Part II of this series looks at how clubs around the island of Ireland are planning for the year ahead and what Irish golf can expect in 2020.
MOUNT JULIET, KILKENNY
“2020 looks to be an exciting year for us all in the Estate,” says director of golf, Matt Sandercock. “On the golf front we will continue to grow the membership — we’ve already had over 30 new members join in anticipation of the 2020 season. Our main goal, of course, is to deliver an exciting and memorable Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, in May, where we would love to be able to crown a future European Ryder Cup player as champion.”
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is only five months away. Work is firmly underway with a comprehensive programme on bunker works and overall agronomy of the course to the fore. Ensuring a smooth flow around the course for spectators and players alike is also paramount, while this season’s visiting golfers must also be accommodated as the works progress.
“Green fees and group bookings are a key area for all courses and an area where we pride ourselves on exceeding expectations,” says Sandercock. “As the majority of marketing is now on social media you will see a lot of activity through our social channels regarding open events. We are looking to hold a tournament singles where we will try to emulate the final round of the Open in a medal play format.”
Hosting major events always brings challenges and, currently, that includes the possibility of inclement weather. As the majority of works are very much manual and time-based an event in May is only around the corner. The club, estate and owners Autograph Hotels have every confidence that the golf team will deliver a showcase for the European Tour and Irish golf.
“Golf in Ireland continues to grow and with Adare Manor hosting the Pro-Am this year and with ourselves hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, parkland golf is back in the limelight again.”
Greystones Golf Club is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2020. In 2019, two members were capped for Ireland as Senior Internationals and another member won the Leinster Boys U13 championship. The goal is to continue developing junior golfers and bring home a few pennants.
“We have embarked on a programme to introduce finer grasses to the course and in particular on the greens,” says general manager Liam Moulton. “We will expand this programme and also continue our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. We are also pursuing an extensive refurbishment of the clubhouse and facilities.”
A ladies initiative programme takes place every Tuesday morning which has resulted in a number of new members.
“We will focus on charity events such as the Paul Dunne Invitational. The club contributed over €100,000 in 2019 from golfing events.” What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing Greystones? Similar to many other golf clubs the focus is on member retention and on improving the membership experience.
There will be a gala dinner in June and a dedicated line of merchandise with the new 125 logo is proving popular. There will also be a visit from Cosby Golf Club, in Leicester, who are celebrating their 125th anniversary in 2020, too. This is a repeat of the event when the clubs celebrated their 100th anniversaries.
“There are plenty of hurdles to overcome,” believes Moulton, “but there is also a swell of optimism. The amalgamation of the GUI and ILGU presents further positives and opportunities as all clubs attempt to attract more golfers into the game. The unified handicap system opens doors for new golfers and is good for the game although we also recognise that it is open to abuse.”
The focus is very much on membership: what it offers, improving services, broadening opportunities (such as catering), growing pavilion membership and encouraging members to participate in all aspects of the business. “We will listen more intently to our membership and continue to improve our product offering,” says general manager John McHenry.
Over the past decade, Douglas Golf Club has ambitiously set about updating and upgrading its on-course offerings. That includes the completion of a purpose-built maintenance and storage facility, two indoor instruction facilities as well as a target-oriented practice range and, just recently, a 6-hole par 3 course, which can be readily used by young and old.
“By April 2020, the club hopes to have completed clubhouse renovations, which will include improvements to our men’s and ladies locker rooms and a completely new ‘fit-out’ of the bar, lounge and dining room areas. It will also include a new balcony adjoining the bar and lounge areas.”
There will be a number of two-tee 9-hole re-entry competitions during the winter time to give more people the opportunity to play during the shorter days. Various competitive and social 6-hole evening shotgun start competitions are also planned for the spring. Some will include a meal after play.
“As part of a more complete offering for our membership and guests we will also be targeting pavilion membership and growing the social experience,” McHenry adds.
Boundary issues around the course (M28 & proposed residential developments on Carr’s Hill). “As an ambitious club that has a proud 110-year history, we need to remain relevant to our community. We also need to remain vigilant and pro-active in terms of future planning for matter both within and out of our own control.”
“From an amateur perspective,” McHenry points out, “ageing membership means that clubs must remain vigilant on all cost issues and clubs especially ‘must cut their cloth to match’ even if that means a reduced working schedule, hours of operation or even golf course standards.
