Past, present, future blog – Chris Spencer, Dunblane New Golf Club
The Past, Present and Future blog looks at what life was like before, during and after Coronavirus. It considers what marketing and communication strategies people are deploying, how businesses are reacting to the current situation and what they plan to do after the lockdown. The Word Association, an established PR and marketing agency based close to St Andrews in Fife, interviews leading lights in golf, tourism and hospitality about these challenging times.
This week’s interview is with Chris Spencer, well-known to many in the Scottish golf industry. Chris recently took up the reigns at Dunblane New Golf Club but previously held managerial posts at Glasgow, North Berwick and Clitheroe golf clubs.
Chris Spencer, Dunblane New Golf Club, 27/04/20, 2:15pm
Past – Talk me through what turned out to be an eventful start of the year.
“I started as club manager at Dunblane on the 20th January and walked straight into a clubhouse closure as the building was being completely rewired. This meant that in the morning, I would work from the professional shop so I could introduce myself to the members and then spend the afternoon working from home. The clubhouse finally opened during the first week of March and I only had two weeks of the members, the caterer and the staff being around before we went into lockdown. In the space of 14 weeks, I had a club fully functional for fourteen days. By the time we get back, I’ll have to re-introduce myself to the members. It’s been quite a unique experience!”
Past – What were your expectations for 2020?
“Like everybody, we were looking forward to the year ahead. The club had invested a significant sum in the rewiring of the clubhouse. The bookings were coming in as were membership enquiries. There was a good feel about the place. The club had a good year in 2019, so there was a positive frame of mind to get out there to look after people and have the course in good condition and give everyone a good experience. There was a number of reasons to feel positive about 2020.”
Past – The club had invested and was looking forward to the new season then.
“Yes, but the biggest change the members would have seen when we reopened was the new caterer, who is locally based.”
Present – How have you and your team been coping with the lockdown?
“Dunblane runs on a really tight team anyway. We’ve currently got six staff on furlough but I’m in regular communication with them either via email or Whatsapp just to give them reassurance about what’s going on and the amount of work going on by myself, my assistant and the board.”
Present – How has this influenced your communication?
“With regard to member communication, the captain and the chairman have a small disaster recovery team who have been working on the communication and managing the club’s response to the pandemic with the members being updated on a weekly basis. Every club is different and different clubs’ members expect different levels of detail. From the time I’ve been at Dunblane, the members expect a lot of detail, so our emails have been quite detailed about what the board has been doing and the financial forecasting so they understand that the board has been giving due consideration to the survival of the club at this time.”
Present – And how about your communication to the wider world?
“We’ve been using a bit of social media; a bit of Instagram and Facebook to show some images, especially recently of the course and the work Wes and George have been doing to keep on top of the maintenance. When we get the call to reopen, we will need a week or 10 days to get the course absolutely pristine and ready for that first ball to be struck. We normally run with a head greenkeeper and a deputy plus four others, but two greenkeepers left in March for pastures new. We came to an arrangement with one of them and his new employer that we would furlough him, which is the right thing to do. We’re currently running with four greenkeepers, two of whom we have furloughed and would look to bring back when we anticipate the course being opened. At that point, it will be all hands on deck to get the new sand in the bunkers raked etc. We will need volunteers. I’ll be out raking the bunkers and cutting grass by hand. It’s about everybody playing their part, including board members and long-standing members, to have their course ready.”
Present – What are your thoughts about opening up golf courses during the lockdown?
“Speaking to other colleagues, there is a desire to help with people’s health and well-being, but we’ve got to stop this pandemic spreading. The government can’t give into the pressure being brought upon them by a number of industries because if we get a second wave, it could be even worse and we’ll be in lockdown for a longer. I don’t envy the government in striking the right balance, but I do think you could make an argument for golf, tennis and bowls being allowed to restart their operations. Looking at what’s happened in Denmark where a club manager there said he was overrun with bookings when they decided to play, there is definitely a desire to play golf. I haven’t played golf for six weeks and I am desperate for a game. I think there will be a lot of club members who will play three or four days on the bounce because they haven’t had a chance to play for six weeks.”
Present – Is there a potential for golf clubs to benefit from that surge?
“There will be a build-up in demand. I think the proprietary courses will have a different view to it than the private members clubs. They will, by their very nature, be looking to welcome as many people as possible. At private members clubs, there will be the need to make sure the members have first access to the course as many will have continued paying their subscriptions. It will be a thank you, if you like, from the committee or the board for their continued support over this time. Dunblane is very fortunate because a large percentage of the membership has continued to support the club. In terms of benefits, there could be some additional membership enquiries.”
Future – Do you think the club will change the way it operates in the future?
“I don’t think we’ll return to a pre-pandemic normal. I think there will still be some social distancing measures that might impact on tee-time allocations, such as 10-minute allocations rather than your normal seven and eight-minute slots. We might not be allowed four-balls. We might only be allowed twos or threes which would have an impact on club competitions and bookings in general. Having only seen the club up and running for a fortnight, I don’t think we will be looking to change the way we do things purely because the way the club operates – it’s already very lean and focussed.”
Future – Do you envisage any changes to your marketing?
“I can see us doing far more digital marketing, for instance using Facebook to target our offers to specific groups of golfers. We’re fortunate that we have a function room, so we have another stream of income through parties and I think there will be a desire from those who have had birthdays during the lockdown to let their hair down. There will be changes in the way we tell people about the experience at Dunblane and we will look to rationalise our green fees and deals we do for larger groups. Also, a lot has been made of mental well-being and consideration for others during this and I can see clubs having to think a lot more about their members, how they treat them, how they welcome them and the quality of the service they provide. They’ll also have to think about the quality of their communication so that the members feel part of a golf club community and that is seen as a real benefit.”
Future – Does the shutdown present an opportunity for Scotland to reassess its golf offering?
“There are a lot of clubs at the very top who will survive because they have good reserves and will be looking forward to the restrictions to international flights being lifted, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that takes longer than people think. A lot of golf clubs will be reviewing their operations and the service they provide. Some might diversify into other areas so that if something like this should happen again, they are in a more resilient position. One of our strengths in Scotland and also one of our weaknesses is that every golf club is very different. Each club has to think about its USPs and its values and build that into a plan for the next year or 18 months.”
– Ends –
The course at Dunblane New Golf Club is located in the centre of the cathedral City of Dunblane in one of the most picturesque areas of Perthshire. It was originally laid out by Major Cecil Hutchison with help from James Braid with The London Times describing the new course as “one of the most beautiful parks imaginable”.
For more information, see http://www.dngc.co.uk/Home.aspx
This interview-based blog pickS the minds of some of the leading voices in golf, tourism, food and drink, travel and journalism. If you have found it interesting, please Like, Follow and Share. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the blog or would like to talk to someone about PR, marketing and communications, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out the previous Past Present Future blogs –
David Roy – Crail Golfing Society
Stephen Walker – The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh
For more information, see https://www.thewordassociation.biz/