How Wirral Golf Club Flourished During the Pandemic

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Many golf clubs have been experiencing challenging times, not just during the pandemic, even well before then many golf courses have been working hard to make a profit but still struggling to make their venue profitable. During lockdowns our team have been writing blogs and providing information on things to consider when course open. Golf Shake have an extremely positive article on Wirral Golf Club showing how some changes can really elevate your course, the full article can be read here, we have included some really interesting snippets below.

Wirral GC 1 (004)

LIKE the rest of us, Keith Mollan and Sean Bailey can barely contain their excitement. Keith is chairman of Wirral Golf Club, Sean is the professional. And they cannot wait for March 29, the day when our beloved sport opens for business again. The course has been closed since December and it is in pristine condition, just waiting for the first shots to be hit.

Wirral GC has seen an increase in membership and it is clear that Mollan cares deeply about each and every one of them. “We have reduced our subscription this year by 5%,” he said. “We are also giving all our members a free fourball voucher and 30 minutes on the indoor golf school that Sean runs.

"Our members have been brilliant throughout the lockdown and this is just one small way of thanking them for their amazing loyalty. We didn’t give out any rebates last year and find ourselves in a strong position to meet the challenges that lie ahead. A lot of golf courses have suffered but although we were only open for just over seven months last year, our income from societies and visitors was up by 5%. So we had 12 months takings plus 5% in that period, and we are hoping for a similar situation this year.”

“One of the real benefits of the lockdown is that when the members and visitors return they will find that the course is in fabulous condition,” he said. “The greenkeepers have been able to work on the course without having to work around golfers. And when they come back there will be no winter tees or temporary greens.” 

“We are now waiting to pour our first pint of beer, but we have handed over the running of the clubhouse to a local concession who will provide food and drink and have many exciting plans for the future, and they will be retaining the existing bar staff and catering staff. They have spent £100,000 refurbishing the club and it all looks fantastic. We now have a pizza oven and believe our clubhouse will be more attractive to younger golfers. Our golf club will no longer be beige! It will be vibrant and welcoming.”  

Since Boris Johnson announced that golf could return on March 29 the response has been phenomenal. 

Overall, the picture is a bright one. When the first lockdown came into force they had 279 members - that has since increased to 300, around 100 of whom are women. Mollan is proud to have so many women members but says that it is a number that is declining and in a bid to address this they have signed up to England Golf’s Women in Golf Charter and are also involved in an initiative with PlayMoreGolf designed to encourage more women to get involved with the game and have reserved 15 memberships exclusively for women.

 “The demographic we have for women members is ageing and that is something we are very keen to address,” said Mollan. “We have a thriving junior section that Sean looks after, but we want to get more girls into the game and attract women who maybe have never played before. With PlayMoreGolf we are looking to attract women who have played the game before but have had to give up to raise families. So we are trying to attract members across all age ranges.” 

Even while we were speaking Bailey revealed that another potential new member was waiting to see him. “We have picked up 16 more new members since closing in December and they are all under the age of 55. That is a huge step forward, with the average age of club golfers having been around 63,” said Bailey. “People are now seeing the benefits of becoming club members.”  

So where are all these new members coming from? Bailey describes most of them as individuals who have decided to “upgrade” from municipal courses, many of which leave much to be desired as councils make cutbacks or prioritise other areas. “We have also seen quite a few nomadic golfers coming to us, people who want a ‘home’,” said Mollan. “These were the guys who would sit outside in the car park at 5am to book a tee time and now see the benefits of club membership." 

Many golf clubs are struggling financially. Not Wirral though. The clubhouse concession will bring in welcome new finance. “As a golf club we can survive quite happily on our annual subscriptions but when you have to run a bar and catering and have staff standing around doing nothing when it is pouring with rain outside it clearly creates a drain on your finances,” said Mollan. “We did a lot of research before deciding to sell our bar and catering facilities and now we have a guaranteed monthly income from the concession. Every golf club in Britain will tell you that they are experts in food and catering, but they are not. We have brought in the experts and they have big plans. 

Wirral GC 2 (003)

“The club had been in decline since 2008 but we have definitely turned a corner. In 2019 we turned a hefty loss into a profit and in 2020 we turned that into a very healthy profit. We have just put together a five-year plan and anticipate being in profit throughout that period, even allowing for the fact that we have just ordered a new John Deere tractor. When your finances suffer so does the course because your greenkeepers have to work with old equipment.”

This is a progressive golf club. Mollan and his team have used lockdown as an opportunity to change the way they communicate with members. “Our captain now sends members a weekly newsletter to keep them up to date on everything that is happening,” said Mollan. “That is all now done via email and we have also established a thriving WhatsApp group which has been very popular. Everything is about digital communication now. Even our invoices go out digitally. The tone of how we communicate has also changed and is far softer. As people get more used to email the way you speak to them changes. Getting the tone right is important, and we have learnt that. 

Bailey said: “We also have a great relationship with societies. Obviously there were bookings for February and March but we have worked with them to change dates and have not had a single cancellation. Again, it has been important to engage with them properly. I am 100% more confident coming out of this lockdown than I was when we came out of the last one. I didn’t bring my staff out of furlough last time but this is different."

They have also embraced the opportunities provided by PlayMoreGolf members. 

“Last year we decided to cap the number of PlayMoreGolf members - we went from about 100 to 145 and they are a vital lifeblood for us,” said Mollan. “When PlayMoreGolf was first launched it was seen by some as the devil’s tool. I don’t think that initially people understood the marketplace it was opening up for clubs and many saw it as people getting cheap membership, taking their tee-times - all the old attitudes that have held the game back. 

"We have just signed a new contract with PlayMoreGolf and we wouldn’t have done that if we hadn’t genuinely believed it was good for the wellbeing our club. Companies such as PlayMoreGolf have a huge role to play because their marketing is so much better and so much stronger than most golf clubs can provide. They have the resources and the knowhow. 

"Advertising for new members in a local paper that nobody reads is going to achieve nothing in terms of increasing your membership. It is all about digital platforms now. PlayMoreGolf is a great tool for us to attract new members - it is almost like they are doing our marketing for us. And then it is our job when we have our PlayMoreGolf members here to convert them into full club members, and we have been very successful with that. I don’t believe that enough golf clubs have actually worked out just what the likes of PlayMoreGolf can do for them. For us, it is a no-brainer."

To read the full article by Derek Clements for Golf Shake, please click here. Or if you would like to find out more about introducing a flexible golf membership at your club, visit playmore.golf/club-partner or speak to our team of experts to arrange a no obligation membership health check so you can make sure your club is ready for when golf courses reopen later this month.

Written by Stephen Page

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