Full review of the 2011 GCMA conference

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 8, 2012 15:42

The 13th GCMA Conference at the Barceló Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire last month proved to be an opportunity for nearly 200 golf club managers to discuss, with themselves and other industry experts, ways their golf clubs can survive, grow or even flourish during wider economic difficulties.

The GCMA’s captain, John Dinsdale, and chief executive, Keith Lloyd, opened the event by talking about the importance of sharing ideas. “If two people with one different idea share them then they both have two ideas,” Keith said. “It’s those ideas that come from these networking opportunities, which creates the focus on change so that we can go back to our golf clubs and educate our boards that we are the right manager at the right club, right now.”

Management in the USA

Keith was followed by Gregg Patterson, the conference’s keynote speaker, who used his speech to explain why The Beach Club in Santa Monica, USA, which he manages, has differentiated from its competitors to maintain a waiting list during the economic downturn.

“What we’ve done is create a tribe mentality to bring about loyalty,” he said. “Social media might get people in the door but it wont make them loyal.

“So, for instance, we don’t have pictures of dead people on the walls, but images of club members having fun, which we update every three months. I advised a British club to do this recently – or at least use contemporary art instead of these pictures of dead people. That club told me they would not do that because they are a traditional club. Shortly afterwards, they went bankrupt.

“A lot of people think that one committee is enough for a club to have. I couldn’t disagree more. Have as many committees as possible! They create tribes within tribes and that creates loyalty.”

In two one-hour speeches, Gregg, a famous American motivational speaker whose club has engendered a customer service-driven culture that ensures high retention of members and staff, detailed numerous tips that have worked for him in the 29 years he has been manager of The Beach Club.

“You need to understand your club’s culture and nudge it in the direction you want it to go,” he told scores of British golf club managers. “Years ago we did not have a gym, but then the culture changed and we got one, and now 20 per cent of our members join because of it.

“That was also why offered our services as a wedding venue – which means we’re now printing money!

“When I joined as manager you had to wear a shirt and tie to eat at the restaurant – and only four people would eat there. We’re by the beach! Today there is no dress code and 250 people eat there. In fact food and beverage are social lubricants, which is why we have four restaurants at my club. People do not leave places where they break bread together.

“But, be careful, you may lose that culture if you let anyone join the club. I know in the present climate that’s not an easy path to follow, but you should make sure that only those people who will fit in with the club’s culture join. It works for us – we still have an $80,000 joining fee and only 15 members leave every year – and that’s because they all die.

“The little things can make a huge difference as well,” he added. “We regularly put together a hat with $50 in it from members and the winner gets the money; the staff have a profit share in the club, and I let them grow by not being there all the time; I’ve discovered that in a club where the member knows who the chef is, the food tastes better and the customers will spend more money on the experience; and I have an assistant who is a real people person and she always waves goodbye to every member or visitor – regardless of how late it is. She’s also great with kids, so if a family has a meal and the kids finish quickly, they flock to her as she entertains them.

“Elsewhere, if a new member drives in we communicate this to the security guard who welcomes them by name – we speak to everyone by using their name – and then we open the double doors at the entrance and welcome them in.

“Also, I send about 1,200 handwritten birthday cards to members every year, as well as cards to members of staff, I’ll also send cards to members who have just had a baby. I personally pour coffee for the golfers first thing on Saturday morning.”

Gregg concluded: “Think grey – not black and white. Golf does not need to be 18 holes, it can be four if that’s what the customers want.

“If a potential member or a new member walks into your club they will feel scared and lonely, so they have to be given status and dignity. That comes about from happy staff and knowing that what people pay for is the experience – cost is not important; value is. Value is experience minus cost. And experience is the sum total of all the encounters they have at your club.”

Water management

Gregg was followed by Daryl Sellar, the course manager of Glenelg Golf Club inAustralia, who detailed the extraordinary journey of environmental management that his club has taken in the past few years.

The main aspect of Daryl’s speech was that his course is in South Australia, the driest state in a very dry continent, and previously Glenelg was using a lot of water for irrigation. His speech was particularly pertinent for clubs in some eastern parts of theUKthat effectively experienced a drought in the spring of 2011.

For Daryl, the South Australian authorities began restricting access for golf clubs to water, which also meant that the cost of it began to rise.

