Centurion Club marches against the tide
Membership at golf clubs in England are 20% down on the
2006 figures. What an amazing statistic! It is not that there
are fewer players – it is just that there are fewer members. It
is obvious, then, that a large number of golfers are finding
that the membership products available no longer meet their
requirements. Easy enough up until now.
So what is a golf club to do? Well, at its most basic, it has to give
golfers what they want. I think the main difference nowadays is that
people have so much more choice in their leisure activities that time is
at an all-time premium. The world has become a smaller place and
available activities are greater and more varied. Exotic pursuits and
home-based leisure distractions alike have now become genuine competition
to golf. It used to be other sports but it is now a much wider
list of choices.
In giving broader options to players clubs will have to have more
products and a more flexible membership structure than before. The
fee and annual
subs model will
not entirely disappear
but more flexible
need to be on
offer – and indeed
already are at forward-
clubs up and down
the country. In
short, more golf
clubs will have to
have a ‘looser’ relationship
players rather than
the very tight one
between a club and
its core members.
Clubs will continue
to try to
attract green fee paying visitors during quiet times and fill the starting
sheet efficiently. Usually, this will mean there will be more rounds
played on a course and these rounds will, on average, be cheaper than
they currently are.
There are many implications to all of this – not least the pressures
on course maintenance as more rounds are played. I also think that
there is going to be a slightly counter-intuitive reaction, too. There are
many golfers who enjoy the privilege and privacy that membership to
a golf club has traditionally given. As other clubs race for the commercial
solutions, I believe that the clubs that continue to offer such a
model will prosper. It will not be cheap; the economics do not allow it
to be. It is also true that standards at clubs will have to rise because
there will be competition to attract the traditional market.
When we all had our heads in our hands post 2008 it seemed that
we would never see the need for new courses of merit to be built in
the UK. We had over-supply, we were told. Well, of course, there was a
huge amount of common sense applied by those who issued such
warnings but there is always room for quality. I recently paid a visit to
the Centurion Club, a fabulous new course just outside the M25 in
Hertfordshire, and had it proved to me that it was still possible to do
things properly and to reach for excellence.
The course and project is the brainchild of Scott Evans, a Scottish
professional golfer who has worked throughout the world in golf operations
and at some of the most prestigious venues on the planet. He
has seen it all, or at least most of it, and he has as strong a grip on the
realities of the golf market as anyone I have met.
The Centurion Club is located just off the M1 near St Albans, easily
accessible and within close proximity to a huge population – vital to
any venture pitching at this end of the market. The course is open for
play and it is quite spectacular. It compares with the best new courses
anywhere in the world. It is jointly designed by Simon Gidman, a former
President of the Europe Institute of Golf Course Architects, and
Evans himself. It has been done properly. 30,000 trees have been
planted, gorse woven in, too, and the natural woodland present on site
has been blended skilfully into the course. The result is stunning.
It appeals to the top end of the game, of course. But this end
exists – indeed prospers when well executed – and will continue to
prosper. Just as there will always be those who want a Ferrari, or a
holiday in the Bahamas, or a home in Knightsbridge, there will always
be those who want the very best and the most private experience at
their golf club. The race for commercial survival at other clubs will
make the elite ever more attractive.
Rory McIlroy is back in the news. After a very poor 2013, he is now
making news because he is competing well for titles – so that is a real
positive. I have the feeling that he will do well in 2014. He will never
be endlessly consistent, that is not his way, but if his form coincides
with the right event then it could be a great year.
He is one of those who attracts publicity, though. In Abu Dhabi it
was his criticism of “golf’s stupid rules”. Last year it was his personal
relationships. He does tend to fuel some of these stories a little by his
candid responses. I, for one, do not mind at all. Rather we have someone
of interest giving candid views then the tight-lipped functional
response of so many – Tiger Woods being the ultimate example.
As always, though, isn’t it great to get immersed in the start of a
new season? The anticipation is there both for your own game but
also as an observer of the elite game. Is Tiger on the wane? Is Rory
going to come back at the big events?
There seem to be so many good young players like Jordan Spieth,
Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher, Matteo Manassero and others
who might break through, or will the experience of Adam Scott, Justin
Rose, Phil Mickelson and/or Sergio Garcia peak in 2014?
Personally, I cannot wait, but I have the feeling that it might be a
young man’s year. I think that, very quietly, it is becoming a young
man’s game. It is more physical than before and the youngsters come
into the game better professionals than before, and consequently have
so much early success. I would not bet against Woods having a bit of a
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine