Meet the golf club manager: Philip Morley

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu March 11, 2018 07:38 Updated

The general manager of North Oxford Golf Club – and executive chair of the British Golf Industry Association – talks about about a career that has seen a playing partner at the 1979 Open Championship become, in later life, a customer, and how he transferred golf sales skills into club management

Can you take us through your career?

I have been very fortunate to have a life and career in golf. I started caddying for my father when he retired from cricket and took up golf, and I was instantly in love with the game. I was extremely lucky that my father played golf at his club with Michael King who went on to achieve a rare thing in golf by being both a Walker Cup and Ryder Cup player. Michael was / is a fantastic player and was a great role model for me and the other juniors at Reading Golf Club.

I was also very fortunate to be the same generation as Faldo, Lyle and Woosnam and was lucky enough to grow up playing with them. It was an extremely exciting time in European golf with these guys going onto win majors and help make the Ryder Cup and European Tour what it is today.

After a few years of playing Tour golf and making little progress I received an opportunity to work with a fantastic golf brand that was based close to where I lived, MacGregor Golf. Initially I thought it was not for me but I ended up spending 25 fantastic years working for MacGregor in various sales, marketing and management roles in the UK and Europe. I then started my own golf consultancy business helping small and medium sized companies, mainly based in the US, to step up European sales and operational structures. One of the companies that I worked with was Adams Golf, they were on their second coming after having major success with Tight Lies fairway woods in the late 1990s. They were a medium sized company, completely focused on research and development, and delivering great innovative products. We had a great time establishing the brand as the leader in hybrid clubs. Following the sale of Adams to Taylor Made I thought I would try another avenue in golf and got the opportunity to move into golf club management.

What are your memories of the 1979 Open?

We had a late tee time on the first day – it was a cold July evening. By the time we got on the back nine most of the spectators had gone home, we were then off early the next day and, having missed the cut easily, it was all over very quickly for me. Looking back, it was a great experience just being part of the circus. I played with a Ryder Cup player, Peter Butler, who was really helpful, and Terry Healy, who went on to become a customer and friend at the next stage of my career when working with MacGregor and Adams.

You’ve been a member of Reading Golf Club for more than 45 years. How has it changed in that time?

Fifty years this June! Although Reading Golf Club has not changed, the Reading area has, with several propriety clubs starting up and offering cheaper golf and other facilities such as gyms have sprung up, which have been attractive to the modern player. Reading Golf Club sits right in the middle of the market, which is a challenging place to be at this time in the golf industry.


What are your challenges at North Oxford Golf Club?

After a long, stable period at the club just before I arrived there was a couple of quick management changes that were difficult for the club to work through. In the past year we have looked at the course maintenance, redecorated the clubhouse inside and out, changed the bar and kitchen staff into a food and beverage team and completely overhauled the golf shop.

The club has now regained stability around its operational processes and the business plan is to capitalise on these investments by increasing membership and visitors to the club. We now have a product we can be proud of. We need to maintain high standards of hospitality and service within the clubhouse and the presentation of the course and do this 24/7 and 52 weeks of the year!

How has North Oxford tried to attract more green fee players? And more members?

At North Oxford, we know we’ve got a really good product and experience once people are ‘inside the gates’. We are putting more effort into what we do ‘outside the gates’ to bring more people in. We have changed our professional’s shop into a golf reception; this offers a much better first experience with a very welcoming and professional meet and greet for all members and visitors.

We are preparing a large local social media campaign using the latest computer wizardry to reach out to golfers within a 25 mile radius of the club to get them to consider North Oxford Golf Club for membership or for holding their golf society day. Ensuring the visitors have a great experience is paramount, capturing data and following up to get feedback and engaging with all visitors to ensure they have a great experience when at North Oxford Golf Club.

The club’s management committee has a ‘mantra’ that all staff should be approachable, friendly and professional at all times, which are very good daily guidelines for the team!

What is the pro shop set up at the club? What does the PGA pro offer members and does he / she work with the local community?

Part of our change from professional’s shop to golf reception was to work with our golf professional to allow him to focus on his strengths, teaching and playing, and take away the worry and stress caused by stocking the shop and retailing. We have formed a partnership with a local golf professional that is a very successful retailer, Adam Bishop of A B Golf. Adam stocks the shop and has installed a state-of-the-art fitting studio and runs multi-branded demo days for our members.

We believe that we must be seen locally as a great local community facility and we make every effort to be seen as welcoming and friendly inside and outside the gates of the club.

