Meet the golf club manager: Nick Hughes

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire October 22, 2019 08:11

The general manager of Cranleigh Golf & Country Club in Surrey talks about the challenges involved in managing a country club where golf is just one of the many health provisions on offer and why membership has grown significantly in recent years.

Nick Hughes

Cranleigh Golf & Country Club offers everything you’d expect from a country club but at a competitive price, can you tell us a bit about the facility – and how it achieves this?

Cranleigh has grown from quite a small golf club to a thriving country club in just over 10 years. Thanks to significant continued investment and a major refurbishment in 2013, we have been able to create a hub for the community that has something for everyone. It’s a unique product, thanks to its wonderful clubhouse – a refurbished Sussex Barn – and provides a wide range of health, fitness and social facilities in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

The key to success is looking after your current members. Our number one priority is making sure they’re happy – then they will have no hesitation in recommending their friends and neighbours. Around 60 per cent of new memberships over the past year has come through referrals – as our members feel valued and think so highly of the club.

As a country club, how much do you get involved in the management of the non-golf offerings, such as tennis and the spa?

I spend more time managing the non-golfing offerings than the golf course, due the diversity of what we offer to our members. We have split the club management into heads of departments, all of which are highly skilled and passionate about their specific areas. We hold weekly head of department meetings, which gives each of them the opportunity to raise concerns and make recommendations. This allows me to make sure each area of the club is on track and performing well.

You’ve managed a number of golf clubs over the years, including Milford, Merrist Wood, Pyrford and East Sussex National, how have you found the running of them, and generally the role of a UK golf club manager, has changed in the last couple of decades?

It has changed massively over the years with so many clubs diversifying into functions and non-member events. The focus of a general manager is now far more customer-focused than it used to be. Everyone is working harder for business, therefore it’s more important now than ever to retain members and increase referrals, rather than hard-selling and trying too hard to gain new members. We do this through great communication with our members and listening to them – making sure the communication flows both ways. It’s incredibly rewarding knowing that the members enjoy their club and are happy to be a part of it, rather than forgetting about them trying to recruit new members.

The club is set to see significant growth in memberships and green fee income this year, what is that down to?

As mentioned previously, the growth in membership is down to listening to our members, finding out what they want and, ultimately, giving it to them. Our vibrant membership feels valued and would struggle to find better facilities elsewhere. We continue to invest into the club to bring the facilities up to speed and to give our members the very best – and this will naturally attract new people to the club. For example, in the last year we have made a £70k investment into the steam room, sauna and shower area, a £70k investment into new greenkeeping equipment and a £12k investment to bring the latest virtual cycling technology to the spinning studio. Green fee income is such a small part of what we do, we aim to get as many casual golfers playing the course in order to convert them into members.

What do you find are the biggest challenges managing the club today?

Most definitely staffing and payroll. I would say around 40 per cent of my time is taken up with performance management, recruitment and managing the flexibility of payroll, and it continues to become even more challenging with the continued rise in minimum wage. It’s crucial that we find the right people for our vacant jobs, so I take real care when recruiting or promoting from within to make sure they are the best person for the job. I am proud to say, however, that Cranleigh offers great career progression and we’ve had bartenders work their way all the way up to management!

Continually challenging the suppliers is another important part of the role, as loyalty, on occasion, breeds complacency.

How do you communicate with existing members?

We try to communicate with members in as many ways as possible, as we understand different people respond better to different types of communication.

We communicate via social media, email, through our bookings app and even texting. We try to send out a fortnightly email to our members to keep them informed of what’s happening around the estate. Although, we still think face-to-face is best, I personally spend much of my time on the floor in the clubhouse so that members can come and talk to me – whether it be a complaint, recommendation or a compliment. All our staff are encouraged to be approachable, spend as much time as possible building relationships with the members and talking to them about what’s going on around the club.

How does Cranleigh Golf & Country Club fit in with the local community? Is it also trying to attract more women and juniors to the facility?

Cranleigh’s aim is to be the hub for local people and become embedded into the heart of the local community, but still with an edge of exclusivity. We want residents in the local area to think of Cranleigh as the place they can come to exercise, relax, socialise, eat and just hang out, but it’s more than just a local leisure centre. As part of getting involved in the community, we also sponsor several local events, as well as attending the popular Cranleigh Show each year.

The club has been working hard to remove the barriers and perception that it’s a ‘private members’ club’, as this isn’t the case at all. We want to provide a space that’s inclusive and welcoming to all and offer a range of social events, fitness classes, competitions and activities that will suit different ages and genders. We work hard to attract women and juniors to the facility, as these are usually the people that get involved in all the elements of the club, not just the golf.

The retail side and driving range business have also seen growth, what has caused that?

This is just a result of increasing membership and casual golf. We put everything in place to attract people to the club and they will want to spend more time here. Most golfers like to use the driving range as a warm-up before their round, so the more people we have playing, the better the driving range will do. Also, people quickly realise that golf isn’t easy and they need the practice! We also spent £25k refurbishing the driving range to make sure it’s a top-class facility where our members can get the best out of their game.

