Meet the golf manager: Max Stockwell

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 12, 2022 17:46

The golf manager at Bowood Park Hotel & Golf Club in Cornwall details what managing the club has been like since the pandemic started, the results of offering free coaching to juniors, the club’s green approach and being an England Golf ‘Club of the Year’ finalist.

Can you tell us a bit about Bowood Park Hotel & Golf Club?

Bowood Park is set in the countryside of North Cornwall, which is within touching distance of Tintagel, Boscastle, Port Isaac and nearby Padstow and Wadebridge. We were established in 1992 as a USGA-spec parkland course.

Brian Huggett, Bob Knott and Eddie Connaughton (advising) were taken on board to design the beautiful USGA specified par 72 parkland golf course we know today. In the 30 years of trading we have lived through recession and the heights of golf that we are experiencing today. We are amongst a low populated area so our membership hasn’t ever surpassed 400 members and to date we currently sit at 354 members, which is climbing continually thanks to new developments in the local area.

Our hotel built within the golf club has 32 en-suite bedrooms which facilitate our residential golf breaks along with our large restaurant which can accommodate 100 covers in one sitting. As a whole, our golf breaks are extremely successful with excellent feedback and repeat business year on year. Having everything required on site has really been the key to our success.

What have your, and the club’s experiences of the pandemic, from March 2020 to the present day, been? You’ve seen a huge growth in membership numbers haven’t you?

We certainly have, pre-pandemic our membership was 189 and then after the boom, here we are at 354. What has taken me by surprise is the retainment of members. My initial thoughts were that the boom in numbers would fall off the scale once people’s lives returned to some form of normality but that hasn’t been the case for ourselves I’m pleased to say.

During the pandemic I personally worked from home as much as possible, this gave me a good amount of time to prepare from a back office point of view once we returned. Just doing the jobs that on a day-to-day basis can be tricky, such as reconciling reports, analysing tee times utilisation, seeing what gaps can be filled in the diary and extra financial gains that we might be missing out on. Furlough was extremely helpful to our business of 33 employees as this secured their jobs and made sure we were in a good position of returning with a golf course in good order.

You offered free coaching to all juniors. Why did you do this and what were the results?

We offered free coaching as a way of promoting junior golf within the club. To us juniors are our future as a club and we wanted to sow as many seeds as possible on engaging juniors in the game. We ran four sessions on Saturday mornings throughout the summer where parents had to book them into slots of six per group. This also enabled new friendships within the juniors and helped introduce parents to other parents. These sessions were full each week and were usually fully booked a week prior. Chris Kaminski, our head professional, has been in the industry for over 40 years and with us for 12, his patience and commitment to the tuition were outstanding so I must commend his efforts.

Are you doing anything to get more women playing the game?

This is the next goal for 2022, we have noticed across the game that female participation levels are dwindling. We are making good progress by signing up to the ‘Women on Par’ initiative that England Golf have launched.

The club hopes to be carbon negative by 2026. What are you doing to bring that about?

We have been continually replacing items around the business to focus on our green energy commitments. To date we have solar panels for our driving range, a biomass boiler for our heating, a wind turbine to supply electricity, a PapaPump system for our irrigation of the golf course and recently we introduced electric car charging points for members to use for free and visitors to use.

Our next steps will be to focus on green alternatives to diesel and petrol machinery. Hybrid and electric technologies have recently hit the market which we are watching very closely but these machines are in the early stages of their lives so obviously a few stories are coming out of their teething issues so we are waiting for established technology upon looking into this further.

The club was recently a finalist for England Golf’s ‘Club of the Year’. Congratulations! Can you take us through your experience of this?

It was an amazing experience and created such a good buzz in the club. From application to awards night England Golf were amazing with their communication and promotional material that they supplied. On the evening we decided to host an evening for all the individuals that are involved with the club and enjoyed fizz and nibbles to add to the occasion. Unfortunately we didn’t win but being among so many wonderful clubs was something to be proud of.

A number of golf venues have been thwarted in attempts to build housing on their venues in recent months. Have you had a similar experience?

We had an application for eight dwellings turned down and these were retirement bungalows which are lacking in the area. Our application was rejected on this occasion due to no affordable housing being considered. The plans are being reviewed and we will try again. New planning regulations on a local basis have made any new forms of development tricky. Any developments that are taken up are always tricky not to divide opinion but for us, if successful, it would future proof the business and secure and add further jobs for local families.

Bowood runs partnerships with local facilities that offer, for example, swimming pools. How do these work and are they of benefit?

We have a very good relationship with Juliots Well Holiday Park, which are part of South West Holidays. They offer five-star premium quality lodges for visitors and non-residential ownerships. They also have a swimming pool, gym, sauna and steam room which have been kindly offered to our visitors on a day-rate basis and our members on a membership basis. This has been received extremely well, especially to those who are non-golfers who are staying with us and are looking for something to do on a rainy day or members who have families wanting to do activities together.

How do you market the venue?

Mainly social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and online advertising. We find this way of advertising gives us far more engagement with the customer and gives them a far more personal experience as the channels are run by myself. So if you message or comment through any of the channels, it’s me, so you can now put a face to the name. We also use Mailchimp as our customer base email server which is an extremely powerful tool for reaching out to previous and new customers.

How healthy do you think the Cornish golf industry is at the moment? Has the area seen a rise in golfing staycations since the pandemic started and, if so, do you think this will be maintained?

Cornwall Golf is currently in a very good place as are many other counties across the country. As a committee member for Cornwall Golf Union, as a whole, clubs are going through a boom in numbers. Will that be the case in 12 months’ time? Who knows, but the cost of living amongst other price risings across the board are bound to have an effect on people’s lives. My opinion? Keep your course steady, work harder on turnover and not rack prices. The next two years are going to be quite rough and it will be those who look after their customer bases that will eventually rise to the top unscathed.

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

Pretty much the same as Cornwall ethos, obviously Cornwall tends to have lower membership fees than others in the country and I think that might start to change in the coming years ahead.

Maybe not for the prestigious venues, but for the working class golf clubs this will have to change as people’s wallets are going to suffer in the next two years ahead at least. The key at the moment in my opinion is to focus on the retention off the back of the boom and listen to what your members want. All too often clubs make decisions for the select few and not the overall consensus. Time will tell I guess, but from my end that’s what I will be focusing on at Bowood Park.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 12, 2022 17:46
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1 Comment

  1. Wilson Golf August 13, 10:41

    To Max and his staff, many congrats on your very progressive club

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