Daryl’s club therefore teamed up with The Grange and Royal Adelaide golf clubs, and together the three, along with local and central government, spent over £5 million on a major engineering project that installed pipework to get unclean stormwater that was previously being discharged into the Gulf St Vincent, causing coastal damage, to the three courses, at which point the water is cleaned thanks to the construction of a series of reed beds within the boundary of each course, and is then used for irrigation.

The increasing cost of water will mean that the project will pay for itself over time and the reed beds provide wetland habitat, enhancing biodiversity and greatly improving the appearance of the course.

Furthermore, Glenelg also changed its turfgrass species so that the surface of the course required less water, but this was met with opposition from his club’s members.

“About 300 members wanted the project stopped immediately,” he said. “They weren’t interested in the future. It wasn’t until I told them, during a meeting, that this approach would require 40 per cent less water, which would mean firmer bunkers for them, and 80 per cent less fungicides, making the course safer for them – that was when I won them over.”


The first day of the conference saw another international speaker – Beth Meister from theUSA– detail some of the tips she has used to help golf clubs promote themselves better.

Beth, president of Club Marketing and Communication LLC and recognised as one of theUSA’s top marketing experts, gave examples of how clubs that she has worked with have used marketing to retain members.

“Survey your members,” she said. “Find out what they like, what jobs they do, where they live.

“Members calculate value by their annual subscription divided by usage. So the more they engage with the club the more value they will get from it.

“One club I know surveyed their members and found that more than 10 of the women like belly dancing! So twice a week they have belly dancing lessons! And now there is no way they will let their husbands or fathers cancel their membership of that club.

“Another found that many of the members play soccer. So every Monday they convert the driving range into a soccer pitch and have soccer practice there.”

She advised managers to have someone at the club who specifically looks after membership recruitment and retention, as this is such a vital task. She disclosed that the value of an average member is their joining fee, plus seven years of annual subscriptions plus seven years of additional spend. In manyUSclubs this equates to $5,000 plus $7,000 plus $7,000, or $19,000. If they bring about two other people to join then they are worth $57,000. “That is why it is so important,” she said.

Beth also gave specific marketing tips: “Market to people who’ve left the club; never take them off the newsletter unless they ask,” she stated.

“If someone hasn’t used the club in 30 days, then call them. Because if they don’t use it in 60 days you know what you’ll get in 90 days – a resignation letter.

“Map locations of your members to see if there are any patterns. That way you will get the data you need to know how far people are prepared to come to be a member, you’ll know which areas are particularly popular, so you can find out why, and you can help close the sale for a potential member if you know his or her neighbours that are also members.

“Elsewhere, use a customer relationship management tool to attract leads, speak to estate agents to find out who’s moved to the area to pitch to them, use references for members – and their guests – as your own prospective members and learn how to close the sale… one method I use is to assume the sale which often involves asking customers if I can fill out the application form for them!”

Social media

The second day of the three-day conference began with a presentation by Andy Poulton, from Wilts Web Design, who explained to GCMA members that they should ignore social media at their peril.

In three one-hour sessions about the internet, Mr Poulton detailed companies he knows that measure their online marketing campaigns, and concluded that Twitter can be of particular benefit.

“I know some small companies that are attributing 40 per cent of new business to Twitter,” he said. “Anthony Lloyd, from Fallowfields Hotel and Restaurant, spends an hour a day, every day, throughout the day, on the site, uploading pictures of chefs, food and so on, plus other updates, and he believes he is generating over £100,000 per year as a result of his Twitter work. He’s employed four new people due to it.”

In a show of hands with GCMA members, about 15 to 20 per cent of those in attendance disclosed that they have a Twitter account.

“Twitter is short, sharp and simple, and it’s phone-friendly,” said Poulton. “Many small businesses invest their time on there.”

Mr Poulton also detailed the various other social media sites and how each one can benefit a golf club.

“Facebook now has 800 million users and about half of theUKpopulation is on it,” he said. “And in the last few months companies that use it have been able to brand their pages to match their own websites.

“Linkedin is Facebook for professionals and gains a million new members every 12 days. About 50 per cent of golf club managers are on it and it has groups that you can use to promote your brand. But it is not a numbers game – only link with people you know and make sure your profile is 100 per cent complete for it to perform better in search results.

“YouTube is the second most searched site on the internet. It is now business-friendly, search results appear in Google pages and three billion videos are watched every day. Best of all, it is cheap and easy to make a video these days with cameras and phones, there are free video editing tools on PCs and Macs and you can embed a YouTube video onto your website. However, to promote the course or to use a marketing opportunity, you should use a tripod and a good camera.”

