Past, present, future blog – David Scott, Dumbarnie Links
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 David Scott, general manager at the eagerly awaited Dumbarnie Links in Fife – the hottest ticket in town. But how has the lockdown affected plans for its grand opening?
David Scott, Dumbarnie Links, 04/05/20, 2:30pm
Past – Can you cast your mind back to the start of the year and how you were viewing 2020?
“At the start of the year, the first thing I was thinking about was the product, the second was delivering it and the third was the customer. In particular, how we were going to attract the customer and what we were doing from a marketing standpoint. We were looking at our marketing to tour operators and also our interaction with the media.”
Past – What was the feeling in the camp as you prepared for the launch?
“As the weeks went on, everybody at Dumbarnie was growing in optimism because of the reports we were receiving from the media and, more importantly to us, from the tour operators because the big numbers would be driven by them. My job often involved showing tour operators around the property, chatting to them about the construction, the design, the width of the fairways, the golfers’ experience etc. I already knew many of them so there were no barriers for me to sell myself. They knew who they were speaking to and they understood my knowledge of golf in this area, especially links golf. Many of them had heard a lot of positive comments about the course, but our view was to let the course do the talking.”
Past – It sounds like the ideal start.
“I enjoyed showing the tour operators around at the start of the year and the feedback I got was unanimous – they were very excited about bringing their guests here. They believed the product was ready for a high-end golf experience and would fit in nicely with a quality itinerary.”
Past – It’s easy to understand your optimism.
“With the tour operators’ feedback, I was excited about the prospect of opening up on the 16th May. We had a full tee sheet with a mixture of Scottish golfers and tour operators. Everything was coming together. The clubhouse was on schedule and we were looking to get the keys at the start of May to get our offices set up, get the shop fitted out and the beverage areas ready for the first day of business. It was all looking good, and then Covid 19 came along.”
Present – A lot of business have cut their operations, but that hasn’t been the case at Dumbarnie. You’ve been working flat out.
“I have because there is so much to do. We also have an office manager who is working flat out because there are so many enquiries, which is a double-edged sword. One side is people phoning up to swap tee times or asking about our refund policy, and the other is positive enquiries from Scottish people desperate to play golf who have heard about us online or in magazines. People are at home and they can’t get enough information. We’re getting a great deal of enquiries from the Scottish market so we know when we open, a high percentage of our turnover will come from Scottish residents.”
Present – Have you furloughed anyone during the shutdown?
“We only had a few senior members of staff: myself, the office manager and 13 on the greenkeeping team. We are completely different from all the other golf courses in Scotland in that there are many things still to be done on the course. All the other courses are established; they have all their boundary and hazard markers out and they have all their pathways cut. Originally we were just looking at playing surfaces such as fairways, tees and greens. The walkways between the greens and tees weren’t really developed, so we’ve been working hard to get the entire course in good order. The playing surfaces still require careful nurturing as the grass is still very young so it is important to monitor them daily and water when required. The actual ideal number of greenkeepers is 16 for the size of this property – 345 acres – there is a great deal to do outwith the fairways, greens and tees. We were down to 13 and then two of our workforce asked to be furloughed because of health reasons. It made sense, so we furloughed two, which meant the greenkeeping team was down to 11.”
Present – What special measures have you introduced during lockdown?
“When the social distancing became mandatory, we reduced our greenkeeping staff to five hours a day – they come in at 7am and finish at midday. There is also staggering on arrival so there is no chance of any cross-contamination or social interaction. It is 100% safe. It gives them the opportunity to work 25 hours a week instead of 40. At the end of every shift, whatever equipment they’ve been using is washed down and thoroughly cleaned. Twenty five hours was less than we had planned, but that was the hand we were dealt and we had to make the most of it.”
Present – What are your plans for opening?
“We are still hopeful to open, but it is dependent on the government allowing golf to happen. We have a number of big Scottish groups booked in who have been in touch to say they’d heard rumours that golf might be restricted to two-balls and if that was the case, they would still want to play and do we have eight tee times in a row! There is still a desire to play. From a selfish standpoint, we hope it’s not members only or single players, which has been muted in the media. Single golfers would be a complete waste of time in my opinion. Golf is a social game but you can have your social distancing on a golf course, which makes it absolutely perfect and safe. At a supermarket, you can almost guarantee you’ll be within two metres of someone at some point, but on a golf course for over four hours, you can keep that distance the entire time. I would hope they will allow two golfers to play, arrive in different cars, don’t shake hands at the end and get in their cars and go home. That’s going to massively help golf clubs. I am sure many clubs are absolutely screaming for business. Memberships were on a decline before all this started. The sooner we have the opportunity to get golfers out on the course again, the better. In terms of marketing, I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t know if we’re going to open on the 16th of May, but whatever date it is, I want to ensure we’ve maximised the awareness of the Scottish public, and anybody else for that matter.”
Present – Have you revised your marketing strategy during the lockdown?
