Meet the manager: Ladybank GC’s Gordon Simpson

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 12, 2017 17:27

Gordon Simpson is the managing secretary of Ladybank Golf Club in Scotland. He talks to The Golf Business about reducing the age profile of the membership, increasing food and beverage revenue despite being in a remote location, outsourcing marketing and how the club works with local tour operators

How did you end up in your position as the managing secretary of Ladybank Golf Club?

My golf career started at Deeside Golf Club as a 17 year old under head professional Frank Coutts. During my seven years at Deeside I managed to complete my PGA professional qualifications and assume the position of head assistant.

From Deeside, I moved to Newmachar Golf Club where during my 11 years I held the positions of head professional and director of golf. It was during my time as director of golf that I made the decision that I wanted to make a career in golf management rather than the traditional professional route.

I started by enrolling in the Golf Club Managers’ Association training scheme which I completed in 2005. Once I had completed this course it was my desire to move on to the next stage in my career progression and in April 2006 I decided to take up the role of general manager at Hilton Park Golf Club in Glasgow.

Seven successful years at Hilton Park ended when I was given the opportunity to move to London to become general manager at Chigwell Golf Club. This was an opportunity not only for me to further my career, but as Chigwell had planned to embark on an extensive renovation of the club, it was an opportunity for me to learn new skills.

I enjoyed my time at Chigwell immensely as not only did I enjoy the day-to-day work, but I was part of a team that were all working well together to make the club more successful for years to come.

Although I was not actively looking to move from Chigwell, when the opportunity arose to come back to Scotland and work at such a venue as Ladybank, I felt it was something that I could not resist looking further into. I started the role as managing secretary at Ladybank on June 1, 2016.

What would you say are the biggest challenges you currently face?

Without doubt the biggest challenge we face at Ladybank is the age profile of our membership.

We have an aging membership, and although we currently still have a waiting list the challenge was to try and reduce the average age of the members and to ensure that we have a membership profile that will continue for years to come.

This, along with the fact that we now need to run a private members’ golf club as a business and not solely a private members’ facility are the biggest challenges that we currently face.

What is the current membership of the club in terms of number, age and gender profile? What growth in membership are you looking to achieve?

The membership profile is 964 members with the average age being 57.

We have already started the process of identifying new membership categories and at our recent AGM we confirmed that for the first time in the club’s history we would offer new memberships such as age 18 to 25, 26 to 30, country and overseas membership.

We feel that these new categories along with our current offering will put us in a very strong position for the immediate and long term future of the club. We have no set targets for the growth of the membership, however we do have a wish to increase gradually our overall membership numbers but it is the quality of member rather than the quantity of member that we are more concerned with.

The new generation of golfers is imperative for the welfare of any club and the industry. How will you reach out to attract these potential new members?  

I completely agree that the new generation of golfers is imperative for any golf club and we have already started the process of tackling this process by introducing the new age categories. The new categories are mainly aimed at younger members but we are also going to start a drive targeting lady members, something that has not been actively done at Ladybank for several years.

This will make for a more unified golf club that is appealing to all age groups and more importantly it will safeguard the future of the golf club long term.

We have used social media and The Word Association to publish these new membership packages and so far we have been delighted with the response that we have received from the younger members.

How big is your team at Ladybank, what is the current management structure and how well does this serve the needs of the club?

Our current team is approximately 20 to 24, depending on seasonal requirements. The current structure is one of a traditional member’s golf club where I, as managing secretary, have ultimate responsibility for all facets of the business, but I work closely with all of my head of departments and we meet weekly to discuss all relevant needs of the business.


The club faces challenges being in a remote location and with the Scottish drink driving laws, yet the food and beverage side of the business is up hugely. How have you achieved this?

The location and drink driving laws in Scotland have definitely hindered the food and beverage operation. However, we have the membership profile that are willing to make the effort to come to the club if they are offered the correct product.

One of the initiatives that we have targeted is working with a local taxi firm, that when we require their services we tell them in advance and they make sure they have extra cars available.

The first step we took to achieving our food and beverage goals was to appoint new caterers who have come in with innovative ideas and enthusiasm about the offering that we have at the club. We currently offer a traditional golf club menu from breakfast, golfers teas and so on, but we are widening this to offer Sunday lunches, steak evenings, special birthdays and even weddings. This is still a relatively new change but so far, an extremely positive one in relation to our member’s feedback and the increase in business overall.

