Given that Scotland has lost more than 10,000 registered golfers in the past two years, you could be forgiven for thinking the membership situation in the home of golf is all doom and gloom.
That isn’t entirely the case though as, across the nation, a number of clubs are working hard to arrest the widespread decline. One of those is the 36-hole Newmachar Golf Club in Aberdeenshire, one of the largest membership clubs in Scotland.
Eighteen months ago, the club’s membership was dwindling. With 120 full members short of where it needed to be, the club was losing money at a rate where ‘For Sale’ signs were close to being put up.
However, a complete revamp of its business structure upon the arrival of Operations Director Mike Timson has seen an increase in membership from less than 1,200 to 1,420, including the TREBLING of its junior membership from 35 to more than 100. What’s more, all this has been done while increasing its membership fees by 10%.
Newmachar achieved such gains in its junior membership as a result of more than 400 children visiting the club in 2018 as part of an inter-school golf programme that the club devised, which combines golf skills with subjects in the school curriculum.
The Junior Golf Coordinator, employed by the club full-time, goes into 16 local schools to take lessons for the P5 and P6 students, only for the kids to come to the golf club as part of a field trip, where they receive lessons from a PGA Development Professional, whose role is predominantly geared towards lessons for juniors and beginners.
“Back in 2017, we didn’t have a relationship with the schools at all,” says Timson. “All the club offered was ClubGolf through Scottish Golf on a Wednesday night. Volunteers ran that and it would be either on or not depending on how busy the volunteers were. So we structured a plan that built these links with the community.
“Now, we’re making club and school handicaps for Newmachar, giving them league tables and in 2019, we’re going to be running inter-school and after-school competitions back at the club. We have an app that tracks the kids’ progress as well so the parents can see how they’re developing.
“These parents – some of whom would never have considered playing golf – are coming to the club too, watching their kids and even taking the sport up themselves, so it’s having a huge knock-on effect.
"It costs us £40,000 to go into these schools and the return we’re getting is somewhere between £80,000 and £90,000. It’s fantastic.”
Not all golf clubs in Scotland are blessed with the membership numbers and perhaps the finances as Newmachar, though, and the advice Timson has for clubs in where to invest their cash in order to get maximum kick-back is simple.
“Invest in a good PGA pro,” adds Timson, who has two PGA professionals in addition to the PGA Development Professional. “I can’t stress how important that has been for us. I’ve done a lot of work with England Golf in the past and the clubs that don’t have a PGA pro or have an under performing PGA pro are ones that are struggling.
“Because it’s our PGA pros that have helped grow our business through our Academy. We’re dictating our own business as opposed to waiting for it to come through the gate.
“We’re creating a buzz about the place again because all of the staff are happy and the pros are driving business. The biggest thing for golf club committees is that they need to be striving towards one goal and that’s what we’re doing here, we’re working as a team.”
The transformation of the club isn’t complete yet. The next step in Newmachar’s business plan is the construction of a 24-bay driving range and indoor golf centre with Trackman, with the addition of a gym, helping the club to achieve its aim of becoming a family-friendly facility and steering itself away from the private members club it once was.