Irish golf clubs optimistic for 2020

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 28, 2020 20:26

A review of several Irish golf clubs has found optimism for the year ahead with many reporting that initiatives introduced in recent years have proved to be successful.

Writing for the Irish Examiner, Kevin Markham interviewed key personnel at more than a dozen golf clubs and found that schemes aimed at attracting women and beginners, and overseas and corporate golfers, have produced significant results, while other initiatives such as offering six and nine holes of golf, introducing new membership categories, improving the course and software offerings plus making their clubs more family friendly have been successful.

Most interviewees said challenges still remain, and some expressed concern about the age profile of their memberships, along with climate change and Brexit, while many also said they were looking forward to the new handicapping system, which will be introduced throughout the world in 2020.

Gary Howie from Castletroy Golf Club said membership initiatives saw new members replacing those lost. The ‘Get Into Golf’ scheme saw six new lady members join and junior membership reached capacity. The course improvement programme of the past two to three years also paid dividends with significantly improved conditions.

The club trialled a new course layout and a morning nine-hole member competition was also introduced. New short course options for members will be pursued as will the drive to attract new members and create strong corporate packages.

Paddy Dean from Malone said green fee income exceeded targets, largely due to the number of corporate golf days hosted during the summer.

Conor McKenna from Concra Wood said a Get into Golf coaching programme for ladies resulted in 30-40 new members, as well as lowering the age profile. Junior Easter and summer camps, in addition to an eight-week coaching programme during July and August, resulted in 37 regular junior participants.

Fairway and bunker drainage is central to the club’s efforts to improve course conditions and attract more winter revenue, he added. The club will also be attending the Munich Golf Show for the first time, as Germany is the club’s biggest market for European golfers.

Concra Wood Golf Club. © Facebook

Eamonn O’Donnell from Dromoland Castle stated that the weather is a threat. “The club went from the extremes of the 2018 drought to 2019’s mixed climate,” he said.

Donard MacSweeney from Mullingar said green fee revenue increased by 22 per cent and each year the Get into Golf programme proves to be a very successful initiative.

“Golf also needs to be made more fun and enjoyable by utilising multiple tee options and shortening course for various social / golf evenings and abilities of golfer,” he added.

Jim Murphy from Tulfarris said the Get into Golf programme saw more ladies looking to play golf. Many of them joined the club following the programme. A new intermediate membership category at the club also allows junior members to transition to full membership and this is currently the bestselling category.

“We need to look beyond the domestic market and attract overseas golfers,” he said.

Tulfarris Golf Club. © Facebook

Roscrea stated that it introduced an under-30s category in 2019. This is attracting younger golfers and will, it is hoped, appeal to new golfers as well as those returning to the game. Get into Golf proved successful with 18 new ladies joining and has encouraged the club to focus on doing the same for men. The club is also considering nine and / or 12-hole competitions for time-poor golfers.

Dominic Lynch from Connemara said the redesign of the club’s website, focusing on Connemara’s uniqueness, coincided with a 100 per cent increase in online bookings.

He added that attendance at the January PGA Show in Orlando should attract US visitors.

Emmet Staunton from Headfort stated that an intermediate membership for under-35s has been well received and this category continues to grow.

“The average age of golf members in clubs across the country is getting higher and this represents a significant threat to the industry,” Staunton added. “However, younger people are still playing golf and it’s up to the clubs to offer flexibility and options that suit their needs.”

Liam Moulton from Greystones said a ladies’ initiative programme takes place every Tuesday morning which has resulted in a number of new members.

“There are plenty of hurdles to overcome,” he explained, “but there is also a swell of optimism. The unified handicap system opens doors for new golfers and is good for the game although we also recognise that it is open to abuse.”

John McHenry from Douglas revealed that in 2020 there will be a number of two-tee nine-hole re-entry competitions during winter to give more people the opportunity to play during the shorter days. Various competitive and social six-hole evening shotgun start competitions are also planned for the spring.

“From an amateur perspective,” he pointed out, “ageing membership means that clubs must remain vigilant on all cost issues and clubs especially ‘must cut their cloth to match’ even if that means a reduced working schedule or hours of operation.”

Bert McKay from Castlerock stated that recent efforts have been focused on making the club as family-friendly as possible, thereby attracting members’ spouses and children who may have no interest in golf but visit the club for the social experience.

