Meet the golf club manager: Andy Hogan

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu April 18, 2018 07:11 Updated

Andy is the general manager of The Village at Machrihanish Dunes on the Scottish peninsular of Kintyre. He talks about marketing a remote venue and working with potentially rival golf clubs

Can you take us through your career? How did you end up at The Village at Machrihanish Dunes?

I began my career after finishing my studies at Aberdeen Technical College, where I followed my sister to the hospitality sector, studying HNC/HND in hospitality management. I was recruited by Hilton and worked out of the Hilton Edinburgh Airport as restaurant supervisor, followed by assistant conference and banqueting manager a few years later. After my time with Hilton, I moved to the outskirts of Edinburgh to take a position as assistant conference and banqueting manager at the Norton House Hotel in Ingliston. It was at the Norton House and subsequently Standard Life where I honed my management, event planning, human resources and workplace health and safety skills.

I then made the decision to return home to Aberdeen where I assisted my sister with her company, Northeast Events. It is actually working with my sister that brought me to Machrihanish Dunes – she was offered the opportunity to open both the Ugadale Hotel and Royal Hotel and I was there to give her a hand. After being introduced to the executive team at Mach Dunes I was offered the front of house manager position, then promoted to operations manager. Over the last six years, I rose through the ranks leading me to be named general manager of the Village at Machrihanish Dunes just this year and I think this will be my biggest challenge to date but one I am looking to succeed in in every way.

What does the course at Machrihanish Dunes offer golfers?

The first thing you will receive when you arrive at Machrihanish Dunes is a warm welcome. It has often been said that people in Campbeltown genuinely want you to visit and I would say that is never truer than when you turn up at our clubhouse. The golf course itself is a tough, uncompromising test of your game but there is enough room to ensure that everybody can get in a round and thoroughly enjoy the experience. Everything here feels entirely natural. Because the course is situated on a Site of Special Scientific Interest, we have a management agreement in place with Scottish Natural Heritage that ensures the ground is maintained in such a way that the health of the indigenous flora is not compromised. Rather than compromising our maintenance this actually inspires us to present a course that looks the way courses did 100 years ago but also meets the exacting standards of the modern golfer. The views here are sensational, with five holes in direct contact with the shoreline and many raised tees and greens that make the most of stunning vistas to Ireland, Islay and Jura. Most importantly, Machrihanish Dunes was designed to be fun to play and we maintain it with this in mind. If you come off this course with your face tripping you then I suggest you need to go and re-evaluate why you play the game in the first place!

1st hole, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Machrihanish Dunes is an extraordinary resort with two hotels and five restaurants. What are the main challenges you face?

We face the exact same challenges that every hotel-based operation does – trying to maximise our occupancy levels without ever compromising on quality and customer satisfaction. We recognise that it takes a significant effort to come all the way to Campbeltown to enjoy a break in one of our hotels and to play golf at Machrihanish Dunes, so we constantly strive to improve every one of our products in order to make it so exceptional that people find it impossible to find an excuse not to come! Once you are here it really is a special place, and it is obvious to us from the amount of repeat business that we have had over the last few years that once people discover what the area has to offer they will find it much easier to make the effort to come back again. Driving occupancy rates during the shoulder and winter months can be tough, but we have a dedicated marketing team in the offices of our parent company committed to putting together packages and events that will entice people to visit us even outwith the main season. If I had one tip for the potential customer, I would say that you should always check our website for offers or phone Lorraine and Fiona in the reservations office to help set up a package tailored to your needs. Booking direct isn’t always the traveller’s best option, but it definitely is if you are planning to come to Machrihanish Dunes!

You must need a huge footfall to make a profit. How do you market your various offerings?