“Golf membership is a numbers game and without the numbers, clubs who solely survive on one source of income will continue to struggle to survive. The parochial nature of our society aside, I honestly believe that in time, the prudent business decision of many clubs in one area may well be to merge — in order to gain a critical mass of membership and possibly to exercise the strategic value of another club’s land.
“All clubs in Ireland by their very nature are fiercely proud and protective but they also need to be very realistic about matters of finance and long term well being. The CGI in Ireland has attempted to provide a proper forum for clubs to come together but I fear that only when emotion is thrown out the door will this really happen and by then it may be too late for clubs.”
“We are looking to build on what was a very successful year in 2019, thanks to the Open Championship at Royal Portrush next door,” reports general manager Bert McKay. “The images of the North Coast seen around the world means we are well-positioned to have another busy year and we expect to maintain green fee levels in 2020.”
Recent efforts have been focused on making the club as family-friendly as possible, thereby attracting members’ spouses and children who may have no interest in golf but visit the club for the social experience. Adding value to the memberships is key to keeping members engaged and loyal to the club. These efforts will be pursued in 2020.
The club is currently in phase 2 of renovations, which will see the 6th, 12th and 16th greens and surrounds change under the watchful eye of Dr Martin Hawtree. There will also be upgrades to about 18 bunkers. Three tees have been renovated and enlarged. In the clubhouse, carpets will be replaced and there will be additional small upgrades to keep things fresh and up to date.
“Yes,” says McKay. “We have one for the ladies section starting at Easter. As at many clubs the main area for growth is our ladies section and we will be running a similar programme which offers lessons on the range but also includes gin and food tastings etc as this shows people that although golf is available there is more to the club.”
As for many businesses the uncertainty of Brexit will prove a challenge. A change in spending habits amongst golfers has already been observed and they appear to be nervous with what’s happening.
“For the growing number of international visitors I think they will experience a better service across the island,” says McKay. “Again, this is something we are working on with our caddie masters, starters and rangers. As for the local visitor I think people resist change automatically so it will take time to understand what’s happening with the new handicapping system, but I think it will be accepted through time… I think it is a good system and will work well for everyone moving forward to be honest.”
“Ardee Golf Club is looking forward to 2020 with optimism. There is a new management team in place since December 2018, with the goal of providing better forward planning,” says Brian Wogan, who looks after Communications and IT.
There has been major investment in Ardee over the past three years with the upgrade of older greens to sand based. These improvements have strengthened the course quality and make Ardee one of the driest courses in Leinster. Upgrades and improvements to the course are continuing under Ken Kearney Golf Design and DAR Golf.
A completely new Clubnet management system, supplied by Golfgraffix, has been installed. A new website has been launched alongside this, with a popular members app. These will improve the management of the club and communications with members and visitors. The management board have also begun work on a new multi-year development plan to continue the in the coming years.
Following a successful Get into Golf for ladies in 2019, it is hoped the programme will be repeated in 2020.
“To improve revenue streams the club is orchestrating a major drive to attract golf societies and corporate golf,” says Wogan. “With the quality of our course and clubhouse facilities this should be achievable. Also, in order to raise funds in 2020 for course development, the club has introduced ‘find the joker’ and this will run alongside events such as a golf classic, race nights, poker classics and other fund-raising events.”
The challenge for the future is to keep improving the course and facilities so existing members are retained and new members attracted. Every club needs new blood and new members bring new ideas.
“In Ardee we’ve embraced the recent changes in the rules and we are in favour of practical changes that help speed up play and make golf more enjoyable for members of all abilities.”
In 2016, the administrative committee set up a strategic review group to plan for the future, to 2025. It identified the following goals for 2020: Increase membership, particularly younger people; be more accommodating for members with young families; make course improvements; control costs whilst maintaining standards; recognise the club’s responsibility to the environment; and introduce the new handicap system.
“Over the years our bunkers had deteriorated due to erosion, sand contamination and water retention after heavy rain,” explains general manager Eddie Farrell. “In 2018, the front 9 bunkers were remodelled, others re-positioned, and some new bunkers were added to enhance the course’s appearance and strategic elements. Our architects ReGolf, and contractors DAR, did a wonderful job, so much so they were invited back to do the back 9. These are due for completion by April. The new Durabunkers are more in keeping with the age and design of our course and look fabulous. All in all, we have 40% less sand which will cut maintenance hours.”
Hermitage will hold the only Irish qualifying round for the 2020 Junior European Open on July 5. A social media strategy to market the club is in process and this marketing channel offers huge opportunities to raise the club’s profile. It will also assist in promoting the availability of Hermitage’s conference rooms. As a popular society venue, the club will introduce an innovative shotgun start for two to three small to medium-sized societies on peak Friday afternoons.
