Meet the golf club owner: Tom Munt

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire December 11, 2018 11:01

Aged 14 Tom dreamt of owning a golf course. Now, aged just 36, he owns a spectacular facility in Lincolnshire. In the interim, the career he pursued was not that of a typical golf course owner – in fact he managed golf clubs. Here, he details his surprising journey

Since I first fell in love with the game of golf at 14 years old I have dreamed of owning my own golf course. I used to spend hours drawing course layouts and even built a scale model of my improved version of my childhood club’s clubhouse for a GCSE design project. As I grew up, however, it became clear that dreams are often just that and that the sad truth of dreaming is you must always wake up eventually. Nevertheless I committed myself to slowly inching closer to that eventual goal and thanks to a mixture of perseverance, determination and a huge amount of luck, here I sit as the owner of the Toft Hotel and Golf Club in Lincolnshire at 36 years of age.

I started my golf career as only the second intake to study golf management at what is now Bucks New University. At the time I recall the degree being published in The Times as one of the top 10 most absurd university degrees, I think it was two places below ‘Spice Girl Studies’. Nevertheless I graduated with a first class honours degree in leisure management and golf studies and instantly found myself – as so many graduates do– with a qualification which seemed totally useless in terms of getting a job. Unfortunately for me, the next step on my journey to learn the ropes of golf club management simply didn’t exist. The industry was wholly unprepared for a new generation of graduate management apprentices. This forced me to diversify and work my way through the leisure industry at gyms, leisure centres, sports clubs and hotels to earn the experience I would need to get into golf management.

My first attempt at being my own boss came in 2005 when my brother and I took the lease on a pub in Sussex. Born out of a heady mix of arrogance and ignorance, this business proved to be the most expensive but most valuable education of my life to date. I was too young and far too naïve to manage the financial, regulatory and human responsibilities that are at the core of owning and running any service business. What this period did give me, however, was a huge lesson in how a business works and what business ownership is really like. This has proved invaluable when making the decision to take on our latest venture.

So following this painful lesson I returned to the golf industry and worked in a mixture of proprietary and members’ clubs, learning my trade and meeting a huge number of amazing and fascinating people.

I owe everything to the people I have met in my life and from inspirational committee members. I have listened and learned from the most unlikely of sources including the wise council of club members.

I also enjoyed exposure to other brilliant managers through the GCMA, which meant that I was able to leverage their years of experience simply by listening.

All of this is useful of course when it comes to buying a golf club but none of it is any more than you would expect for a good club manager, so what is it that has really made the difference to me in terms of owning a club rather than running one? Well I think there are two sides to that. Firstly, it is me. My desire to own my own business, my own club and to have the freedom, but huge responsibility, that this brings is something that some people will want, and others won’t. Either way there is no right and wrong, just different aims, desires and dreams. If you are not passionate about owning a business, then don’t do it. If you think it would be ‘nice’ or ‘fun’ then don’t do it. While it may well be nice and fun at times, this cannot be the basis for your decision. So the first part of the answer is that I am still arrogant enough (but hopefully not as ignorant) to have a burning desire to own my own golf club and that is essential in my opinion.

The other factor that has helped me hugely in fulfilling my dream has been over a decade of experience of investing. In that time, I have invested in residential property, a leasehold business, stocks, shares and derivatives. I am certainly no Warren Buffet but I have always been fascinated by the financial markets and the structure of investment vehicles. Part of my learning curve when it came to these investments was in fact the book that Warren Buffet refers to as his bible: Value Investing by Benjamin Graham. This book, for the record, has nothing to do with buying golf clubs, it does however explain the underpinning principles behind how to value assets and companies. It is this obscure balance that I have somehow been able to strike between my love for golf and the hospitality industry, and my fascination with finance and investment that has helped me to cross the line between working in golf and owning a golf business.

