Do we really still need club professionals?

The Scoop

Guest columnist Susan McKenzie argues why removing the role of the club professional isn't the answer to saving our golf clubs

Stumbling around the fairways on a freezing December evening might not be everybody’s idea of fun, but night golf is one of the many ways that clubs are trying to bring in some much-needed money during the long winter months.

It’s brilliant that clubs are coming up with different ideas to encourage new members, keep the existing ones happy, and ultimately, cope with ever-increasing financial pressures.

From introducing new concepts like GolfSixes, to rethinking membership schemes or even scrapping fees for juniors, it’s clear that many clubs recognise the pressing need to innovate if they want to survive and grow.

One topic that’s getting increasing attention in the UK is the role of the golf club professional. For most of us amateurs, the club pro is an integral part of our golfing life. They are the person you turn to when the snap hooks sneak in just before the monthly medal or whenever you have a golfing emergency.

But with memberships in decline and costs rising, it’s not surprising that clubs have to look at how they can decrease their spending.

Some clubs are contemplating whether it would be more cost effective to do without a full time PGA professional and staff the shop themselves. That would free them from the burden of a yearly retainer and allow them to directly benefit from green fees, buggy hires, logoed clothing, and high-margin food and drinks.

However, the immediate benefit to the bottom line doesn’t take into account the overall impact of losing an experienced professional, in terms of coaching, marketing and club management skills.

I asked Joe Kelly, Business Relationship Officer at the PGA, about this very issue.

He insisted that PGA pros are often hugely undervalued. He also added that many clubs can be too focused on cutting costs, rather than tailoring their product to what the customer actually wants.

He pointed out that in his experience, the clubs that work with the pro to define what the customer wants and find ways to meet those expectations are now reaping the financial rewards.

He argued: “Removing the head professional only results in reduced customer service. How can clubs expect to improve income when they’re ultimately providing less for the customer?”

But customer satisfaction is not always the first priority for golf club committees.

One professional told me that while a mutually beneficial relationship between the club and the pro can act as a catalyst for growth, most clubs are hesitant to any change until it’s forced upon them.

He said: “By that time, there’s not many options left. I think in the future this could mean reconsidering the need for a full time club professional”

However, many clubs are trying to evolve, targeting the growth market of women and juniors and changing formats to cater for the golfer who has little free time. Their success depends on whether they are open to change (archaic dress code rules anyone?) and whether they will tackle any issues in the way that juniors and women are treated in the club.

Sitting in the club bar defrosting after six holes of night golf, I listened to men and women of various ages trying to figure out why they putted better when they could barely see the hole. The sheer love of the game will keep this lot coming back for more – even in the dark. How bright the future can be for clubs like this hinges on having the confidence to change.

Susan McKenzie is a member at South Herts Golf Club.

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