How to increase memberships with a better quality course
National Club Golfer 2002

As has been well publicised over the last few months the English Golf Union along with Golf England have published disturbing figures regarding the amount of memberships available at golf clubs across the country. In short, there is a battle going on to attract new members while struggling to maintain the memberships that are already held. In general there are many factors that help to achieve this membership retention, not least the offering of a friendly and sociable environment for members to enjoy the game alongside a busy and amenable social aspect.
But alone that is not enough; consultants across the board are recognising that today's golfers are a far more sophisticated creature than ever before. Now a potential member of a golf club demands two essential elements - quality and value for money. One company that has recognised this trend is Contour Golf of Daventry, Northants. "Maybe it's global TV coverage, maybe it's a general increase of expectations in all areas of life," mused Contour MD, Ingrid Eichler who continued, "Whatever it is, each and every golf club could benefit from having a professional audit of their course and consider the advice that is offered."
Yet before heading 'pell-mell' into a project, a golf club ought to weigh their options very carefully, "Lack of planning, lack of advice and lack of direction - these factors are most often responsible for dissatisfaction. Unless the golf club can identify exactly what they want to achieve and to what specification, the job can become a total lottery." Believes Eichler. In almost all cases the decision to actually improve the course, to whatever degree, is the easiest decision that the golf course has to make because the answer is either yes or no. Professional help is absolutely vital to help a golf club come to a sensible decision based on aspirations, feasibility and budgetary constraints.
The problem is in knowing just who to approach in the first instance, a large-scale rebuild of the entire course, will need a golf course architect to design and oversee the works and should therefore be the first port of call. However, there are cases when a competent constructor will be able to point the way without fear of misleading information due to self-interest. This is a small industry in many regards, and most constructors get a lot of work through word-of-mouth and would soon be in trouble if they gave advice that is best for them rather than the client. "If we go along to a golf club and the customer's requirements need an architect to oversee the job, we will say so, it is simply not in our interest to 'wing-it'." Said Eichler. And Contour are by no means alone in that assessment, many constructors and consultants are available for consultation.
Timing is a key factor in any potential project and the traditional idea of working in the winter is being questioned more and more; naturally all golf clubs wish to minimise disruption for their members and visitors, thus working outside of the busy summer months is almost universal. But this could prove to be the biggest mistake of all; a job that starts in October with a proposed finish before Christmas, is so much at the mercy of climate that it might not be finished by the following spring, let alone be satisfactorily matured.
It is not high science to observe that "grass grows when it is warm and machines don't do as much damage on firm ground" yet work is not carried out in the growing season 99% of the time. Therefore, in planning the requirement of the golf club, careful consideration ought to be given to the time of year that the operation is undertaken. Having temporary greens through warm, dry weather is anathema to golf club management but with foresight it will often prove to be the most sensible course of action. With the right planning, a golf course renovation can be incredibly quick and painless. But everybody must be working to the same end. The coordination of plans, materials, machinery and people is the responsibility of the project manager, the buck stops with him (or herů), thus the initial meeting needs the utmost consideration. If the club, the constructor, the members, the sub-contractors and material suppliers are all kept informed of when and how the project is to progress, then it is perfectly possible for a swift and successful return to 'business as usual'.
Golf Clubs are naturally conservative and wary of radical thinking but the membership question and the undoubted increase in competition might call for a club to approach course renovation from a different direction - in any eventuality, the first port of call should be a respected and professional golf industry specialist. Not forgetting that the best person to talk to these specialists is the head greenkeeper, it is the greenkeeper that can help you spot the charlatan, suggest alternatives and will ultimately have to maintain any renovations that are decided upon.