How interior clubhouse design can fit into a marketing strategy

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 18, 2011 13:33

There was a time when simply having a bar and dining facility at a golf club guaranteed that members and visitors would stay post round and use the facilities. However, over recent years just having such a facility doesn’t necessarily guarantee custom; more usually this has to be earned.

In the past, clubs of a certain age tended to have bouts of expenditure which delivered the décor of the day to ‘cover up the cracks’, but unfortunately in some cases, that was 25+ years ago. Although colours and fashions have long since changed, the golf clubhouse remains in a time warp with some members ambivalent towards change or even oblivious of the need for change.

A typical comment, made by a proportion of the membership can often be ‘we are happy as it is, why change?’ While the time warp environment works well in some clubhouses, which are classed as listed buildings, it doesn’t have quite the same caché for circa 1970s décor.

The ambiance or standard of upkeep might not be good enough to entice members or for that matter visitors to stay after a round of golf or encourage them to entertain their colleagues in the clubhouse.

Time pressured golfers often have other more pressing commitments which cause them to turn their back on the clubhouse and label them ‘car park’ golfers.

They may perceive staying for a drink inevitably means something alcoholic and thus may not think it acceptable to drink, given the journey they have ahead of them. This becomes convenient excuses to not use the facilities. In addition to these considerations, the visiting golfer may be tempted to go elsewhere – back to the hotel to wallow in the convivial atmosphere or to a local bar to swap golfing stories.

The competition for the visiting golfer’s pound is rising, as recognition grows that they are worth cultivating. When calculating economic impact, tourist boards often say for every pound spent on green fees, another four pounds will be spent in the local community.

While post golf business is an essential part of a club’s income, more and more clubs are looking to attract supplementary business via social dining and social functions, for example family celebrations / parties, weddings and funerals. Some clubhouses, because of their proximity to a town or city, may offer the perfect solution – an attractive social membership package. Others because of their remoteness, may have to work harder to attract a crowd.

Mention making more use of the clubhouse with the committee and the conversation will inevitably tend to focus on food and drink, menus and bar stocks, but patronage is also influenced by other intangible aspects – such as atmosphere, ambiance, conviviality and comfort. Some of these can be influenced by the customer service received, but more commonly it is down to the bar and restaurant environment.

To create an environment which attracts customers, helps them relax, enhances their visit experience and more to the point, encourages them to extend their stay, revisit or refer others, is an investment worthy of consideration. After all from the club’s standpoint the aim is to encourage the golfing customer to spend money at the club, not once, but again and again!

Clubs that are thinking about refurbishment need to carefully consider:

• the overall impression they wish to convey, for example maintain the traditional Edwardian or go for a more contemporary approach;

• a realistic budget, which calls for a little background work at the outset;

• that piecemeal changes, for example a new carpet or a few new chairs, will make for a change, but is unlikely to produce the WOW factor.

There are quick fix ways to improve clubhouses, for example paint walls or a ceiling, put up new wallpaper or remove fluorescent lighting, but these tend to be routes taken by those clubs operating on a shoestring budget or where maintenance is more important than future development prospects.

The changes will make an impact with members and visitors using the facilities, particularly those who are revisiting and thus are able to compare the before and after. However, quick fixes tend to highlight other problems.

A brighter, lighter room certainly helps create a good impression, but this can be spoiled by, for example, failing to repair wonky legs or scratches on bar tables, doing nothing about splits in seating upholstery or tears in cushions, ignoring worn areas, rips and dirty marks on carpets.

Making the bar and restaurant areas wholly acceptable usually means taking an overall view, rather than tackling it piecemeal.

When thinking through what is required, it may be useful to make visits to other golf clubs or other leisure establishments, to see what they have done. Even ‘steal’ some of their good ideas.

If possible, try to speak with the manager to find out more about the development, for example suppliers, approach, costs, timing and so on.

Some maybe more willing to supply this information than others, but it does no harm to ask! Importantly, you start to get a feel for what you can get for your money.

At this point it may also be useful to consider where the money is going to come from. Is it an investment the club can afford to fund in its entirety from an existing golf club piggy bank or should the club be talking to other potential funders, for example its brewer and / or bank? Appreciating that only an outline cost would be available at this stage, any discussion would simply be an exploratory one.

Ideally, asking up to three suppliers to quote for proposed developments should be sufficient to secure a raft of options, which offers a diversity of choice. The process may be time consuming and slightly laborious, but the outcome should be a scheme or an approach the club is happy to progress.

In arriving at those options, suppliers would usually meet with the club secretary / manager and some of the committee, this could be a specially formed sub-group, to confirm the key criteria for the project and survey the rooms or area to be changed.

The bar and restaurant are critical areas within a clubhouse, which have to perform multi-faceted roles throughout the year, for example serving post round drinks at a relaxed pace from a limited bar area; keeping a host of function revellers happy; managing to cater for ‘grazers / snackers’ as well as ‘sit down diners’.

The words, which encapsulate the design approach, are adaptability and flexibility of the facilities to accommodate a growing list of demands.

For most golf clubs, the alterations, big or small, are scheduled for the winter months, but to target this seasonal window, clubs realistically need to be actively considering a scheme the previous winter, that is at least 12 months ahead. This enables initial views to be tightened-up, supplier(s) to be selected, finances to be finalised and plans to be prepared, well in advance.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 18, 2011 13:33
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