How useful is it having a former EuroPro and Asian Tour golfer (Charlie Tetlow) as your head professional?

It’s been great. Obviously having a pro of that calibre with his resume makes him more respectable to people wanting to book lessons – as he’s played at such a top level.

Charlie has also done a brilliant job in driving junior golf at Cranleigh and it’s always been key to the club to have a pro that’s keen on developing the next generation of golfer. Charlie’s enthusiasm for getting youngsters into the game has proved invaluable and he makes sure that all school holidays are filled with camps for children to try the game out.

Not only that, but he’s done a great job in organising the club’s tournaments. He recently helped organise 25 teams for our charity pro-am, which raised a whopping £6,500 for charity.

The club has beehives. What’s that all about?

It’s quite a simple story really. We were approached by a local resident, who was also a beehive specialist, who asked if we wanted to work together – and we jumped at the opportunity!

It’s turned out to be a big hit with the members and we sell around 100 jars a month! People love the fact that the honey is fresh, completely organic and they can see exactly where it’s coming from. It’s a quirky USP that we’re proud of, and an extra revenue source too!

What is the club’s approach to customer service?

Approachable, friendly and professional. Unlike your typical golf club, Cranleigh is much more relaxed, with a casual approach to dress code, use of phones and so on, within the clubhouse.

We are great listeners who are always wanting the best for the most important people – our members. We are keen to learn exactly what they enjoy, as well as what they’re not enjoying, so we can tailor the club to meet their needs.

Our management style is also key. As discussed earlier, all the heads of departments and I are keen to spend as much time as possible around the club, being completely approachable and welcoming feedback.

In terms of food and beverage, what does the club offer members and visitors? Is this also seeing growth?

Food and beverage continue to grow at the site, with a 60 per cent growth in the last two years! This is mainly down to serving top-quality food and a wide range of drinks! I know it sounds obvious, but the only way to attract people to this area of the club is to give them an experience they want to experience again.

We have recruited fantastic chefs who cook a range of lovely fresh dishes, made from quality, local produce.

We offer the standard golfing fare, but also a great selection of healthy options, which has been well received by our health club members.

We also offer an extremely popular Sunday lunch, which often sees the clubhouse full of around 60 members, friends and families enjoying the delicious food on offer.

The club recently appointed a new course manager to oversee the refurbishment of the bunkers, can you tell us more about that?

We put a one, three and five-year plan in place to make sure we’re continually improving the golf course. Chris Smith’s appointment was a real coup for the business, as someone of his experience will only benefit the members’ experience on the course. There’s already been some drastic changes and the course is now in excellent condition and has never been better – and this is down to Chris’, and his excellent greenkeeping team’s, continued hard work.

Chris Smith

Ten years ago Chris Smith was an electrician – how often do you call on his services to fix something faulty in the clubhouse?

Chris’ main focus is the golf course but just occasionally we might ask him to fix a light fitting!

Surrey has a number of world famous golf clubs and is one of the top two or three counties in England for its number of leading venues.

Do you ever find yourself in competition with fellow Surrey golf managers?

No, as hitting a little white ball around a manicured lawn is the last thing that floats my boat!

Seriously, I spend a fair amount of time in contact with other golf managers about what’s happening in the world of golf to ensure that we keep ahead of the game and are aware of any local challenges.

I think we’re fortunate that we are unique and have what many others don’t – and that’s the health and fitness section.

So, I spend more of my time making sure the members are enjoying themselves and are proud of their club, rather than worrying about what other clubs might be doing.

What does the club do in terms of marketing?

The club is very proactive with marketing and ensures that all bases are covered – we want everyone in the local area to know about us! As well as regular posting on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), we also run paid-for targeted advertising campaigns on Facebook, email campaigns to our large database, press releases and adverts in the local media, as well as the occasional mailout to local postcodes.

There’s not much the club hasn’t done in terms of marketing as we realise the importance of it, but we’re constantly evaluating our marketing to make sure we’re using the right methods and that they’re successful.

Our internal communication is also key in terms of marketing our events and certain activities / classes.

We have banners and posters throughout the club as well as a digital advertising screen in reception.

Apparently, rugby is your first love. Ever thought of managing a rugby club?

No, not at all. I love the variety of managing a country club and have become very passionate about it, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I’ll stick to just watching the rugby!

 

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire October 22, 2019 08:11
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6 Comments

  1. Peter October 17, 14:10

    Sounds like they understand, the winning formula ! Great Job nick Hughes !

    Reply to this comment
  2. Nick October 18, 11:42

    The legend that is…a good read

    Reply to this comment
  3. David October 19, 16:13

    Good job. The right choice

    Reply to this comment
  4. Stephen October 21, 11:34

    Excellent Nick. Another Ex Crown GM trailblazing sir…

    Reply to this comment
  5. Matt October 21, 11:35

    Always so good with words well done Mr Hughes

    Reply to this comment
  6. Andrew October 21, 14:35

    Great article Nic

    Reply to this comment
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