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Staying ahead

This article first appeared in On Course - Issue 26

Kevin Weir, The Scottish Golf Union's Golf Services Manager, comments on the importance of presenting high quality playing surfaces for golf clubs, members and visitors alike and the vital role that the golf course plays in sustaining a golf clubs operations.

'Nomadic golfers' are today widely recognised as a growing breed, utilising a myriad of discounted green fee offerings to access golf courses throughout the UK. Perhaps more concerning are the initial signs of a growing number of nomadic golf club members - members seeking to play on golf courses in pristine condition as near to 12 months a year as possible, getting full value for their annual membership subscriptions.

The advent in many golf clubs of reducing waiting lists, removal of entry fees and marketeers actively promoting new member packages, inadvertently offers the nomadic golf club member the ideal opportunity to satisfy his needs and to move between golf clubs at will.

But let us consider the fundamental reason why golfers join golf clubs.

Many reasons are obvious - location, cost, length of waiting list, ease of access to the course(s), practice facilities, condition of the course, club competition structures, visitor introduction policy, family orientation, the winter golf policy - in particular whether course protection measures are adopted by a club over the Winter months and the longevity of these (e.g. use of astroturf mats, use of winter or temporary tees and greens, lifting from the fairway to the semi-rough), the club's catering reputation and the social activity calendar of the club. However, fundamentally golfers simply join clubs to play golf.

Golfers will therefore seek a course that is presented in the best possible playing conditions at all times for as near to 12 months of the year as possible, having had their expectations significantly fuelled by current TV and golfing media coverage. Augusta and the Masters inevitably kick start this in early Spring every year.

These expectations will apply whether playing in a club championship, an Open competition, a monthly medal, a bounce game with friends or a few holes on a summer's evening - the player will always want to enjoy the best possible course conditions at all times.

Golf clubs will therefore have to identify and implement those course management practices appropriate for their courses that will best deliver high quality playing surfaces for their members and visitors alike - greens need to be firm, smooth and true, perhaps requiring an intensive thatch removal and top dressing programme, greens may need to be re-constructed, drainage systems may require improvement and thatch may need to be removed from other playing areas - e.g. tees / landing zones.

Activity of this nature requires significant planning by golf clubs which should be formalised into a long term Course Management Policy document. This policy document should lay out the commitment of the golf club to support and fund an agreed maintenance and development plan for the golf course and also double up as a performance plan for the course manager and his staff to work towards.

The policy document should be openly shared and communicated to the golf club membership, allowing them to understand the agreed long term plans for the golf course, some elements of which they will have voted for. The policy is a living document and should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis, supplemented by regular course inspections to monitor progress and results against the plan.

To support the policy, informative reports clearly displayed within the clubhouse or starters box will help golfers, both members and visitors alike, understand what to expect when they are out on the golf course and to understand any work that may be in progress whilst they are playing.

The impact of the condition that a golf course is presented in cannot therefore be underestimated. It's fundamental to the success and viability of the golf club that a well presented golf course with a reputation for high quality playing surfaces can reap huge rewards for a club and also significantly enhance the reputation of its green staff - retaining existing members (discouraging the nomadic golf club member), attracting new members, establishing the club as an attractive venue for visiting parties, individual visiting golfers and corporate events, and attracting external sponsorship. Most importantly golfers will achieve their requisite value for money, have access to the quality of golf course they desire, becoming extremely satisfied customers!


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