“While we are in a healthy position in terms of numbers,” notes Farrell, “membership is the key challenge and priority for us, as it is at most clubs. “We have taken steps to address the downturn in the junior ordinary category and we are working on new measures to maintain current membership and to attract new members.
“Also, climate change and other environmental factors impacting the state of the course are a major concern. In 2018, we lost 31 days of golf due to bad weather. We recognise we can do our bit by introducing more green policies which will contribute to tomorrow’s environment and the enjoyment of tomorrow’s golfers.”
Golf must support people with young families who can’t afford five hours away. Hermitage is examining options to address this and several summer 14-hole competitions maximised playing opportunities. The handicap system and clubs must accommodate those who can only play 9 or even 6 holes.
“Our goals are to grow our membership further and attract more overseas players to the course,” says Fiona Dunne, for the club. “We also hope to increase our ladies membership and will be actively pursuing this goal in 2020. The clubhouse is run entirely by women (a major plus for the club, of course) so we are eager to get more on the membership side.”
There has been a significant investment this year on a new entrance sign, completing the old estate wall at the entrance to the club, drainage and a temporary helicopter pad to accommodate the guests and players who travel from Churchtown House on the estate. A beautiful outdoor terrace with pagoda for members has also been added.
“We will be participating in the Get into Golf Programme again this year as we strive to increase our ladies membership,” says Dunne. “From this we plan to introduce a beginner’s membership with mentors from our existing members helping those eager to learn and play.”
Marketing is of vital importance to the club and is reviewed yearly to assess what works best.
The club also joined IGTOA (Irish Golf Tour Operator Association) this year and even though Beaufort is competing with bigger clubs, the belief is that Beaufort has a unique offering for those who are not all about links golf.
“The challenge for a privately owned club like Beaufort is competing against clubs that can avail of grants,” Dunne believes. “Attending conferences is cost prohibitive for a club like us, but we use our resources to increase our presence on the golf scene as smartly as we can.
“Because the club is run as a business with local employees, we thoroughly research where our marketing budget is spent and everyone who walks through the door is an important customer to us.”
Beaufort Golf Club has gone through a lot of changes in its 25-year history, but it now stands in a very positive position in the hands of Tadhg and Helen Clifford, who lease and run the course. Their guardianship of club and course has raised its profile and made it the ‘hidden gem’ of golf in Kerry. Celebrations will include a Classic for old and new members as well as other events to be confirmed.
“Similar to golf clubs across Ireland, we understand the importance of retaining and growing our membership base,” explains council chairman Des Mahon. “A focus in 2020 is to build our brand profile in key domestic and international markets and to re-establish our championship course reputation. There was a great buzz when we hosted the AIG Cups & Shields All-Ireland finals in September, and course feedback was excellent. We’ll be looking to build on that in 2020 to attract both visitors and new members.”
This is the second year of a five-year course and clubhouse development plan. Essential maintenance works to the clubhouse roof were completed along with redecoration inside and landscaping outside. New drains were installed on several holes. The plan for 2020 includes continued investment in course drainage, bunkers, top-sanding and course signage. Course machinery will be upgraded and, by 2023, over €575,000 will have been spent on capital projects to improve the member and visitor experience at Westport.
Six-week training programmes for Ladies’ and Men’s ‘Get into Golf’ programmes will run three times through the year. A special entry membership rate is then offered.
The club has been working with Carr Golf since Autumn 2019, to review sales and marketing activities. The introduction of pathway Intermediate membership categories is new for 2020, so too the introduction of dynamic green fee pricing to maximise yield during peak periods. Digital advertising will target those based within an hour of Westport who have a known interest in golf and the club will meet local businesses to raise awareness of membership offerings for their workforces.
“I think like many clubs in Ireland the challenge is to remain financially sustainable in the medium to long term,” says Mahon. “We have a strong, loyal membership base here who we want to reward by providing them with the best possible experience both on and off the course.”
“2020 will be a transitional year for Irish Golf,” Mahon believes.
“While traditional weekend 18-hole singles events will always have their place, the game risks losing golfers who are time-poor. Across the country, we’ll see more 6-hole and 9-hole competitive golf to help attract and retain members.
“Creating an inclusive and family-focused environment is also essential to improve member engagement. More mixed men/ladies team and individual events will soon become commonplace.”