I feel like I should include a small ‘warning’ here that I was once told that the way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune and then buy a golf club! Anyone who works in the industry will know that this is pretty sound advice. This advice had made me fear that I would never be able to own my own golf club because sadly I didn’t have a large fortune and if I was going to buy a business it needed to be a profitable one. Therefore the Toft Hotel and Golf Club has provided the opportunity that I had been waiting for. It has 20 hotel rooms, an 18-hole golf course, restaurant, bar and separate function suite. The Toft offered me the diversity in terms of revenue streams to allow me to own a golf club and (hopefully) make some profit. This is an important consideration when looking to enter what is essentially a ‘not for profit’ industry where most golf clubs exist solely for the ongoing benefit of their members. It certainly doesn’t mean that golf-only operations cannot be profitable but I would suggest that these businesses are few and far between.

While I am at the beginning of my time at the Toft Hotel and Golf Club and I have absolutely no guarantee of success, the process of buying the business was one that I was able to achieve as a result of my understanding of the operational side of the business and my appreciation for the mechanics of valuing and acquiring a leasehold company.

I can’t go into detail here about how I valued this business (or the many that I have explored before this) or the options in terms of the structure of the acquisition. All I would say is that you should not let money or a lack of it be the deciding factor in your decision to look for your own golf business. There are ways of finding, structuring and funding business acquisitions that, as long as you have the experience and the passion to run it profitably could see you as the owner of your own golf business sooner than you think.

If you are interested in buying a golf business or you want more information about how to find, assess, value, fund or structure an acquisition I would be more than happy to have a chat and help in whatever way I can. I am delighted to have achieved my dream and would now be honoured if I could help someone else achieve theirs.

Q&A with Tom Munt

Does Toft have a committee (as someone who is a golf club owner and has been a golf club manager, it is interesting to know what set-up you’ve opted for)?

Yes, Toft has a ‘Members’ Playing Committee’ (MPC) that manages social events, competitions and handicaps and acts as a forum for gathering member feedback. It is made up of the captain and key other elected officials. There is then a management committee which I chair, which has a secretary, the chair of the MPC, another elected members’ representative, the head greenkeeper and the head pro.

This acts in a similar way to a board or management committee at a members’ club.

The key difference is that we rarely deal with finance at these committees and ultimately the executive control lies with me.

This said, having a committee to aid me in decision making is totally priceless.

What do you do to attract potential new members and market to green fee visitors?

It is early days in terms of business development but I continue to believe that pricing is key with any promotion. Managing the delicate balance which protects the value of full membership, but allows a competitive green fee rate, is tough. Even though there is the freedom to ‘upset the apple cart’ and not worry about member value at a proprietary club, this, in my opinion, would be foolish.

I am writing to all of the members who have left over the last two years and I am personally inviting them back. This will also include information on the improvements and investments that are coming up over the next 12 months.

We will hold fire with green fee promotions until the spring, I am a big believer in keeping your promotions focused and simple, this means promoting one thing at a time and ensuring that you do this when it will return the most money for your marketing spend.

Is Toft doing anything to attract more women and juniors to the facility?

We are lucky enough to have a small but highly successful ladies’ section and the support of local professional Darren Game of Bourne Golf Centre who looks after our juniors. For my part I have reduced the price of junior membership for next year by 40 per cent and added free membership for under 11s who are children or grandchildren of full members.

What is the club doing to enhance the profitability of its food and beverage operation?

I have noticed recently that there are an increasing number of golf clubs that are closing down or struggling to remain financially viable in the current market. I would be very happy to discuss how some of the tools and methods I used in acquiring this business may help those struggling clubs with the challenges that they are facing. Whether it is restructuring debt, reviewing costs, giving income a quick boost or finding investment, I will gladly help if I can. If you are considering investing in a golf club, whether it is a struggling members’ club or a larger, profitable, hospitality business, I would be equally interested in having a chat and offering any help I can.

Email Tom via tommunt@hotmail.com

 

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire December 11, 2018 11:01
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4 Comments

  1. James December 11, 13:34

    Admire his ambition. Wish him all the very best in this venture.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Will December 12, 06:43

    Very impressive Tom. Looking forward to round (bar as well as golf) with you at the Toft.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Simon December 12, 12:44

    Played there in a Society in the 90’s. Nice course, great food and good value then. Would be nice to return.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Scott December 13, 11:51

    Smithy and I will have to come up and play 18 holes and then sample the menu.

    Reply to this comment
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