Meet the CEO: Gary Favell

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick June 10, 2022 10:13

The CEO of International Leisure Group, which owns American Golf, talks about the brand’s rapid expansion, including the acquisition of golf clubs, in the last two years, its plans for the next 12 months and why its bricks and mortar stores are bucking national trends.

We all know American Golf as a major retailer but it’s much more than that now. Can you take us through all the significant aspects of the American Golf business in the UK today? How many golf clubs and driving ranges does the business now operate?

American Golf is part of International Leisure Group, a European portfolio of businesses which taps into every area of golf, from equipment and apparel to entire golf complexes. We know that since the pandemic, golf has seen a huge resurgence – from those who played already, to people who had never picked up a club before. We’re particularly excited about the increase in women and young people taking up the sport. Golf has evolved beyond the typical 18-hole game, shorter course options and varying entry points mean there’s now something for the whole family.

Last year saw us embark on our first acquisitions of entire golf courses, including Cheshire’s High Legh Golf Club, and Lancashire’s Rossendale Golf Complex. More recently we’ve acquired leading family golf and leisure park, Golf Kingdom in Chadwell Heath and Bexley’s Barnehurst Golf Club. We also have 95 retail stores throughout the UK and Ireland.

Our e-commerce businesses, American Golf online and Online Golf, support bricks and mortar sales, with a key focus being our own brands Stromberg, Benross, Rife, Fazer and European golf fashion brand, Golfino – we’re particularly proud of our new women’s ranges.

Having been involved in stores at golf clubs, and then operating golf facilities such as driving ranges, why did you make the decision to purchase High Legh Park Golf Club last year? What changes and benefits has this acquisition led to for both the club and American Golf since?

Bringing entire golf complexes into the International Leisure Group portfolio is a key focus for growth. As just mentioned, golf is a sport for all and by creating entire complexes with adventure golf, restaurants, top class tuition and state-of-the-art technology-driven retail, we’re providing an experience the whole family can enjoy. High Legh Park Golf Club was our first full range flagship investment and is already proving a success, giving us the confidence to acquire additional sites across the country.

This year the club purchased another facility – Barnehurst Golf Course in Bexleyheath. What was the reason for this and what plans do you have for this venue?

Barnehurst Golf Club is surrounded by a great community. It’s our first municipal site and we’re planning to create a community hub that local residents can enjoy. The course has been closed for a year so we have invested heavily into refurbishing the site. The local support for what we have done has been amazing. Development works at Barnehurst include the addition of an Il Corso Sports Bar and Lounge, our Italian-American restaurant concept; a 15-bay refurbished driving range with Toptracer technology and a state-of-the-art retail space with our bespoke CustomFit service planned for later this year.

Barnehurst Golf Club will make the sport accessible to everyone in the local community, epitomising our vision to make golf available for all. As well as welcoming new and past members to the club, we’ll be working alongside Bexley Council to introduce schools and community groups to golf.

What are the plans for American Golf over the next 12 months?

We will continue to engage communities by providing state-of-the-art facilities that will appeal to everyone, no matter what their age, background or gender. This will include the acquisition of more municipal sites where we can forge strong links with schools and other community groups. We’ll also plan to create more family golf complexes with the addition of an F&B offering, so everyone in the family can enjoy a full day out.

Collaborations are also a key part of our strategy. We’ll continue to align American Golf with premium brands to shift old-fashioned perceptions of the sport.
Plus, we’ll continue partnerships with ambassadors of underrepresented groups, such as former world number one disability golfer, Brendan Lawlor; top female golfers such as Carly Booth and Mia Baker, as well as junior players including Leo Boniface, Mabel Brooks and Fraizer Harris.

Participation has surged in the UK in the last couple of years. What impact has this had on the retail division of your business?

We have just had a record year since American Golf was founded 52 years ago, with sales up over 43 percent in the year ending 2021 compared with the previous year.

We’re actually bucking wider UK retail trends, as sales in our bricks and mortar stores are outstripping the e-commerce side of our business by more than 2-to-1. The popularity of our physical shops is largely due to the immersive, technologically-advanced environments we’ve created.

Our Trafford ‘superstore’ which re-opened last year after substantial investment boasts the UK’s first digitally-controlled ‘Zen Green Stage’, which simulates real-world putting green slopes. Many of our stores feature state-of-the-art custom fit bays with GCQuad technology, as used by the world’s top golfers. People are attracted by the experience as much as what we sell.

American Golf is supporting the Rose Ladies Series for the third time this year, and last year you became the official retail partner of the ISPS Handa World Invitational. How important is it to you to align American Golf with these tournaments and why?

Driving inclusivity in golf is a huge focus for us. Everyone should have access to play. In addition to the ISPS Handa World Invitational and Rose Ladies Series, we’re inspiring more females to get into golf by supporting several high-profile golfers, including Scottish professional, Carly Booth and golf influencer, Mia Baker. Young females can relate to Carly and Mia and we hope more women will see golf as a sport of choice.

We’re also working with England Deaf Golf to make our stores and ranges more accessible to hard of hearing and deaf people wanting to play. In addition, we support former world number one disability golfer, Brendan Lawlor. Golf is proven to be beneficial to mental, as well as physical health and everyone should have a chance to play no matter what their background, gender or age.

As a business you’ve placed great value in supporting young players at a grassroots level, as well as working with female golfers to help their careers. Is this something you always intended when you joined American Golf?

When I came into American Golf in 2018 I knew we had to shift perceptions of the sport to protect its future. Golf wasn’t being made accessible enough to women, young people and those with disabilities. There was little female equipment and clothing and limited options for juniors. Now we have striking women’s and children’s fashion ranges that can be worn on and off the course.

The Justin Rose Academy we have just launched across our key sites has been developed to encourage more people into golf. The world-class academy is about removing barriers and making golf accessible to all, irrespective of age, gender, social background and ability.

Each step we take forwards helps drive participation in the sport.

What has the organisation’s experiences of the pandemic, from March 2020 to the present day, been?

During lockdown all stores were closed but we continued to sell through our online channels which saw an increase in sales compared to expectation. When golf courses and stores opened in June 2020, we saw a large increase in participation from existing players and new people joining the sport.

When it comes to driving forward inclusivity within the sport, what additional measures have you taken to ensure barriers to player participation are removed?

Inclusivity is paramount and there are many tangible measures we’re adopting across the business, including investing in our own brands, such as Stromberg and Benross, to ensure women have access to a wide choice of apparel and equipment that they’re proud to be seen wearing and using. We’re also working with England Deaf Golf to install SignVideo technology at key American Golf sites, to allow British sign language interpreters to assist with communication to deaf golfers over a video relay.

How did you end up as the CEO of American Golf?

When Endless acquired the business, they approached me to take the role of CEO. Having worked with them before I knew they had a great track record of investing to drive growth. I saw the opportunity to make a difference to the sport and the industry. With a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective, I wanted to build the business around family experiences to make golf more accessible and fun, and to offer product and equipment through best in class retail environments and service levels.

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

Golf will experience its boom. There’s equipment, apparel – and even golf courses – to suit everyone. More and more families will use golf to spend time together at the weekend and in more urban areas, golf will become a hub of the community, with schools and uniform groups also reaping the benefits. Golf will become more than a sport; it will become a way people spend their leisure time together.

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick June 10, 2022 10:13
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1 Comment

  1. Vijay June 12, 20:55

    As a regular customer, I can feel the difference – knowledgeable people who advise you, no hard sell and their sale can get you good value!

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