Meet the golf club manager: Maureen Harman

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick December 10, 2021 11:36

The club manager of Hurtmore Golf Club in Surrey talks about how the club has changed since the pandemic started, her background of working in public relations and increasing the women’s section at the club.

Can you tell us a bit about Hurtmore Golf Club?

Hurtmore Golf Club opened in 1992 and was one of the first courses designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark. The course is built on sand, making it one of the best draining courses in the area. When most competitor courses are closed or have banned trollies and buggies during the winter months, golfers look to Hurtmore for a round. The course measures 5,495 yards off the white tees, so it’s relatively short but has plenty of character with picturesque views, several water features and a testing final four holes.

We are a small team of nine full-time staff and the same number part-time, with four greenkeeping team members including the course manager. Membership levels are near capacity and visitors make up the remainder, so the course holds up well considering the substantial footfall.

Your pathway to becoming manager is not a typical one for a UK golf club, can you take us through that, including what it was like managing the club given your background up until the start of the pandemic?

I earned a degree in sport management from the University of Massachusetts many years ago when this type of programme was almost unheard of and only available at a handful of colleges. Shortly after graduating I was offered a job in public relations with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). I travelled to most tour events, including the Grand Slams and worked with all the top players for five years.

Originally the WTA was based at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida but ironically, I didn’t play golf then! When the headquarters moved to Miami, I started to take some lessons when I wasn’t travelling but became more serious about the sport when I moved to the UK and joined Sand Martins Golf Club in Wokingham, Berkshire. I improved quickly and by the end of the first year I was down to a single figure handicap. As my children got older, I started to get involved in committee work for the club and county, and those experiences led me to an opportunity within golf management.

I was appointed operations manager at Hurtmore at the beginning of 2017 and a few months later became club manager. The initial few years were a sharp learning curve; being a small team, I wore many hats, working hands-on in all departments, so it was a good grounding.

What have your, and the club’s experiences of the pandemic, from March 2020 to the present day, been?

Like all businesses, we had to react swiftly, adapt and communicate at short notice. The biggest change we made was to push all tee time bookings online. Members who previously claimed ‘tech phobia’ quickly learned to book online so they got their coveted tee slot. We also pushed all visitor payments online and this continues to be a huge bonus. The phones ring less, allowing our teams to devote more time and offer customers better service in person.

The number of golf rounds last year was phenomenal. We were fully booked every day from open to close with golfers checking in at 7:30pm to squeeze in nine holes. People were taking out flexi-memberships to make the most of the extra four days members’ booking window. With many working from home or on furlough, the afternoons and twilight periods were just as busy as the mornings and we had far more younger people playing.

Although the tee sheet was busy, the clubhouse seemed very quiet, with everyone adhering to the strict guidelines of checking in, playing their round and then going straight home. The majority were just excited to be outside in the fresh air and meeting up with someone outside their household.

The upturn in business meant our financial position was better than we had forecasted, allowing us to invest in the course and facilities. We refurbished both locker rooms during the lockdown and replaced the patio. We installed approach irrigation and new irrigation pumps, including a borehole pump, a fairly major investment for a small club.

We had fantastic numbers again at the reopening in late March and early April this year and although business has now levelled, we remain in a strong position going into 2022.

Has the growth in membership numbers meant Hurtmore has marketed itself differently?

We continued with our digital campaigns and have been fortunate to not change our marketing approach as the business came to us naturally after the lockdowns.

Hurtmore Golf Club appeals to the average golfer looking for value for money and with the range of membership packages that we offer, there is something for everyone. We are at a price point where we don’t have any direct competitors in the vicinity and sometimes that makes it difficult to set rates. You could pay less at another club that will only be playable for seven or eight months of the year because it gets too wet through the winter, or you could go up a level and feel the need to be playing three times a week to justify the spend.

Memberships run on a 12-month rolling basis, so we have renewals and drop-outs every month. We have been able to fill most categories each month. Seven days and the over 80s categories have been full since reopening in March, so the waitlist is long.

For the past two years, our focus has been to improve our service standards and customer experience delivery and to help us achieve our goals, the club has been working with customer service and training specialists 59Club.

How is usage of the clubhouse now compared to what it was two years ago?

The clubhouse has just one function room, so revenue from the bar and restaurant has never been a significant part of the business but it remains important to the overall service that we offer our members and guests.

The food and beverage side of the business has been the biggest challenge since I came to the club and not just since the pandemic. The club’s location means you have to drive as we are not easily accessible by public transport. Recruitment for staff with kitchen experience has been more difficult than ever this year but that is across the whole hospitality industry.

We purchased a Merrychef so we can at least offer sandwiches and paninis, and our food and beverage manager has been cooking for societies and member matches with a reduced menu choice. It’s not ideal, but we have reacted quickly to the changes as they happen, whether it has been government imposed, staffing issues or business needs.

Hurtmore is part of a group of three clubs. Are there any benefits from being aligned with two other clubs? The parent company also specialises in holiday homes, which many clubs have been trying to invest in recently, is this something Hurtmore will be embarking on?