“As at many clubs the main area for growth is our ladies’ section and we will be running a similar programme [to Get into Golf] which offers lessons on the range but also includes gin and food tastings and so on, as this shows people that although golf is available there is more to the club,” he said.

“For the growing number of international visitors I think they will experience a better service across the island. “It will take time to understand what’s happening with the new handicapping system, but I think it will be accepted through time… I think it is a good system and will work well for everyone moving forward to be honest.”

As for many businesses the uncertainty of Brexit will prove a challenge. A change in spending habits amongst golfers has already been observed and they appear to be nervous with what’s happening, he added.

Brian Wogan from Ardee said following a successful Get into Golf for ladies in 2019, it is hoped the programme will be repeated in 2020.

“To improve revenue streams the club is orchestrating a major drive to attract golf societies and corporate golf,” he added.

Eddie Farrell from Hermitage said: “Over the years our bunkers had deteriorated due to erosion, sand contamination and water retention after heavy rain. In 2018, the front nine bunkers were remodelled, others re-positioned, and some new bunkers were added to enhance the course’s appearance and strategic elements. All in all, we have 40 per cent less sand which will cut maintenance hours.

“Also, climate change and other environmental factors impacting the state of the course are a major concern. In 2018, we lost 31 days of golf due to bad weather. We recognise we can do our bit by introducing more green policies which will contribute to tomorrow’s environment and the enjoyment of tomorrow’s golfers.”

He added that golf must support people with young families who can’t afford five hours away. Hermitage is examining options to address this and several summer 14-hole competitions maximised playing opportunities.

Fiona Dunne from Beaufort stated: “We hope to increase our ladies membership. The clubhouse is run entirely by women so we are eager to get more on the membership side.

“We will be participating in the Get into Golf programme again this year as we strive to increase our ladies’ membership. From this we plan to introduce a beginner’s membership with mentors from our existing members helping those eager to learn and play.”

Beaufort Golf Club. © Facebook

Des Mahon from Westport said the club is in the second year of a five-year course and clubhouse development plan. Essential maintenance works to the clubhouse roof were completed along with redecoration inside and landscaping outside. New drains were installed on several holes. The plan for 2020 includes continued investment in course drainage, bunkers, top-sanding and course signage. Course machinery will be upgraded.

This year will also see a six-week training programmes for ladies’ and men’s Get into Golf programmes, which will run three times through the year.

The club’s introduction of pathway intermediate membership categories is also new for 2020, so too the introduction of dynamic green fee pricing to maximise yield during peak periods.

“While traditional weekend 18-hole singles events will always have their place, the game risks losing golfers who are time-poor,” he said. “Across the country, we’ll see more six and nine hole competitive golf to help attract and retain members.

“Creating an inclusive and family-focused environment is also essential to improve member engagement. More mixed men’s / ladies’ team and individual events will soon become commonplace.”

The survey comes as PGA National Ireland Slieve Russell has said its recent investment in its golf, lifestyle and business facilities has paid immediate dividends with the resort reporting a significant rise in bookings across all sectors in 2019.

Bookings in its hotel, golf, leisure, spa, wedding and conference markets were all up over the last 12 months compared to in 2018.

Slieve Russell has implemented a major improvement programme over the last few years, with the opening of its state-of-the-art Cranaghan Suite and the rebranding of its golf club as PGA National Ireland Slieve Russell among the significant changes taking place.

The launch last February of the Cranaghan Suite – which can accommodate up to 1,000 people – helped the resort register an increase of more than 20 per cent in the number of residential conference bed nights booked in 2019.

PGA National Ireland Slieve Russell

Slieve Russell also reported an eight per cent rise in wedding bookings and seven per cent increase in the amount of rounds played on its 18-hole championship golf course, while a successful Christmas – the hotel was fully booked from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day – resulted in the total number of room nights booked going up by four per cent.

And the signs for the future are even more encouraging, with residential conference bed nights forecast to rise by in excess of 50 per cent in 2020 together with a further five per cent increase in wedding bookings.

Tony Walker, general manager at PGA National Ireland, said: “Slieve Russell has invested a lot of time and money in improving the total experience that we offer to all our guests, so to see these latest figures is both very gratifying and extremely encouraging.

“To register an increase in booking numbers across all our sectors is fantastic news and deserved reward for the hard work of all our staff. The signs are already looking good for 2020 and, with everyone working together, I’m sure we can make the next 12 months even more successful than the last.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 28, 2020 20:26
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