Mr Poulton also warned managers not to fall into the trap that social media is just for children. “The biggest demographic of users are people in their 30s and 40s. More people are using it – it’s now the number one online activity – and, as it is now so easy to connect to the internet, more people are spending more time on it,” he said.

Poulton, who also analysed blogging, email marketing, mobile phone apps and location marketing, made another warning that could hurt a marketing campaign: “Nothing turns users off more than persistent and pervasive advertising,” he said. “Engage in conversations and infrequently talk about your brand, but when you do, link to your website – Google will reward you for doing this with better search optimisation results.”

During Poulton’s presentations parallel sessions took place, including one from food and beverage expert Steven Brown on how better training for your staff can increase revenues, a speech from training consultant Frank Newberry on the benefits club managers can gain from improving their negotiating skills, and tips on how to achieve this, plus a thought-provoking seminar from Stuart Christie, manager of Walton Heath Golf Club and formerly manager of Wentworth Golf Club, on how people and product consistency must never be overlooked when it comes to golf club best practice.

Golf course management

Also on the Tuesday, Philip Russell, who works on golf course management at The R&A, looked at two success stories: Benyan Golf Club in Thailand and Elisefarm Golf Club inSweden.

At the former, the club opted not to select the bermudagrass that is prevalent in the country and instead chose zoysia matrella, a turfgrass that is resistant to disease and requires less pesticides, fertilisers, herbicides, nitrogen and water than bermudagrass. As a result, the club has spent far less money than its competitors on course maintenance, and the grass itself is of an excellent playability.

At Elisefarm, the owners built the course, taking out natural boulders and then reinstating them under the new course, which has helped significantly with drainage. In addition, the club uses a fescue and browntop bentgrass mix for its turf, which also requires small amounts of water and fertilisers. And, instead of mowing the rough, the club deploys sheep to graze on the grassland, with the flock being moved every few weeks.

“The club has saved time and money,” said Russell. “It requires less mowing and less fuel, and frees up staff to spend more time on other issues.”

Philip also stated that The R&A’s website, www.randa.org/golfcourse, is aimed at golf’s decision makers, and that within the next 18 months a free portal will be included for course managers to input all their expenditure on the course so this can be tracked over time. Philip also agreed with the English Golf Union, and its site, www.englishgolfunion/greenergolf, which urges clubs to form an environmental sub-committee to develop an environmental management policy for the club.

Jonathan Smith, from Golf Environment Organisation, who also talked about golf course sustainability and the financial and marketing benefits it can bring, added: “There is no standard formula for sustainability as it is dependent on your club’s specific requirements. But sustainability, which rewards course managers for the work they have done – whether it’s been protecting diesel areas or sound ecological management or anything else – is something that club managers need to be involved in as well as the greenkeepers who ought to be empowered.”

Other speeches on the Tuesday included one from Peter King CBE, executive director of British Cycling, who explained how his industry is coping with the economic downturn, and one from Dr Brian Smith PhD, who explored how online tee time bookings can do the marketing of your golf course for you.

Turning a huge loss into a bigger profit

However, arguably the most important presentation of the day was by Bob Williams, manager of Chipping Sodbury Golf Club in Gloucestershire, who explained how he turned a large deficit at his club into an even bigger surplus in just two years.

As a result of the economic downturn, his club achieved a deficit of £26,000 in 2008 and one of £22,000 in 2009. But by 2010 this was transformed into a surplus of £26,000 and the club is on course to make a net profit of £30,000 for 2011.

The improvements are due to a series of changes the club introduced.

“For example,” said Bob, “in 2008 we had four membership categories: full, five-day, student and junior. We looked at this and found that we could get more members if we had categories that suited their needs.”

As a result, the club temporarily withdrew its joining fee and introduced a ‘Flexi-play’ category that costs £350 to join (full membership is £905) and members can then pay £10 per round thereafter, or £7.50 for nine holes. “About 90 members joined as a result,” said Bob, “mostly aged 30 to 50 and they have full voting rights. Nineteen did leave the full membership category to join this, but 24 former members who had resigned came back as a result of it. On average, a Flexi-play member plays 15 rounds per year, at an average cost of £33 per round.”

Bob introduced a ‘Family’ membership category, which provides a 33 per cent discount to members whose partner joins and allows their children under 14 to join for free. “We’ve had some success with this,” said Bob, “but it’s been limited.”

