Comment: the economy, slow play and courtesy golf

Stuart Phipps
By Stuart Phipps November 13, 2011 17:16

Comment: the economy, slow play and courtesy golf

Like any well-run business, clubs must position themselves for the economic recovery – and that can’t be done in a hurry. It is too easy to ignore the lead-time for implementing long-term changes, and find yourself overtaken by clubs that have already planned for the future.

In a private members’ club, decision-making is a cumbersome process and generally follows this pattern:

➢ discuss development ideas and choose the best one(s)

➢ seek committee approval to examine them more fully

➢ form a working-party to investigate (issues such as expert advice, planning permission, quotations, funding and so on)

➢ ‘leak’ the concept to members to get an informal discussion going

➢ obtain committee approval to put a proposal to the members

➢ hold general meetings to allay members’ worries

➢ obtain formal membership approval at a general meeting

➢ start work.

The whole procedure is a bit of a game of snakes-and-ladders, with the ever-present risk that problems and objections will arise – and the whole thing goes backwards! If a major construction (be it a building or a course remodelling) can be started and completed in less than four years, I’d be surprised.

I’m not claiming there’s anything new in this, as experienced managers will know all too well. But don’t make the mistake of shelving it just because ‘the bank won’t lend us any money’ or whatever other obstruction gets in the way: now is the time to start the process.

If it does nothing else, the mention of big changes will make the members think about their club, not simply take it for granted.

For the proprietary club, the need to look forward is just as great, although, with fewer steps in the decision-making chain, the lead-time is likely to be somewhat less. The pressure on immediate results is, however, more immediate: cashflow and profit must always be maintained because of the predatory eye of companies looking to take over clubs under stress.

‘I can cure slow play!’

Say this at a GCMA meeting and you’ll grab the attention of the room! Of course, no-one will believe you, because golf’s administrators have been trying to do it for centuries – without success.

But here’s a new idea for you to consider: fit every competition score-card with a radio frequency identification device (RFID). With this fitted, the progress of every competitor around the course can be accurately recorded – and the slow players identified unfailingly.

Sounds too good to be true – but it isn’t. The technology and miniaturisation of RFID has advanced so far that they are being used in playing cards at casinos to prevent cheating, and by supermarkets to track their stock – even after the customer has bought it and left the shop!

On the golf course, there are two ways of tracking the players using this technology:

1 – a time-signal can be stored on the RFID at set points around the course (say, every tee) so that the player’s progress can be read out when the card is returned to the office;

2 – a ‘positional fix’ can be recorded at set intervals on the RFID, using GPS technology. The advantage of this is that it is in ‘real-time’, allowing a ranger to be sent out to hurry up the guilty parties, as is already done by clubs which need to keep tabs on their large caddy-car fleets.

No doubt your initial reaction is to dismiss the idea as far too expensive – and today I agree – but for how much longer? You may also think this whole idea scary – an advanced version of ‘Big Brother’ keeping an eye on you when you’re enjoying yourself. But remember we’re already under constant surveillance by CCTV cameras in every town, so what’s new? Except that this is just an effective method of speeding up play, not a way to trap terrorists!

Guidance from above

At the risk of seeming to be inconsistent, I have to confess to a certain concern in the use of GPS devices because these days my sat-nav often drives me mad. Getting into the car to travel home from afar, I switch it on and await directions – which are delayed until TomTom has received signals from the satellites in the sky. When this delay reaches five minutes, I fume: I need a ‘left’ or ‘right’ instruction when I reach the end of the drive, and so I can’t even start!

What’s more, if the astro-scientists are right, the situation is liable to become considerably worse. They are warning that ‘the sun’s irregular activity can wreak havoc with the weak sat-nav signals we use’. This could cause ‘10-metre errors in positioning’.

If I rely on a GPS signal for the exact yardage on my distance measuring device, a 10 metre error could land me in a bunker or a stream, instead of being on the green. Perhaps I should buy a course planner after all: turbulence on the sun shouldn’t affect that!

What do courtesy rounds cost your club?

Derek Howe (CEO, East Sussex National G&CC) once wrote about the pressure he’s under to give courtesy of the course to an ever-growing number of players and groups – BIGGA members, PGA members, county captains societies, charity events and so on – and, of course, visiting GCMA members (who, by the way, should always ask first). He feels this must be dragging down the club’s green fee income, and he points out that the pressure on him as manager of a commercial operation is particularly intense. (I don’t think the pressure should be any less on the manager of a private members’ club, actually: it is only the non-commercial tradition that lies behind such generosity – and that is a fading force. Efforts to keep subscriptions down come first today!)

This is not a new problem. Twenty-five years ago, when ‘family tradition’ was widespread in golf, I remember being challenged by the county lady veterans when I said their players should pay a 50 per cent green fee for their county meeting: their secretary told me rather sharply that: “We are never asked to pay!” So I rang around my fellow-secretaries to confirm this – and they all said their club only waived the green fee because my club did it! (The county lady vets never asked me again!)

Do we need to give so many courtesies? Probably not, but it is entirely up to the policy of each individual club. As a GCMA member, I would just like to be treated a bit better than a ‘2-for-1’ stranger.

It is the charity events that cause the most heart-wrenching, for they do such good work – and they need support. My personal reaction is to be selective, favouring local charities which are likely to benefit club members. (Not pure altruism, as there is a chance for some mutual publicity, in the hope that the goodwill generated locally will attract new club members.)

It is in the interests of all clubs to support a common response to allowing people courtesy – and to get all private members’ club’s committees to agree it. Commercial clubs will, no doubt, be leading the way in this!

Stuart Phipps
By Stuart Phipps November 13, 2011 17:16
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