Q&A with Simon Wordsworth

CEO, 59club

Simon Wordsworth has a vast perspective of the golf, leisure and spa Industry gathered from an extensive career with 14 years at The Belfry including two Ryder Cups and countless tour events. Thirteen more years spent as CEO of Event management business, “The Aspiration Group,” and for the past 12 years CEO of 59club. 59club provides detailed customer views on golf, leisure, spa & hospitality operations through revolutionary benchmarking tools within their mystery shopper audits and customer satisfaction surveys.

Q&Q with Simon Wordsworth, CEO, 59club

The Wordsworth Story

I came into the golf industry by accident. With my O levels and A levels complete, I was heading to university for either accountancy or estate management — till this day I still don’t know where estate management came from. Was 18 and junior captain, the club decided a change in professional was due and employed a new pro, Paul Shepherd, from Lancashire. He needed a little help over the first few months as he organised the move, our chairman rang me up and said, “do you want a part time job before going to university?” I said — yes — and all of a sudden was in the world of golf working at a little private club in deepest darkest South Yorkshire. I very quickly decided it was for me – working with people in their “leisure time” is the best employment advice I could give anyone.

You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?

I get a real buzz out of changing things for the better, either in my business or someone else’s. Not the big strategic thinking part but all the little pieces that make that big thing actually happen. The detail bores some people, I’m the opposite, the details excite me.

Q&Q with Simon Wordsworth, CEO, 59club
Gold Flag Member 2019: Saadiyat Beach Golf Club

How did you arrive at your company name — 59club — and how does it make a material difference in the services provided to clients?

59 is the ultimate score in golf — the holy grail if you like. Something most of us can only ever dream of achieving – that’s what 59club is about. Striving to achieve the ultimate. The “club” part is just a group of like-minded people. That’s where we set our standards and we never stand still. We are always enhancing the offerings to our clients pushing the boundaries to achieve service excellence.

What lessons did the golf course sector of the industry learn following The Great Recession in ’07-’09?

The good  learned very quickly they had to get better, offer clients more to compete for their hard earned pound, and the 5 hours of their time. Instead of reducing fees, they simply added value and worked hard to upsell and impress the customers they did have .As a result of those actions these clubs are thriving. It’s no surprise many of the leading clubs have embarked on the same journey with us to advance service across their offering. They set the tone for what golf should be — sadly others who have not invested in service experience are left behind fighting for survival.

Is golf still relevant for a younger generation whose lifestyle is based on brevity and often times cramped calendars?

It’s our job to make it relevant! My personal view is that golf will be played by kids, dropped by the youth, pottered around with in the early parenting years and picked back up in the late 30’s early 40’s. Therefore golf’s place in the younger generation will be social gatherings, technology related and a max of 2-3 hours from leaving the door to getting home. Does that mean “Topgolf”, yes, but does it mean other variants — yes. Does it mean golf has to change? Absolutely. On the other side, golf teaches wonderful life skills that the mobile phone doesn’t develop in those formative years. Where else can you compete alongside the elite, mix with other generations in a safe environment and have exercise. 

Customer service is routinely touted by many throughout the golf industry. Define the term.

Its about people being themselves, not being false and artificial. Its about interaction, its about enjoying their work. Customer service has always been about exceeding customers’ expectations, so that the experience they receive far outweighs any associated costs. It’s not a new philosophy, but it is something that many managers still struggle with. Consistency is one of the hardest elements to maintain in the service environment, as is keeping ahead of the competition. The managers who seek feedback from customers and measure experience in order to advance are those that stand to win in the end, whereas those who chose to do nothing to advance their service levels are destined to fail.

Q&Q with Simon Wordsworth, CEO, 59club
Gold Flag Resort 2019: Gleneagles Golf Resort – Kings Course

On a scale of 1-10 with 10 the highest — how well do golf clubs / courses really listen to what their customers are saying and what key improvements should they be doing to score higher?

That’s an interesting question, and one that splits the industry. The best clubs would score 10 out of 10 every time for actively engaging with their customers using measurement tools to deal with the data. On the other end of the spectrum there are venues fearful of asking customers opinions, afraid or even ashamed of what that may lead to. This is what divides the industry, where the best clubs out there are working to enhance each element of their customer journey. They measure it — perfect keep pushing on.

They celebrate staff successes and counteract weaknesses with tried and tested routes to achieve excellence. What they never do it bury their head in the sand. One client during an interview at St Andrew after collecting a number of awards openly said that there was a time that they thought they offered a good membership experience, but in fact, on closer inspection, it was actually quite poor – at that moment they had a choice, to ignore the issues or to advance. That club has gone on to win award after award and their service standards across the entire operation are amongst the best in the industry. Imagine if they hadn’t embarked on this journey with us? As the manager openly and honestly voiced “they’d be left behind”.

Q&Q with Simon Wordsworth, CEO, 59club
Gold Flag Resort 2019: The Grove

You’ve been on the front lines in handling activities for clubs and enhancing the club experience — what are the elements you notice when going to a new club or resort that provides golf?

It’s always the staff. Everything at a club begins and ends with the staff. A smile, a courteous hello, and that feeling you’re not just another number in the mix – but genuinely delighted to welcome you. This service culture is infectious – its welcoming to visitors and inspirational to members and guests and creates an environment that people want to be part of. Sometimes I am horrified with how staff behave. Another bit of advice that I had in the early days, and still to this day I stick by what I was told. “If they don’t smile, don’t employ them, no matter what their credentials look like.”

Q&Q with Simon Wordsworth, CEO, 59club
My59 Service Excellence 2018: Stoke Park

If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?

Make every membership come with a 100% money back service guarantee. Sure it’s a bold move, but imagine the uplift in service and the difference that would make in attracting more members back to or into the sport. And secondly – no dress code, no dress code and no dress code – come to the club and be yourself

The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract new players. This is especially so with Millennials, women and minorities. If you were counselling them what do you suggest they should be doing to accomplish that objective?

Golf is unique, one of the few sports we can do till we are 80 or so. It is one of the best business networking tools in the hospitality sector and can contribute to health and wellbeing significantly. Target the 35-40 year old professional just as much as you are targeting the young. Sell the benefits of the game to them, their employer. Create partnerships with large employers using the local clubs to their offices as the conduit. Going hand in hand with that is the service levels in those clubs – make them welcoming, make them open – make them nice places to be. That’s not just the job of the governing bodies.

Q&Q with Simon Wordsworth, CEO, 59club
The Ultimate Members’ Club: Emirates Golf Club

Best advice received — what was it and who from?

“Vision without action is just a day dream” from Gregg Patterson. There are lots of bits of advice I have listened to over the years, but Gregg sums it up perfectly for me.

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For more info go to: www.59club.com