The club introduced a ‘First’ membership category for people who had never been a member of a golf club before, which includes 25 rounds of golf and six lessons for one year. “It’s not been massive but it has worked,” said Bob, “40 memberships have been sold since 2009 and 39 of them took up another membership category when the year was up.”

The final new membership categories the club introduced were different prices tiered for under 12-year-olds up to people aged 30. This, especially the 18 to 30 age range, was marketed with its own brochure to schools and sports’ clubs, with prices ranging from under £200 for 18-year-olds to over £600 for 30-year-olds. “Nearly 100 members joined due to this,” said Bob, “and many of them move on to another category afterwards. It’s also helped us offer competitions between members of the rugby club, cricket club and so on, and the clubhouse is buzzing after these events.”

Aside from membership categories, Chipping Sodbury examined online tee times and brought this in for weekends, when previously the club used paper-based time sheets for Saturdays and Sundays. “This worked,” said Bob, “we had so much interest, especially in Saturday golf. We even had to limit members’ booking, to prevent block booking. Demand is very high in the summer and it has meant that tee times cannot be guaranteed.”

Another major change was that Bob spearheaded reciprocal relationships with other clubs in the county. The ‘Bristol RAG’ scheme was introduced in which 11 clubs are signed up and members of all of them can play at any of the other clubs that are part of the scheme for £10. “This adds extra value to being a member of my club,” said Bob. “So it’s good for member retention. But it also brings in additional income. The other day 36 members of another club played here, spending £720, including in the bar and restaurant. It was cheap for the amount of people involved, but that was money we would not have otherwise received. The member clubs generally aren’t competitors and each club can control when the tee times can and cannot be used.”

In addition, Chipping Sodbury teamed up with two tourist boards to offer golfing breaks including hotel trips for people wishing to visit the area. The Cotswold Golf Breaks, which now turns over scores of thousands of pounds every year, involves three golf clubs, while Bristol Golf Breaks, involving 11 clubs (“11 I think is too many,” said Bob, “it gives too much choice,”) saw the Bristol tourist board make a professional DVD promoting the scheme and all the clubs and hotels involved, which was put on the Destination Bristol website, ensuring thousands of hits.

In addition, Bob increased visitor income from £40,000 per year to £100,000, partly because each full member has been given three £10 green fee introductions for visitors followed by three free introductions, which also led to two people joining. “This has been excellent for member retention,” said Bob, “as was giving members free bar spend up to a certain amount.”

Other measures the club brought in included a complete revamp of the website, “the welcoming experience starts with it,” said Bob, and he uses Google Analytics to measure the success of the site. He also surveys every visitor to find out why they came to the club – “generally 40 per cent return, 39 per cent are recommended and 19 per cent come because they’d been on the website, and it’s that percentage which is the growing one.” The club has also set up a wedding brochure and markets itself at wedding fairs, which is leading to bookings. “It’s superb business on a Saturday evening when it would otherwise be quiet,” said Bob.

In terms of reducing costs, the golf club was also proactive. “We looked at golf course expenditure,” said Bob. “We were spending too much on our greenkeepers, particularly as our greens were closed for at least two months of the year. So we engaged with them and consulted with them, explaining what our issues were. We reduced the staff from eight course workers and one part-timer to six full-timers and one part-timer, and increased their working hours in the summer, and reducing them in winter, while significantly reducing weekend overtime, which is now incorporated into their wages. This saved more than £43,000 per year and, thanks to the passion of my staff and some investment in course machinery, the greens are open 12 months a year.

“We stopped striping the fairways and now only block cut them, saving more than £4,000 in red diesel per year without affecting the quality of the course.”

Bob concluded: “Not everything we tried worked and not everything we tried that did work would work at every other club, but these should give you an idea of what can be done. The most important lesson I found when embarking on this change is about communication. You can achieve so much more if you keep your members and staff fully informed throughout.”

Membership in Wales

Bob was followed by a talk from Jim McKenzie, the director of golf courses and estates management at Celtic Manor, host of the 2010 Ryder Cup, and John Jermine, chairman of the Golf Union of Wales, who explored how Celtic Manor prepared for the event and how golf clubs in the country have gained from it.

