a big influx of people aged between 18 and 23.
How a chance meeting can bring in new faces
One of the biggest improvements in Oxford’s membership came in the much-sought-after 18-to-25 bracket, as Stephen Nicholson explained.
“When I (recently) pulled up my membership profile, my third highest membership category now is 18-25-year-olds. When I first came in, that was definitely one of the lowest.
“We brought in a marshalling programme last summer, so we could make sure people were going round at a decent pace of play.
“I was doing one of the evenings marshalling, and I got chatting to a few lads that I saw – 19, 20 and 21-year-olds.
“They said they were previously junior members but had went away to uni, college, and now had come back and were getting into work.
“They thought they’d come up and have a game. I mentioned we had an offer on and, within that week, four of those had signed up.
‘That Sunday, they brought another nine or 10 of their mates down and, within the next week, another four of five of those had signed up to be members.
“So just from having a conversation, we ended up with 10 new members within that category, which is a bit of gold dust for golf clubs and the industry in general.
“Straight away, it bucks your trend quite a lot.”
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