Meet the golf club secretary: Andrew Tanner

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 14, 2019 14:57

The manager of the Harry Colt-designed Tandridge Golf Club in Surrey talks about how the golf industry has changed in recent years – and how Tandridge is responding to this transformation.

What is your career path to managing a club as prestigious as this?

I spent 13 years as secretary of Sonning Golf Club, between Reading and Maidenhead, then nine years at Tandridge.

How has the golf industry changed in that time?

I remember the days, 22 years ago, when golf clubs could pick and choose their members with very strict criteria and, truthfully, an eight-year waiting list. To ask members to wait eight years to join a club is not really acceptable in any era. I remember being in my 20s, applying to join a very prestigious club, and being admitted within six months after all the various playing-in standards. Nowadays, ALL clubs are fighting for members.

Andrew Tanner

You said when you left Sonning that golf is a bit rushed now. How big a problem is this, why do you think it is this way and has this issue got even worse since then?

That was almost 10 years ago … big changes occur in any business over a 10-year period and golf clubs are not alone. One has to ‘fight’ harder in life now for everything.

People’s lives are busier, with everyone working harder. There is no doubt that the ‘charm, peace and quiet’ of 20-odd years ago has dissipated. It is a fact of life in these demanding times.

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

There are two main challenges, I feel: firstly, technology. It can be very difficult managing the expectations of the younger generation – who now don’t even use a PC, just simply a smartphone – with those of the older generation, some of whom don’t even have a PC!

The other challenge is, not surprisingly, membership. All golf clubs are struggling to maintain membership numbers because of age and the increased number of clubs in the marketplace over the last 20 years. My own personal belief is that it is unsustainable and, because the marketplace no longer demands this volume, some clubs will be forced to close.

The club promotes itself as attractive for corporate golfers and it’s been said that the course is often played on by city executives. How does the club market itself to corporate golfers and how important is this line of business for the club?

It’s interesting to hear you say that as we have never really marketed ourselves in any sector. We are not experts in that field. Increasingly, we are being forced to compete and need to sail in uncharted waters, which is why we have hired experts Azalea to help us.

How does Tandridge fit in with its local community?

Because it is a ‘high-end’ club and is, therefore, often perceived as ‘expensive’ in the grand scheme of things, Tandridge tends to be considered a luxury. I’m sure there are a lot of golfers in Oxted who believe they cannot afford it, so play elsewhere.

Any club, regardless of the price of its membership fees, needs to be able to justify the level at which they are pitched. We feel our fees, while they may be slightly higher than some other clubs locally, actually offer a better return on investment than many of those other clubs.

Apparently Tandridge has the highest proportion of housewives in Britain! What is the club’s approach to promoting the game to women and girls?

As I say, we’ve never really promoted the club in any sector, but, looking to the future, we need to, particularly with regard to women and girls, who would not have been considered natural Tandridge members some 30 or 40 years ago.

Times change and we need to change with them, which is why we have engaged the services of a specialist agency to guide us.

Does the club try to attract juniors and beginners to the facility?

We have excellent facilities for ‘tiny tots’, ‘tots’ and juniors.

Our professional teaching staff is also second-to-none and has the capacity to double its teaching numbers.

Now we need to work with our partner agency to highlight that fact and establish Tandridge as the place for youngsters to learn the game, both in terms of the sport and its etiquette.

A few years ago there was a spate of thefts of trophies from golf clubs in the south east, and Tandridge had 35 stolen in one night during this period. What happened, did you review security or insurance after and have there been any thefts since?

I’m afraid that is true. We lost more than £100,000-worth of silverware, never to be seen again. It was a very violent criminal operation causing lots of damage. Since then, we have tightened up our security systems dramatically, including gates, alarms, locking systems and off-site storage.

What is the club doing to enhance profitability of its food and beverage operation?

This is the subject of much review at the club currently. We are looking at modernising our menus, but what won’t be lost is the famous ‘Tandridge Lunch’ for both our societies and the members on a Sunday. It’s become something of a ‘legend’ in Surrey golfing circles.

How do you communicate with existing members at Tandridge?

There is still a lot of verbal communication but the world of ‘email’ has gone berserk. I spend an inordinate amount of time just replying to emails, but, maybe, that’s the way of the new world? Newsletters are good and I send all members a weekly bulletin, which is much appreciated by them.

What is the club’s approach to customer service?

Without wishing to blow our own trumpet, I’ll just refer you to the last two comments we received: ‘Top class!’, ‘Outstanding’. I get so many compliments about the quality of staff, their dedication and the overall level of service being outstanding. It is, what the marketing experts assure me, one of our USPs…

There’s a long-term evolution programme for the course – what is planned?

This is being planned at the moment. We have only just appointed a new architect, Tim Lobb, to do precisely that job.

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?

Not really, because of our geography.

We compare ourselves with several, but someone booking near us would not travel to the other side of Surrey.

Walton Heath is nearby, for example, but we do not regard it as direct competition. We are realistic: Walton Heath is in the very top echelon of golf clubs.

We feel we are the best of the next bunch.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 14, 2019 14:57
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