The accommodation and restaurant options maintain identical standards but are also extremely varied, and I think anybody who studies our website will quickly make a judgement on what option suits them best. The Royal Hotel is situated right in the heart of the town, and the Harbourview Grille that serves it has a varied menu that suits all palettes in relaxed surroundings. The restaurant and its adjoining Black Sheep Pub are popular haunts for locals as well as guests, and the atmosphere is vibrant and upbeat. The recently renovated Ugadale Hotel in Machrihanish is oriented more towards the golfer, but is also a favourite among people who prefer quieter surroundings and outstanding scenery. The hotel is a half wedge away from the iconic first tee at Machrihanish Golf Club, and you are literally immersed in golf and history when you stay there. The main reception area and the Kintyre Club restaurant have been designed to retain the aura of the original hotel and the food there is of a really high quality. We have several cottages available for rent at the Village in Machrihanish which are extremely popular with golf groups. Guests who stay in these will find themselves in close proximity to the Old Clubhouse Pub, which has, in my opinion, the best bar menu in the Campbeltown area. You can get huge portions of our world-famous Haggis Nachos, along with large platefuls of some of the finest pub food around.

Behind 9th hole with 18th green in background, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Once again I would say to anybody who is planning to visit Kintyre that we have an accommodation and dining experience in our portfolio that will suit your needs, and the very best way to ascertain which option is perfect for you is to phone our reservations office and ask for friendly advice. One thing worth mentioning is that the quality of all our accommodation options is extremely consistent. It doesn’t matter where you stay, you will get the same bed, the same bed-linen, the same towels and the same bathroom fittings. Because our options are so varied, that consistency is key to our success.

You work closely with organisation like tourist boards and your local council. Can you take us through who you partner with, how the partnerships work and what the mutual benefits are?

The recent reduction in council and government spending in the area has impacted negatively on tourism services and those cuts are rumoured to continue. To offset the effects of that, private enterprises have been set up to allow local vendors and businesses to group together in order to provide alternative methods of informing the public about what an area has to offer. We work closely with the Explore Campbeltown group who have provided an excellent online resource to do exactly that.

2nd hole behind fairway marker, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

1st hole, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

Government funded websites such as Explore Kintyre and Explore Argyll throw that net even wider and although I feel it is a shame that tourist information centres are not due to receive sufficient funding to ensure their future survival, I do think we need to make the most of the potential that the internet offers and use this kind of opportunity to attempt to get better and more accurate information into public circulation than ever before.

8th green, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

How has the venue tried to attract more green fee players? And more members?

Machrihanish Dunes was marketed quite aggressively in its formative years, and it is my opinion that the people who worked on those early campaigns did a fantastic job of giving our business a corporate identity that people immediately identify with. The black sheep logo, the font used exclusively in all our marketing material, the images of the course itself, these things all combine to form an advertising product that is instantly recognisable to people. Once players show an interest in coming here, our reservations team and the staff at our clubhouse will work tirelessly to tailor packages that make it difficult for people not to come. The course sells itself really well and this makes our job a lot easier. Anybody looking at those amazing images for the first time must be making a mental note to visit sooner rather than later!

We opened up our membership for the first time in 2013, and we have been extremely successful in gaining members from both the local area and from central Scotland and even beyond. Obviously the potential for us to gain a large membership locally was always going to be stifled by having such a well established club with a stunning golf course right next door, but we never had any intention of trying to poach members away from Machrihanish – it is and always has been our desire to work with Machrihanish rather than against them and we have an excellent working relationship with our closest neighbours.

Looking down onto 1st green from 2nd hole tee path, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

A number of people are members of both clubs, and there are two main reasons why they choose to join Machrihanish Dunes as well. The first is that we have a driving range and our practice facilities are excellent with plans to improve them still further, and secondly I think people enjoy the sense of fun that surrounds the whole place. It is an upbeat place to be. Our members who travel from ‘up the road’ will tell you the same thing – it is easy to like Machrihanish Dunes and the characters who run it on a daily basis. Once you become a member here you instantly become a friend and that is hugely important. It is also the reason why people who could travel far less distance to play a high-quality links course choose to join a club further away. We must be doing something right!

14th hole from the tees with the village Machrihanish in background, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

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?

