Meet the CEO: Nathanaël Pietrzak-Swirc

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 24, 2023 14:23

UGolf, Europe’s largest golf club management company with 100 golf courses in France alone, has launched a new global branch, UGolf International. Here, its CEO, Nathanaël Pietrzak-Swirc, talks about the new venture, the markets and growth it is targeting and how the individual clubs operate.

Can you tell us about UGolf International?

UGolf International is a new branch of UGolf, which has been created for the international expansion of the brand. The owner of UGolf is the Duval Group, a large real-estate group which is based in France but is also involved in multiple activities in Europe, Africa and Asia. After the merger between UGolf and BlueGreen, we decided to create a specific entity to develop our brand outside of France. We were already involved in Spain and New Caledonia, but when we started to work in Rwanda and received a lot of interest from groups keen to use our expertise in Africa, we decided to create a dedicated company. Since then, we have been busy growing the business in different parts of the world.

Nathanaël Pietrzak-Swirc

What is the golf industry in France like today? Was there a surge in interest after the 2018 Ryder Cup and have you seen an increase in members because of the pandemic?

The golf industry in France continues to grow, and golf is the fourth biggest sport in the country in terms of federation members. Fédération Française de Golf continues to push to develop the game and also to prepare the whole industry for the new challenges ahead (water issues, no usage of chemicals and so on). With our 100 golf courses in France, we work hard to continue to attract new golfers through our UGolf academies.

The 2018 Ryder Cup was a good way to communicate to non-golfers in France, and also to promote France as a destination for golfers from outside. Our CEO in France always jokes about the recent Covid pandemic – “We want a pandemic each year!” – because immediately afterwards all our golf clubs and academies were fully booked.

A golf lesson in Egypt

And what is the state of the golf industry in some of the more unusual markets you have clubs, such as in Rwanda?

Africa as a continent is a really interesting market, and we are pretty sure that it will grow and improve a lot in the next 10 years. We want to be part of this development and we want to help to structure the golf game there.

The project in Rwanda is interesting because the government decided to invest in the golf game to attract more tourists and also to develop a real-estate programme around the golf course. When we started working there, they had fewer than 100 golfers but immediately after the opening of the course, there was a big rise in the number of people interested in taking up the game. Through our academy there, we created more than 300 golfers and we now have more than 500 golf members.

We can also see a great interest in pan-African golf tourism and have had a lot of exchanges with African countries.

What are the benefits to a club to be part of UGolf? Are there, for example, reciprocal offers so golfers can play at more than one course?

Yes, it’s one of the main pillars of our group. When you are a member of UGolf, you are entitled to play at all the courses. We have different kinds of membership and offer everything from the opportunity to play one area, a bigger area or a worldwide membership.

All our members also receive a gold card from our golf network ‘Le Club Golf’, which offers discounts at 800-plus courses around the world.

Are there any plans for further growth? Would UGolf ever consider investing in the UK?

Yes, we have a lot of projects in Africa, Europe and Asia. We are currently the fifth largest golf operator in the world and it is our aim to break into the top three in the next three years.

We would also consider investing in the UK, and it is our company policy to look at each opportunity on an individual basis, even if it might be strange for a French company to manage a UK golf club. We believe that, especially with our model of academies, we can bring something different. I even have a bet with one of our general managers who is Scottish that, within three years, we will manage a golf course in Scotland.

Kigali Golf Resort in Rwanda

Does UGolf have group managers, such as for agronomy or food and beverage, that individual facilities can turn to for support?

Yes, that is what we have exactly, and we have business units and support units.

The business units are for areas such as memberships, green fees, pro shop operations, academies and events; the support units cover agronomy / finance / marketing / IT.

So when a golf club joins our group, it will have all the benefits of our structure through a dedicated person in charge of the contract.

Do you collectively market the facilities or is that left to each one individually?

In France, around 80 percent of the marketing is done by the marketing department at our headquarters, with the remaining 20 percent done by each club to target both golfers and non-golfers around each club.

On an international level, it’s the opposite. I would estimate around 80 percent of the communication is performed locally because of the need to understand the culture and the appropriate way to communicate, and 20 percent is done by our HQ to promote the club and attract golfers from around the world, especially through our travel department.

Kigali Golf Resort in Rwanda

Is there a best-practice model the clubs follow for recruiting women and children as members?

There is not one single best-practice model, but a lot of best practices that are used across things like events, discovery sessions, patronages and partnerships with schools or associations. We know that to attract women, kids and new golfers, it’s something you have to do on a daily basis and you cannot use only one channel. So we ask our teams to be creative and to use different models.

Much of the western world has seen rising inflation in the last year or two. Is this having an impact on the clubs, both in terms of their costs, as well as financial pressures on members to end their memberships?

Like most people and companies, we are suffering from this inflation, especially in terms of maintenance and electricity, but we are lucky that this has not transferred to golfers ending their memberships.

Given the number of clubs that UGolf has, why is it not that well known in the industry outside of France and is this being addressed?

For many years, UGolf was predominantly focused in the French market and that’s the reason why we never really communicated outside of France. Now with our new strategy, we want to promote our brand more so that it is internationally recognised. To do so, we have decided to work with Azalea, a real expert when it comes to the golf business marketing sector in Europe.

Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa and Golf Resort in the southwest Pacific Ocean

What is your career path to CEO of UGolf International?

After obtaining a golf management diploma and gaining seven years of experience in the golf industry, I joined UGolf in 2014. Since then, I have held the positions of golf director and area manager before taking charge of the company’s international expansion in 2021. I graduated as a certified club manager in 2018 and serve on the board of the French Golf Managers’ Association, as well as being involved in the MCO association in Europe.

Kigali Golf Resort in Rwanda

Do you have any predictions for the global golf industry over the next few years?

My feeling is that the golf industry is going to evolve into a much more professional structured world.

If we do a parallel with the hotel industry, 50 years ago less than 10 percent of hotels were managed by professional companies. Nowadays, that figure is more than 65 percent.

In the golf industry, 10 percent of the 38,000-plus golf courses in the world are managed by golf operators so there is clearly a big potential to evolve and change.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 24, 2023 14:23
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  1. Adrian Hubert Academy of Golf August 28, 11:39

    Great job… all this helps to grow this amazing game that I love ❤️ so much. Always learning. AH Golf Academy

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  2. Herbert August 25, 13:14

    Impressive growth and Rwanda is an impressive addition, I expect the other Francophone territories to be very interested in your expansion. Africa in general will need partnerships like UGolf to help upskill local talent pool. Golf Tourism could create many needed jobs too. Access to water probably the biggest hurdle to growth of courses……

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