MG’s successful Charity Open Day at West Midlands GC last month attracted a fourball from five of our contributing local societies, guys we’ve got to know well over the years. With five organisers in the room, it was a good chance to get them all together and run a little group discussion all about society life in the region. How they run their groups, what makes them decide on where to go each year, and how the golf clubs perceive and treat them these days too.
PICTURED – LEFT TO RIGHT
Lee Pollard – Napton Golf Society Leamington – established 1994 – 48 members
Phil Wing – SGA Tour Birmingham – est 1997 – 20 members
Nathan Richards – Rolls Royce PTF GS Derby – est 1993 – 53 members
Tony Rogers – Willowbrook GS Nottingham – est 2002 – 22 members
Dave Logue – Erdington STAGS Birmingham – est 2000 – 54 members
The increased club dependency on society business has resulted in more weekend availability, which some take advantage of.
PW – “We play on a Sunday monthly – March to October and we’re looking to book the dates in September each year for the year after. 20 years ago trying to book a course on a Sunday afternoon was so difficult. But most of them now realise that their members have all gone by then and they’re happy for us to tee off from about two o’clock.”
DL – “We have captains and president’s away days which we use society subs to pay for coach travel, normally book them around nine to 10 months in advance. We also go abroad every year, most we’ve had for that was 24, it can get a little messy so 24 don’t always play.”
NR – “We have a few retired members but 90% are R-R workers who book days off around their shift patterns early for the following year’s events but we’re mad as we still play two 27 hole days and two 36 hole days, mainly on Fridays.”
TR – “We won’t do that, the members are too old.”
NR – “We do offer the option of 18 Holes only for our retired members and the lads who can’t manage the full day.”
TR = “We play midweek, our lads this year wanted a change, rather than a bacon roll and morning tee off, push the tee times to lunchtime. But I found a lot of clubs that we go to didn’t want us teeing off after two o’clock, which we found a little strange.”
SGA Tour – Birmingham
Willowbrook GS – Nottingham
FEELING THE LOVE
That moved things on to the main point on the discussion, how are the clubs treating you these days. With clearly different needs for each society, and the dwindling membership problem that must make them consider the importance of group golf even more, are they being more flexible and helpful to your needs?
NR – “We hold our AGM in November and by then all of the next year’s dates and venues have to be in the diary. We have got more bartering power nowadays and it’s a numbers game, I never ever accept the first price and re-iterate to them that we’ll be bringing 28-34 golfers for a full day more often than not so it’s easier getting a good deal.”
DL – “Clubs always welcome us because even though numbers have been down a bit this year, we normally take 20 lads who are never in a rush to get off after our matches, so plenty of money goes behind the bar. This is probably one of the reasons we keep getting asked back to courses and will go out of their way to look after us or offer a deal.”
PW – “We booked Ladbrook Park for our Open Championship this year, which is a full day out. It’s always on a new course for us but until this year we’ve never been able to book Ladbrook on a Sunday. It turned out to be one of the best days we’ve ever had. The captain came over to introduce himself personally; the members were great as well. You wouldn’t have got that a few years ago.”
DL – “It’s interesting the amount of members who come up to us and ask what we think of the course etc, which happens way more these days than it ever did.”
NR – “I think club members realise now that potentially it’s societies that are keeping their fees down, as membership drops we’re seen as less of a nuisance and they are far more accepting of us all as a result.”
PAY DAY GROANS
That part of the chat was encouraging, a clear indication that clubs are recognising the need to look after societies, realising the importance of the income and potential repeat business. Yet there are still some grey areas that might need improving on.
LP – “Some clubs still insist on us paying upfront before confirming the booking, if that’s the case we turn around now and go somewhere else. No matter how many members you have going you can never guarantee you’ll get them all going on the day for one reason or another.”
NR – “ 10 or 12 years ago you wouldn’t have had that choice, it was book up, pay up and hope for the best, but people get ill and unfortunately, we lost their money when that happened.”
