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Feature Interview - Colin Mayes, CEO BGL

By: Golf Shake | Fri 31 Jul 2015 | Comments


We recently caught up with Colin Mayes, CEO at Burhill Golf Limited, a golf course operator who has seen revenue beat inflation in the past few years bucking the trend in the UK Golf Industry. Here is our interview on how BGL have achieved such impressive results and the state of the UK golf course industry. 

Hi Colin, can you explain exactly what Burhill Golf Limted is? 

BGL is made up of 10 golf courses of which three are private members courses with the flagship being Burhill Golf ClubColin Mayes. The seven other clubs including Hoebridge Golf Centre, Birchwood Park Golf Centre and Ramsdale Park Golf Centre are all big pay and play centres and while we offer membership the main core of the business is via the pay & play, driving ranges and Par 3 courses that we operate. 

In the rest of the group we have Burhill estates which includes Chichester Marina. There are also two health clubs attached to the golf businesses with a third coming soon at Birchwood which is undergoing a £4.5 million expansion.

Do you think operating both members and pay and play courses give you a unique perspective on the industry and in fact gives you an advantage?

We are unique in as much as we offer a couple of high end  membership clubs, so we do understand that model, but also the biggest proportion of our customer base is the pay and play customer, so we do service both markets and work very hard to raise our game in both of those areas. I feel we are a pretty good barometer of what is going on in golf at the moment.

There has been a lot of negativity over the past couple of years about falling memberships and less rounds being played. BGL have bucked that trend. How have you done that?

There are two things, we are very focused on retaining membership and in some cases it can be difficult, particularly when you have a pay and play business together with a membership because they both want different things.

The core thing to retaining members is offering good facilities first of all. the golf course is the bedrock of our business and offering a quality golf course against our local competitors is fundamentally important, so we have a great reputation with our courses being regarded as one if not the best for that category in their price point in their area. 

It is then a case of getting the service aspects correct. Food and beverage is becoming increasingly important to the BGL business overall. Every year we have increased food and beverage as a percentage of our sales mix. We have now become a food and beverage destination. Not just for golfers, but for non golfers as well and that is important.

Encouraging youngsters and more families into the game has been a big success for BGL. That along with managing the data, a lot of golf courses in the past have been lackadaisical in not collecting data and understanding who their customers are. We spend quite a lot of time, energy and money in managing that process.

That is one of things I think the golf industry is not good at and needs to improve.

You picked up on two points that we believe in at Golfshake and relates to the fact that times have changed with fathers spending a lot more time with their family than they maybe used to say 20-30 years ago. You mentioned that you are now a food and beverage destination for non-golfers and encourage families. Is this is something you guys are keen to implement?

Yes, we are more than keen to implement and are actively encourage all age groups. In the past Golf clubs have been a sanctuary for the middle class, upper age groups. 40+ and in many golf clubs 55+. We are actively trying to broaden the ages out our clubs. Saying that there is nothing wrong with having older golfers and this is one of the real positive things that the industry does not get across. If you look at all the sporting activity available in life today, how many 70/80 year olds can have a competitive game of sport, other than a golfer?

We don't raise that as a positive enough in my opinion.

What we have to be careful of is making sure that the older age group does not limit the younger ones coming in. That is one area that we at BGL have been successful at. All of our clubs have a good proportion of elderly people playing, but also the rest of the age groups are encouraged to come through as well.

Yes, I understand that you are very aware if you see an age group start to decrease, you then actively target that group to keep the balance of you clubs in a good place? 

We do, it is not easy, one of the most important things we do is to target the family. The route to getting the younger ones in is to target the family, because the female partner plays a huge part in the decision making process of the family. If we can engage with the whole of the family you have four chances at revenue rather than just one. That has to be good for golf.

In fact where we have implemented more children's activities we have seen the benefits extend through the clubhouse in food and beverage and through the driving range and into our junior learn to play golf programs. There is no coincidence there and that helps improve revenue.

I think that everyone of your centres apart from Burhill has a short course. How important to you feel short courses are to your business and how does this help introduce golfers to the game?

We get a lot of golfers coming to try a Par 3 course, they may or may not have been to a golf course, but messing around on a Par 3, youngsters and teenagers do it, a seasoned golfer may even just bring a friend. It is a great introduction to the game. We allow anyone on the course, we don't ask for handicaps or anything like that. I think Par 3 golf is a really important aspect to growing the game. You can get round in 1 hour or so. It is a great introduction.

So with all that in mind do you see an opportunity for golf especially with all the negativity surrounding the sport?

I see an opportunity. The industry has to start being positive about the game. There is a lot of negativity and the industry is to blame for that. Yes, the participation numbers have dropped although they have now stabilised. The governing bodies are working hard on initiatives to grow the game. I certainly think we, as an industry have reached the bottom and I think with the right attention to detail and if  the course and clubhouse offering are right with good service from staff most golf clubs will see growth. So I think we can be reasonably optimistic.

A major talking point over the past 10-15 years has been green fee deals, 2-4-1 originally and more recently online sites. Do you see these sales mechanisms as simply market forces at play or does the industry hurt itself by engaging in this?

No, I see this simply as market forces at play. I have believed for some time that the UK fundamentally has too many courses for the amount of customers that want to play golf. There are quite a number of courses closing at the moment. That is simply market forces at play. Whenever you have an oversupply of product, prices will come under pressure.

Saying that,  courses must be consistent with their product and decide where their price point is. We do offer 2-4-1, but it is when the course is at it's quietest. There will always be people willing to pay a reasonable price for good quality golf.

In a recent survey here on Golfshake of over 4000 people only 30% of people said the visit the club house afterwards. Now you have touched on the importance of food and beverage. How big an opportunity is it for golf to better utilise the club house?

No doubt it is a big opportunity, because one of things that the UK population view to be a safe location is a golf club, nothing drastic is going to happen to you and invariably they are in nice locations, so we try and play on that fact.

Coupled with that is making absolutely sure that the offer is right. Most people now will not put up with a poor cup of coffee. We use Lavazza coffee at BGL. We could use a cheaper coffee, but we would not have as good a product. Customers appreciate small details. In fact there are way too many golf clubs in the country that offer a poor cup of coffee.

I think we, in the industry need to be very aware of who our customers are and what they want. The way that consumers drink and choose their coffee is an example of golf not doing that.

Learn why BGL are expanding the amount of Adventure Golf Courses at their sites and why Colin believes they are important to growing the game in part 2 of our interview - Click here

To learn more about BGL and it's group of golf courses please viist their website - Click Here 
 


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