There are clear benefits to being aligned with our other golf clubs – Crane Valley and Bulbury Woods, both in Dorset. With a strong management team and support network at Hoburne, we are in a position where we can share knowledge and have regular discussions on what is working well, which allows for fresh ideas and reassurance. Each club operates similarly but has different membership levels, clubhouse setup and amenities making each one unique.

As well as three golf clubs, Hoburne owns eight holiday parks across the south and south west of England, along with a property development arm. At times, there is a crossover with the golf clubs and holiday parks, where we have worked in conjunction to promote either golf, holidays or holiday home ownership. Currently, there are no plans within the strategy to introduce holiday homes at Hurtmore, but we always look for new opportunities to ensure the business is sustainable in the long term.

You were responsible for the promotion and relegation restructure in the Berkshire Gold League and helped create the Berkshire Silver League for medium handicap golfers, can you tell us more about that?

There were two ladies’ scratch leagues in Berkshire; one had been in existence for many years, with the second comprising the newer clubs built in the 90s boom. The newer league felt both leagues would benefit from closer competition if there was promotion and relegation each year. Over time, all the stronger teams would be in one league and the lesser teams would be in another league. My argument was surely this would be more enjoyable for all as many of the results were so one-sided.

There was resistance from the traditional clubs, but eventually, a steering committee was organised, which I chaired, and over several meetings, a way forward was proposed, voted through and accepted for promotion and relegation each season.

The Berkshire Silver League came about when a few medium handicap players were keen to play team golf. I worked with them in the planning stages to get it off the ground and it has since evolved further with a second division, so there is now competitive team golf for low, medium, and higher handicaps.

What is the ladies’ section at Hurtmore like and has the club been able to reach out to more females since you became manager?

The ladies’ section was very small, and it’s been challenging to keep interest with so few participating, so growing this area was a goal. It’s no secret that most women need a social element or friendship group to retain interest and progress within sport.

We have been making positive strides since appointing Kat Chaszczewski as head professional in 2019. Kat had introduced more than 500 women to golf before coming to Hurtmore and is one of the few female coaches in the country to have PGA Fellow status.

Since joining Hurtmore, Kat has introduced more than 100 new ladies to golf through her various programmes and group sessions. This is a testament to her innovation, considering the limited practice facilities we have at the club. We also started an Academy membership in 2020 and have welcomed 12 new ladies over the past 15 months, with all but one upgrading to full membership or flexi membership.

In the past year, we have increased the number of ladies with handicaps and more are now playing competitions. Our goal is to build on this each year and together they will bring one another along and make this an integral section of the club.

A ladies’ taster day at the club

Is the club trying to attract more juniors and beginners to the game?

Unfortunately, due to the lack of practice facilities at the club and with only one coach, this is not an area we are focusing on.

Do you have any plans for the club over the next few years?

The priority is to continue to improve the golf course with an immediate focus on bunkers and tees. We have 53 large bunkers, which are costly and time-consuming to maintain, so making them more manageable is key. We are part-way through a bunker refurbishment plan, which we first introduced in 2019. This includes filling in those that are not essential, making some smaller, improving drainage and rebuilding a few each year with EcoBunker.

We have a similar plan with tees. Several need levelling and returfing, so we are earmarking a selection to refurbish each year.

Longer-term, we are looking at ways to make some of the holes more challenging without changing the character of the course. We made several improvements to the clubhouse this year and will continue to do so where it’s needed and as finance allows.

Maureen Harman

What are your predictions for the next few years for the UK golf industry?

Covid and the economy are likely to play a part in how the industry fares in the short to medium term. It’s evident that numbers are reducing compared to 2020, and earlier this summer. Business remains buoyant but avoiding another lockdown is paramount. It’s not just golf itself but sectors within golf clubs that will have a bearing on its future.

Resolving the shortage in hospitality personnel, improving manufacturing issues and delivery problems all affect the secondary spend within the industry and provide key revenue streams that keep many clubs afloat.

Golf has been in its own bubble over the past 18 months. Apart from the closure periods, the bubble has been rising high. It’s imperative to retain a core percentage of those who came into golf over this period for the industry to continue to prosper. As life returns to normal, there will be more competition for everyone’s leisure time and disposable income. Apart from the initiatives the governing body has introduced to speed up the game, offering value for money and making the membership or golf day experience the best it can be is a good starting point.

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick December 10, 2021 11:36
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3 Comments

  1. Coachtrimmer December 12, 17:19

    Fantastic course, can’t wait to play it again next year.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Magnus December 10, 16:44

    We want more women in golf! ‍♀️The whole golfworld would benefit.
    For many Clubs it’s important to make sure the women appreciate the course, but also the facilities in general. Good work Maureen!

    Reply to this comment
  3. 59club December 10, 16:01

    59club UK have been supporting Hurtmore since 2019 – Maureen leads a small but passionate team and our data suggests they are making a real difference to the Member and Guest Experience.

    Reply to this comment
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