TR – “In 16 years I’ve only ever had one golf club with a problem and insisting on full payment when we’ve had people pulling out the night before. We don’t mind the catering, we understand that but it’s different for a green fee, paying for that when someone can’t make it, they didn’t want to be ill.”
Rolls Royce PTF GS – Derby
Erdington STAGS – Birmingham
LP – “Exactly, we’ve got a list of six to eight clubs in our area we won’t go to now.”
NR – “It does frustrate me a little when a club wants over £100 as a deposit, any more than that is a deal-breaker.”
LP – “We had a club ask us for £200, we sent them £100 – heard nothing more about it and the day went ahead ok. If they had insisted, we wouldn’t have gone.”
PW – “No more than £100, some ask for £50 – that’s fine, they want the commitment but they want your business too.”
TR – “The places we repeat, there’s three I can think of who know we’re reliable and we’re coming so they don’t ask for a deposit anymore.”
Napton Golf Society – Leamington
REPEAT OR NEW
NR – “ Our new captain each year gets to pick a new venue that we’ve not previously visited, and the rest we don’t go back to in a five or six-year period, unless the weathers been bad and its took the shine off a course, so we’ll revisit that one much sooner.”
TR – “ The only repeats we do is when we know that for the time of year the condition of the course is going to be brilliant, sand-based ones that do us a good deal in autumn and winter.”
DL – “We try to play at least 6 new courses over a season, we do tend to have a few favourites which we return to but not every season, we mix it around a bit, these course are mostly ones that have looked after us or their courses are always in top condition when we play. The only match fixed is we always play our 4 club challenge at Boldmere.”
DRESS CODE – WE GET IT
NR – “The old jacket and tie formality for dinner would be an issue to us if that was still implemented at any club, we all shower and dress smartly after golf in any case.”
LP – “It does work both ways, we had some members turn up for an after round clubhouse meal on an away weekend in shorts which we felt wasn’t appropriate. So we’ve insisted on full-length trousers and collared tops, just to show respect for where we are.”
TRUST US ON COURSE CONDITIONS
TR – “I fell out with one club when we weren’t informed what was going on with the course. We turned up, started playing and found that all the bunkers were out and six temporary greens were in use. It was October and you half expect it, but be honest, tell us beforehand, let us make the choice. We appreciate that all the more.”
DL – “We don’t expect perfect conditions every time living in England, but we’ll be loyal to the clubs who take the time and consideration to warn us beforehand if the course isn’t 100% right.”
On occasions, our groups have experienced some member vs society conflict over allotted tee times, a very avoidable situation.
LP – “One of the problems, just on a few occasions we’ve found that the pro and the management, especially at hotel based venues don’t communicate too well and it makes problems for groups and members at tee times. Sometimes it feels like profit over pleasure and that often results in us not returning.”
A GRAND TIME
A quick sum up to finish what was generally a positive conversation and Lee started this by explaining it all in the simplest of terms.
LP – “We call ourselves the £1,000 society – because on a Tuesday we’re going somewhere and giving them £1,000, playing in the afternoon on a near-empty course where the members have already played. Then later we’re spending extra eating and drinking in a quiet clubhouse. If they want it, we’ll go and spend it, if not we’ll find somewhere else that does.”
TR – “Clubs need to be flexible to be able to accommodate us, every society has different needs.”
LP – “They need to keep taking us seriously, 30 years for us, over 100 years of experience around this table, we know what we’re doing, how to behave, and we know what’s good and what isn’t so good at a golf club.”
NR – “A good thing is that I’ve never been asked to provide handicap certificates anywhere, we do have 28 handicappers but at the end of the day we’re all golfers who know what we’re doing on a course and how to respect it.”
DL – “Our society name is quite well known now, and people always recognize us by our pink shirts, so even if we do travel to a new course we never have any problems with having to pay big deposits to book up. We are always respectful with our attire and always keep to club rules, we have never had to reprimand any of our members and we have never been reprimanded by any club. I think this always helps with getting asked back to clubs.”
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