GOLF CLUB managers across the region will be pouring over the long-term weather forecasts – and with good reason.
The past 12 months has seen a combination of summer deluges followed by winter snows that have put a dampener on the number of hardy golfers getting out onto the course.
The ‘closed’ signs have gone up, even at clubs that are normally able to weather the worst of the British elements and pride themselves on being playable in all conditions. Even the well-draining links courses have fallen victim.
However the extremes of nature – with last summer being the wettest in more than a century – followed by a testing winter at a time when the water table was already high – have left officials trying to be as creative as possible to ensure footfall through the clubhouse did not disappear altogether.
Eccleston Park is just one of the clubs that tried to offer its members something different.
The Rainhill club refused to be frozen out by the snows and organised a special competition, which attracted 50 members. The event became affectionately known as ‘The Snowpen’. A course of eight short par 3 holes of 100 yards or less were devised and temporary tees and greens were cleared in the snow by the greens staff.
Head Professional Bryan Joelson-Mulhall said: “As a club, we wanted to do something fun for our members as many of them were becoming frustrated at not being able to play. It was a fantastic team effort to put the event on and it was great to see so many people enjoying themselves out on the course”.
Collette Kane, Eccleston Park’s Lady Captain, said: “There was a brilliant atmosphere about the clubhouse as people shared their stories of good and bad shots, birdies and lost balls.”
Membership and golf day manager Andy Bowen added: “We wanted to do something to attract members down to the club. It was about boosting morale as much as income and worked really well.
“There was a good atmosphere on the day and helped turn a negative situation into a positive. I think everyone enjoyed getting out on the course, even in the snow!”
Reflecting on the past 12 months, Andy said: “March and April looked quite promising, but then the summer was wetter than ever.
“It does not just affect visitor numbers. If it is wet and cold then the members do not want to play either – those who normally play a couple of times a week might only manage one game and that can make them question their membership.
“So it is important that we ensure we offer good value for membership. We are looking at offering different packages to members and visitors and we obviously try to keep the course open as much as possible.
“We have probably lost between five and ten days, but even when we are open it does not mean the conditions are nice enough for people to want to play.
“If we do not have people coming down to the club it affects different areas like green fees, the spending in the pro’s shop and the takings on the food and beverage side, while the club still has many of the day to day running costs to meet.”
The course has always attracted its fair share of society bookings, but Andy adds: “In the past societies were turning up with up to 32 players, but even they have been hit and we might only get 12-18 playing.”
Eccleston Park, part of the Crown Golf stable of clubs, does have a fallback position as a function or business meeting venue, but Andy says that in a competitive section of the market they have had to work harder at attracting bookings.
“We have put more into advertising what the club has to offer on the non-golf side, but we have also tried to put on more social events for members.”
Looking further ahead Andy believes clubs must adapt to survive, especially as it is not just the weather that can wash out takings.
“You can see more clubs struggling in the future and especially the traditional clubs which rely heavily on the footfall from golfers to generate their revenues,” he adds. “Clubs have to take a flexible approach in attracting people – we are a business at the end of the day.
“It is not just the weather that is hitting clubs. For example, the loss of a job in the family can affect a family’s finances and the decision on whether to continue as a golf club member.
“So clubs have to be a bit more focussed on the membership packages they offer. For example, we have extended our intermediate package – aimed at helping those who are at university, just getting married or starting a family – from 21 to 29 which all helps make the sport more affordable.
“But a bit of sun this summer will be more than welcome and hopefully that will help the clubs make up some of the losses in the last couple of years.”