“I noticed several weeks ago that very little media was being put out by other golf clubs which strengthened my desire to make sure we communicate with the golfing public. We send three or four tweets a week, I will have one or two posts on Facebook and I personally put out a daily tweet to get additional followers as well – quite often it’s photographs of where I stay in St Andrews but often, when I’m at the club, I’ll try to take a photograph of an interesting angle while I’m out on the golf course. Some of our greenkeepers have taken some wonderful photos when out on the course and so they will be shared also on social media. It’s just awareness. It’s a great opportunity because people are desperate for content because they’re bored stiff at home. We’ve noticed that some of the posts have been very popular with 50-100 likes and several thousand views. It’s great to promote what we’ve got here. I suppose we’ve been highlighted that bit more because other clubs aren’t communicating that much. We’re not just sitting there and hoping it’s going to be OK – we’ve got to make sure it’s OK.”
Present – How has the business change during the lockdown?
“How things have changed for me over the last six or seven weeks mainly revolves around us not getting in our clubhouse. We were going to have a nice retail shop, beautiful restaurant with awesome pizza and fish & chips etc, touchscreen computers and all the fancy hardware you need for a modern golf club. We won’t have that now, and we’ve had to push back some of our retail orders. Fortunately we hadn’t employed lots of casuals or seasonal workers. In April, we employed three additional permanent management staff members: a head chef, a food & beverage manager and a head golf pro. There was a lot for the food & beverage staff to do. In the short term, they had to figure out what we could offer when we opened – and then also when we open the clubhouse later in the season – to create a menu that would hit all the right notes. Our team viewed menus from other golfing venues to see what they liked. They put their own twist on some dishes and also created a homemade pizza menu which is pretty unusual for golf clubs, but we believe will be well received by our guests. Once this was created, the exact costs per dish and retail prices were calculated. They did the same for the alcohol and drinks menu.”
Present – There’s a lot of preparatory work to be done.
“Where do I start? Design of scorecards and course guide; how’s the range going to be laid out; order range balls and where to store them securely; the building of a starter’s box, benches on the course, ball washers and waste bins; hazard markings on the golf course; constructing an alternative road in as our main driveway won’t be completed when we open; temporary directional signage etc. It’s a very long list. There are lot of things that would already be there at an established golf course that you have to consider.”
Present – The clubhouse not being opened will have a big knock-on effect.
“The clubhouse won’t be ready because no work has been undertaken in the last eight weeks. So when we do officially open, we will have a limited service. That said, as it stands with Covid 19, there will probably be no access to clubhouses anyway. So being unfinished isn’t going to be such an issue. We’ve got a porta cabin and a toilet block by the driving range which is 100 metres from the first tee. The offering we’ll have will be minuscule in comparison to what we were planning, but we have been forced into that. We were expecting to have a meet-and-greet team, starters, retail assistants, rangers out on the course and a food & beverage team. We would have had a big team both in the clubhouse and outside.”
Present – The lockdown restrictions will impact on everyone.
“Players will have paid in advance. We’ll probably have a barbeque on the go if anyone wants a bacon or sausage roll or a tasty burger. We’ll have contactless payment. It will be very simple. It has changed our operation because the clubhouse will not be ready, but due to the rules of the government, we won’t be able to open the clubhouse anyway.”
Future – Are you maintaining the original business plan or has it been adapted?
“Absolutely, the business plan has changed. The top line of income will be drastically reduced, but so will our expenses. We won’t have the big overhead of salaries that we would have had if the clubhouse was open. But that won’t be enough to make up for the lack of green fees. Fortunately, we have a very experienced chairman and board who know we are being as frugal as possible, but we don’t want to go so far that it’s just an honesty box at the first tee. We want to provide a warm welcome and as good a food & beverage service as possible, considering our constraints. If we can provide a barbeque close to the first tee, I think that will be well received. We hope people will still enjoy their experience as it’s really all about the golf course.”
Future – How about next year?
“This year’s business plan has changed massively. We have the support of our board and so we’re not overly concerned about this year being a poor one. Of course, it’s extremely disappointing. Next year, we would hope to be very busy with the tour operators. Many of their groups due to play this year are returning next year instead and so hopefully it will be a bumper year for tour operators and for us. With COVID 19 behind us, we’ll be very excited to provide a very warm welcome and a fun and thoroughly enjoyable golf course. It will be an experience that hopefully golfers will enjoy and be desperate to return to. If we achieve this and have all pistons firing for next year, that will be fantastic.”
– Ends –
Playing 6,905 yards, the par-72 layout at Dumbarnie on Fife’s southern coast is a pay-and-play course built on 345 acres of the Balcarres Estate. The fact that there are 12 extra tees adding 695 yards for tournament play hints at the aspirations of this much-anticipated course, which is scheduled to open in May.
For more information, see https://www.dumbarnielinks.com/
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. 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 –
Chris Spencer – Dunblane New Golf Club
David Roy – Crail Golfing Society
Stephen Walker – The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh
For more information, see https://www.thewordassociation.biz/