It was detailed that the Golf Union of Wales formed Golf Development Wales (GDW) to build the foundations of future membership for Welsh clubs, particularly of youngsters and women. “SportWales, The R&A and the Golf Foundation offered expertise and advice, as well as financial support, and after 10 years GDW has built a reputation for cutting edge initiatives that have delivered exceptional results and which we continue to expand,” said John.

Over 150,000 participants, including 35,000 children under 11 years and 42,000 between 11 and 16 years of age, have tried golf for the first time due to the project.

“Nearly 10,000 women and girls have enjoyed our women-only group coaching, there are five new centres of excellence for coaching our elite players but which are open to all and we have trained over 3,600 volunteers and coaches,” he said. “And we have built 40 new publicly-accessible short courses and facilities designed specifically for players new to the game – but many are perfect for the better golfer who wants six or nine holes in an hour with Aberystwyth, Rhondda and Glyn Abbey great examples – and all are linked to traditional members’ clubs who have guaranteed access for those who wish to play the game more regularly and who want the benefits of membership.

“Golf is now available in all of our primary and secondary schools. Some of the initiatives in 2011 have include free and subsidised coaching for 800 women and girls – the union firmly believes that ‘family friendly’ clubs is the way forwards – of whom 300 subsequently became members, a ‘golf awareness week’, during which 100 clubs provided 1,200 free tee times and 500 lessons producing another 700 new members and a ‘business advice package’ for 10 clubs, all of whom had suffered declining membership for several years, produced an average increase in membership of 4.7 per cent.

“We have learned that our most successful clubs have excellent PGA professionals, hardworking and trained junior organisers and facilities designed for pleasure.”

John then revealed that in 2011 alone, Carmarthen Golf Club has recruited 103 new members, Glynhir GC 88, Glyn Abbey 69 and Mold 61.

The Tuesday ended with a gala dinner and an amusing speech by John Parrott MBE featuring anecdotes involving snooker players and other sporting celebrities he had worked with throughout his career.

Handicap changes

The final day, the Wednesday, saw a number of speeches, including one by Grant Moir, director of the Rules of Golf at The R&A, on the forthcoming changes to the rules, case studies from Bob Taylor, the head of ecology and the environment at the STRI, on ‘the future is green’, plus examples of clubhouse energy solutions, customer service best practice and sustainable irrigation systems, as well as key legislation updates and commentary on golf club volunteers.

The English Golf Union’s (EGU) James Crampton, on the day that the EGU announced it was to merge with the English Women’s Golf Association (EWGA), talked about the changes to the CONGU Unified Handicapping System (UHS) which will take effect on January 1, 2012.

The first of these changes concerns the allocation of a handicap. Previously it has been a requirement that anyone wishing to obtain a CONGU handicap must submit three 18-hole scores at their club in order for a handicap to be allocated.

“It is now permissible to submit a number of nine-hole scores in addition to 18-hole scores so long as the total holes submitted is 54,” he said.

“Should nine holes be used, the best two scores will be taken for the allocation of the handicap. Should nine holes be used, the club must ensure that the course has had a standard scratch score [SSS] allocated by England Golf.”

Another change is the move from SSS+2 to ‘SSS+Handicap Buffer Zone (BZ)’ in the calculation of a Competition Scratch Score (CSS). This change, said James, should improve the precision of a CSS in a typical ladies’ field that comprises of a high number of category four ladies with a handicap of 21 to 28.

“The inclusion of an additional small field CSS table has also been introduced to aid in a more reflective CSS when the CSS has been determined as reduction only in competitions comprising of less than 10 competitors,” he said. “Using the table under these conditions will assess the CSS using the best nett score over the buffer zone. This should reduce the number of reduction only events and help to ensure that handicaps are adjusted accurately.”

The introduction of a facility to monitor exceptional scores has also been included, he added. “This will aid handicap committees in identifying members who have submitted a number of good qualifying scores during the calendar year and provide recommended handicap reductions. The system will ‘flag’ a member who returns a score of SSS-4 or better and monitors future qualifying scores returned during that calendar year. An exceptional score reduction is then applied should a second score of SSS-4 be returned. Depending on the frequency of which these scores are returned will determine the recommended handicap adjustment. It is hoped this will prevent committees from applying knee jerk reactions to single good scores, which is contrary to the CONGU UHS.

“The final significant change concerns an amendment to the annual review,” he said. “With the inclusion of active / inactive handicaps into the CONGU UHS the annual review report now recommends handicap adjustment, albeit with caution, based on the return of only three qualifying scores. Ideally seven qualifying scores or more should be returned in order for sufficient statistical information to be received.”