Our golf professional will be working with local schools offering coaching and will be running a ladies’ golf academy. We are also finalising details of getting golf socially prescribed with the local health authority.

We are excited that this really helps us engage with the local community and really promotes the health and wellness benefits unique to golf.

How do you ensure profitability from the club’s food and beverage offering?

A few years ago the club changed from franchise catering to managed. It is currently the most challenging area of the business at North Oxford Golf Club; take your eye off the ball for a small period of time and you can lose money very, very easily.

We have gone through a challenging process of transitioning from a separate bar and kitchen business into one food and beverage team where we can get synergy across the business, which is vital for the size of business we have.

Food and beverage is a big part of the feelgood factor to members, especially the ladies’ section at most golf clubs and it is of course vital that the product, hospitality and service given is to a high standard.

What are your views on alternative approaches to golf – such as footgolf, six-hole venues and adventure golf?

I support anything that gets people in through the gates and exposed to the possibility of playing golf.

Unfortunately with no golf on terrestrial television and little coverage in the media we need to take advantage of these opportunities and ensure that the players are made welcome in a friendly environment that may inspire them to try golf in its traditional 18-hole form or take lessons.

Topgolf is a new way to play and try golf that is getting great feedback from non-golfers that go along for fun and enjoyment, and come away with a positive golf experience.

How would you get more women and children playing the game?

I believe that if you get more women playing then children will follow more easily. Having worked across Europe it is great to see a better balance of male and female golfers and families playing golf together in those relatively new markets for golf. In the UK we are working through a long tradition of being a male-dominated sport, we need to ensure that the modern women, probably with a career, are made welcome and that we all remember that we play golf for fun and enjoyment. I also think that we should not be embarrassed that golf is a great game for mature people, the 40-plus people have time and money to take up golf and we should promote the health and wellbeing benefits and that golf is a game for life as well as being strongly part of the community.

As the British Golf Industry Association (BGIA) independent executive chair, can golf clubs and the manufacturers of golf products work more together to benefit the industry as a whole?

The BGIA recognises that golf clubs, with their PGA professional and club manager, are at the coalface of the game but what needs to be recognised across the whole industry is just how important they are in the development of the game and attracting non-golfers into our great sport.

The BGIA are committed to bringing together and working with all the other major associations and governing bodies to grow the game, it is vital that the industry recognises this challenge and works together to develop a plan and strategy on how to best work together to achieve this; I cannot see that one association or governing body will be able to do this on their own, we are stronger together.

What have manufacturers done to help golfers get more enjoyment from the game?

I think that the contribution by manufacturers to golfers getting more enjoyment out of playing golf by making better performing equipment has been overlooked. Manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in developing products that enable golfers to play to the best of their ability and to get more enjoyment when playing golf, here are just a few examples.

Twenty to 25 years ago very few golfers had electric trolleys, now most players have one; electric trolleys have extended the playing career of mature golfers and allowed golf clubs with hilly undulating golf courses to retain members.

The consistence and variety of performance characteristics in golf balls are now amazing. A few years ago golfers aspired to wear leather golf shoes – modern golf shoes are now as comfortable as a pair of slippers but offer outstanding support and performance and come in a fantastic array of styles and colours. The range of base layer clothing and lightweight performance outerwear gives us the comfort and performance to allow total freedom of movement, we no longer have to dress like we are going out into the Arctic when playing over the winter months.

The performance benefit of being fitted for the right golf equipment is now beginning to be fully recognised.

All these developments have given more pleasure to people paying golf and added to their enjoyment of the game which is very positive for everyone in the golf industry.

What’s your biggest hope for 2018?

A key objective of the BGIA is to ‘Grow the Game of Golf’.

As an industry we are good at developing a pathway for existing golfers through our county and golf union structure but we are very poor at reaching out to non-golfers in a friendly and welcoming manner to encourage new blood to come into our sport. The ‘elephant in the room’ within the industry is who is doing what to encourage non-golfers to consider trying our great sport. It is really disappointing that the Open Championship and Ryder Cup, two of the best sporting events in the world, are only available to be viewed on Sky and by a limited number of people that are already playing golf. These events should be a fantastic showcase for our sport.

The Sky TV product is brilliant but I would like to have something slightly less brilliant but available to all on terrestrial TV.

So my big hope for 2018 is that all the governing bodies and associations can work together to develop a plan to encourage non-golfers to consider trying to playing golf, noone can do this on their own – we all need to contribute and develop a plan / structure for the long-term success of our great sport.


Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu March 11, 2018 07:38 Updated
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