We carry a range of branded clothing and merchandise at Machrihanish Dunes, but we do not have a PGA pro. When our parent company bought the golf course and developed the property the owners were keen to develop as good a relationship with Machrihanish Golf Club as they could and one of the decisions made was they wouldn’t initially hire a PGA pro who would compete with what Machrihanish offered. If any of our guests wish to have a lesson while they are in the area, we can arrange this with Machrihanish Golf Club for the benefit of everyone.

Behind 9th hole, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Panoramic sunset view of golf course behind 18th hole, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

18th green, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

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

We run a professional food and beverage operation that is managed by key staff who are extremely proficient at controlling cost of sales while also sourcing the best local food from vendors who have become our long-term partners. Having such a large overall operation helps us to pool resources to reduce wastage and maximise the effectiveness of our staff. Most of all though, we strive to always produce the best product that we can. Word of mouth is our best form of marketing and it is also the most cost effective! If we consistently provide an excellent product and friendly, efficient service, people will come back to eat and make use of the bars over and over again.

8th green, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

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

I admire anybody who has the vision to set up an enterprise and then market it successfully enough to turn it into a viable business. Whether these forms of the sport have any longevity remains to be seen, but everything is worth a try and if these ventures get people involved and subsequently keeps them involved in healthy sporting activities then every one of them is rightly to be applauded.

16th hole and sea, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

5th hole, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

13th fairway and green with Machrihanish in background, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

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

Oh, the million dollar question! If I had the definitive answer to this problem I’m sure I would have been given a top job at Scottish Golf by now. With many clubs actively seeking members, it has become much easier and cheaper to join a club and to play the game and yet still we struggle to get people interested. There are more distractions than there have ever been, it is easier to just live inside our own wee bubbles and not to socialise with people we don’t know, but that actually does’t do any of us any good. We need to get out there and physically get involved in things, and taking up golf and joining a golf club can be one of the most rewarding and sociable things you can choose to do. There are many people wringing their hands trying to work out what has gone wrong with golf but I don’t think anything has gone wrong with it – it is society that has changed, and not for the better! All we can do as an industry is promote the game as being fun and welcoming, and this is especially true when we are trying to make it attractive to women and children. Since the inception of Machrihanish Dunes we have offered free use of the golf course and practice facilities to junior golfers when they are accompanied by an adult. Providing the facilities to enable all young players to improve their game to the point where they start to really enjoy golf will hopefully result in them continuing to play into their adult years.

11th hole from white tees, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

Looking over to 11th green from 17th hole, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

What advice would have for a club struggling with membership numbers?

Try to think of ways that you can encourage a positive atmosphere. Take the time to sit back and work out where your weaknesses are, then target them. Is the condition of your course inferior to the courses around you? If so, can you invest in the staff and the infrastructure to improve on that? Is the catering letting you down? Is there a welcoming, fun atmosphere around the club or do people perceive it to be a place which the members would rather you stayed away? There are so many things that can negatively impact the success of a business, but reversing one or two small trends can have a massive impact on the fortunes of the whole club.

5th hole from tees, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

14th hole with the village of Machrihanish in background, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Late evening at the 2nd green, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

Sometimes there is not much you can do about the big things. If the course has a poor design, if it is excessively wet in winter or even if it lives in the shadows of more illustrious neighbours, there is no point in beating yourself up about it. What you can do is what we have done here at Machrihanish Dunes, concentrate on the things that we do have control over. People are drawn here because they know Lorna and Peter will hail them from across the car park, and because the soup that Peter makes is the best any of us have ever had. They come here because they can practice on the range with the best quality golf balls, and because Simon and his staff will have made every effort to make the course as good as they possibly can on any given day.

Behind 9th green at sunset, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

Approach shot of 9th green with 18th green in background, Machrihanish Dunes – Argyll Scotland

What is your biggest hope for 2018?

Everybody who comes to Machrihanish Dunes is a VIP to us, so my hope is that everyone who sets foot onto the links in 2018 has a fantastic time, and they are bowled over by the welcome they receive, the condition in which they find the course, the spectacular views they get to enjoy and by just how much fun they are having. If everybody is having fun playing golf, then the future of the game is assured.

 

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu April 18, 2018 07:11 Updated
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