Business plan

Also on the final day, Gary Pearce, the manager of Fulford Golf Club inYorkshire, detailed to delegates how a marketing plan at his club helped transform it and win him the GCMA’s Manager of the Year award for 2009.

Following extensive research of his staff, members, visitors and competitors, Gary was able to develop a fluid marketing plan with targets for the club – and if the club achieves its aims then every employee receives a bonus.

“Copying the successes of the club next door might not be suitable for your club or bring about long-term improvements,” said Gary, “that’s why we needed to develop a business plan for our club.

“The first step of doing this was research, including our customers and competitors, as well as our own financial constraints. We undertook a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats] analysis of our staff, customers, golf course and competitors based on surveys and observations, and discovered that our main competitor for members was not even another golf club – it was a David Lloyd gym down the road. Our main competitor for corporate hospitality was also not another golf course – it was York Race Course.”

The SWOT analysis found that the club’s full membership category was too large, while other categories needed to be increased. “The marketing plan we ultimately created meant we could revamp our membership,” saidGary. “We can detail where we want each membership category to get to, how we’re going to get there and how much we’ve invested on achieving that. For example, we offered free coaching to bring in juniors, at a cost of £550, and that category is now full, having increased from 35 to 82 in five years. While an increase in subs meant that elder full members were incentivised to switch to five-day memberships.

“The research meant we discovered our brand was living off past glories, the website needed work, our board of directors had to be streamlined, equality legislation had to be brought in, course machinery had to be invested in and the greenkeeping team needed to be taught new skills, the kitchen needed new equipment, the clubhouse needed to be refurbished and so on. We also learnt what golf clubs in our locality were charging in terms of green fees and how good their facilities were in comparison to ours.

“From there we were able to write a business plan, which states the club’s mission statement about being one of the premier golfing venues in the north of England, which every member of staff can recite at least part of. The business plan details our aims: for the facilities to be excellent, which is driven by a five-year rolling capital plan; customer service to be outstanding, which we review following the hiring and training of staff; our management process to be faultless, which is based on sound financial management and constant communication with staff and members; and to drive revenue and profit, ensuring that long-term investments are self-financing. And from the business plan came the marketing plan.”

As well as the membership section of the marketing plan, in which every category is reviewed, there is also a tournament strategy.

“We’ve brought in a number of professional tournaments at Fulford as this builds memories for our younger members,” said Gary. “Not all clubs would want this but our members love it because they associate big tournaments of the 1970s and 1980s with Fulford and that was partly why they joined the club. We form reciprocal deals with other clubs to ensure they can still play golf during the week that the course is down for a tournament.”

Other aspects of the marketing plan have resulted in the club working with travel agents and hotels to increase travel business.

In terms of investments, the club has spent £900,000 over the past five years on improving its facilities; and this has so far recouped £850,000. The report that details this is also given to every new member that joins, so that they know precisely what their joining fee and annual subscription is invested in and why.

Gary concluded: “The business and marketing plan needs to be a fluid document that can change as the market dictates. And it needs to be reviewed regularly – we do ours monthly. Plus, the staff need to be on board with it. If we achieve our numbers then every member of staff at Fulford receives a bonus.”

The conference ended with a motivational speech by Philip Hesketh, who looked at customer service and the ‘psychology of persuasion and influence’. John Dinsdale officially closed the conference, with many attendees leaving with more than just one new idea that should lead to at least one new member, which would more than cover the cost of their attendance.

According to Keith Lloyd: “Over 300 people in total attended the biannual national conference, almost exactly the same number as 2009, with the concentration of GCMA members there slightly up on last time. It was good to again have the support of a considerable number of exhibitors and sponsors, and indeed this time there was also a healthy number of individuals from leading golf press publications and fellow golfing associations.

“I would like to pass on the following feedback from attendees at the event itself.

“In a survey conducted immediately after the event, and to which nearly 150 GCMA members replied, there is overwhelming evidence from the feedback that the event was a success and delegates took away much valuable information back to their clubs.

“When asked to rate their overall experience of attendance in terms of value for money:

• 46% said ‘Excellent Value’

• 41% said ‘Good Value’

• 11% said ‘About what I expected’.

“As for the duration of the event:

• 65% thought three days were about right

• 66% (also) ‘thought Monday to Wednesday was OK or ideal’.