You’ve introduced a new food and beverage franchise. What plans do you have to maximise this new model?

Yes, we introduced new catering franchise this April. The initial plan is to offer a new and exciting menu that gives our members and guests excellent product and excellent value for money. The longer-term plan is to create a dining experience that is not solely reliant on golfers. We want to create a restaurant that people will come to the golf club to use even when they are not playing golf. The benefit to the overall business will mean increased food and beverage sales but equally important will be the goodwill that this will create within the membership, as the club is owned by the members, so they will want to support their own club.

You employ a specialist agency to handle the club’s PR, why and what benefits has this led to?

Yes, we currently work with Mark and Yvonne Alexander of The Word Association. The reason I decided to go down this route was there had been very little press or advertising of the club over the past 10 years, so it was hugely important that we managed to inform the wider golfing public of what Ladybank has to offer. Having spoken to several agencies, I felt that Mark and Yvonne understand our brief, and as they were local to the golf club they understood what I was trying to achieve. The main benefit of our PR has been that Ladybank Golf Club are now back in the news for being one of the country’s best inland courses and again has people speaking about coming to enjoy our facilities

What deals do you do with your local tour operators and accommodation providers, and how much do these increase visitors to the club?

We currently work with 33 of the country’s top tour operators in a bid to increase our overall visitors to the club. This was something that I felt we needed to create to enable us to work with these tour operators as, like the lack of PR, we had no real tour operator business and this was one of the first areas that I identified that needed changing.

Through our head professional, Sandy Smith, we have also created four strategic partnerships with local hotels that help promote our business to their customers and we in turn help promote their hotels to our customers. These partnerships and the tour operator business have only started from this golf season and it is too early to put a clear number on the increase of visitors to the club but we envisage that this year it will represent a 20 per cent growth on our visitor numbers

You’ve joined forces with other clubs as part of Links With History – how does this work?

Links with History was created 13 years ago by the managing secretaries of Lundin Links, Crail Golfing Society, Scotscraig and ourselves, with the intention of allowing visiting golfers to play quality courses, three of which are Open qualifying venues. We believe that this is an excellent product for any visitor to the area and I would encourage any visiting golfer to investigate this package further.

What plans and vision do you have for the delivery of a top quality product and customer service experience to the members and visitors?

During the next six months we are working on creating a three-year rolling programme for the development of the golf club. The plan is intended to make sure that there is continued development within the club which allows Ladybank to remain as the country’s premier heathland golf course.

We have enlisted the help of 59Club who will help identify the areas of improvement that we need to make and it is our intention to have quarterly audit visits to gauge our performance and improvement to be one of the private members’ club industry leaders.

What is your management style?

I am a great believer that a good manager is only as good as his team. My management style is very much to include my team from all departments of the club in how we move forward as a unit and trying to create a team culture and ethos within our staff structure has been vitally important to me succeeding at continuing the development of Ladybank Golf Club.

What currently gives you the greatest satisfaction from your job? What do you feel are your biggest achievements to date?

The biggest satisfaction is from the feel-good factor around the club regarding the changes that have been implemented. This feel-good factor comes from both the staff and the members of the club which in turn can only be a good thing for any member, staff member or visitor coming to the club. Without doubt, the biggest achievement has been the team unity that we have created here at Ladybank, within the committee, the staff and the members who are all looking to achieve the same thing and that is to make Ladybank a premier facility to visit.

What advice would you give to youngsters starting out and wanting to pursue a career in golf club management?

The biggest single piece of advice I can give any youngster joining the industry is to always try to learn and to better yourself. Try to make sure that every day is a school day.

What changes do you think need to be made to benefit the industry sector and profession of the golf club manager?

One of the biggest challenges that we as golf club managers face is convincing the committee or board that the golf club should operate as a business and not just a members’ golf club. When clubs employ suitably qualified professionals to do a job they should allow the professionals to use their expertise for the benefit of the club.

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 12, 2017 17:27
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1 Comment

  1. Seve June 22, 17:18

    Met Gordon in Dornoch earlier this season playing with some of his ex members from Essex, seems Ladybank is in good hands and worth a visit when in the St Andrews area.

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