“The event did NOT include playing a game of golf during the conference to which:

• 61% agreed that they did NOT want golf added to the programme in future

• 28% did not take any view on this.

“Specific timing changes were suggested (for the next event) to perhaps start earlier each morning and finish at lunchtime on the closing day, mainly to allow delegates to leave in time to make all or most of the home journey in daylight:

• 79% of attendees supported this suggestion for the future.

“For the exhibition:

• 72% of delegates thought the variety / type of exhibitors present was ‘very appropriate’

• 28% stated the variety was ‘more or less OK’.

“The balance between time allocated to education sessions and breaks for visiting exhibitors and / or networking with fellow delegates was viewed as:

• 96% stating ‘about the right balance’.

“The mix of plenary session and break-outs (smaller sessions where delegates could chose from three concurrent sessions) was commented on as:

• 59% ‘being happy with the same mix for the future’

• 39% ‘stating they would like more break-outs repeated as they inevitably could not attend all they wanted to’.

“For the speakers and content of presentations, delegates were asked to comment on whether or not they found each speaker ‘informative’, ‘interesting’ and ‘helpful in their job’. Separately, they were also asked to comment on ‘delivery’ and if ‘they would want to see / hear this speaker again’.

“Remarkably, ALL speakers received between 65 and 100 per cent positive ratings to the questions on informative and interesting, and a similar if slightly varied response to the ‘helpful in you job’ question. It would not be appropriate to go into any more detail of course, but this information is very helpful to the planning committee on who to engage, and what subject to cover in future events.

“Lastly, and perhaps the most important question, was that delegates were asked ‘what were the main reasons for attending this conference’ (they were able to answer more than one option here):

• 96% stated it was ‘to obtain updates relevant to golf club management’

• 90% stated they were there ‘to exchange ideas with GCMA colleagues’

• 86% said ‘to network with other golf managers’

• 57% said ‘to consolidate existing (or perceived) knowledge’.

“Perhaps the one disappointment from all the positivity that has come out of the above survey was the response to another available answer to the last question:

“Only 18 per cent stated they were at the conference because ‘their club (employer) was keen that I should attend’.

“Whilst there are economic pressures on all clubs and GCMA members at present it is clear that the importance of good quality education and / or training for a golf club secretary  / manager may not be regarded as a ‘top’ priority at club committee level. The 2011 national conference has received much acclaim, and was a quantum leap forward from the last event and previous ones I have been involved with. With the various constructive comments and suggestions received for improvement again in the future, I hope all GCMA members will take this message forward to their employers to seek appropriate funding for the next event. Yours and your club’s future is important, and the staff and organising committee here at the GCMA will not let you down.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 8, 2012 15:42
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  1. Alistair Dunsmuir Author January 8, 15:46

    I learnt an awful lot from the GCMA conference – and I’m not even a golf club manager!

    From generic social media marketing tips to specific raw data on how a golf club fared when introducing a new membership category, it was three days of learning and networking that has changed how I, and I’m sure the scores of GCMA members that attended, work. Given the international flavour of many of the speakers, I would like to thank the association’s staff at their head office in Weston-super-Mare, who I suspect would not have found it an easy event to arrange.

    It was through the conference that I also learnt, from talking to several managers, about an issue that had previously passed me by: the dangers of internet public relations disasters.

    With so many members, visitors and staff attending your golf club on a daily basis, the chances are that at least one will, from time to time, rightly or wrongly, be disgruntled about something. And as the media loves a story that’s negative about a golf club it can portray as antiquated, if, for example, the discontented individual and the local paper were to converse, the resultant story, particularly when backed up with unconstructive comments from readers of the paper’s website, can be damaging for the golf club, its manager and the game as a whole.

    There is, potentially, a way to limit this, however. This website, read by managers, members, club employees and others interested in golf, is a news site performing very well in search engine rankings.

    Speaking to managers at the conference I was bowled over by the good work being done: whether it was a club that has invested in environmental management in a bid to halt the decline in the local population of bees, another that is offering free coaching to women and children to get them playing and enjoying golf or a club that has donated thousands of pounds to a local disability charity, there are good stories about golf clubs that other media might not publish, but we will.

    If you’re interested in challenging misconceptions about golf, or maybe even your own venue, then please email me the positive news stories about your club to Alistair.Dunsmuir@HDIDMedia.com and we’ll find a bigger audience to view them.

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