Have you ever wondered about golfers?

They are a strange breed – they will walk 6 miles around a golf course but don’t want to walk up one flight of stairs to the bar.

With the enormous drop in the average number of rounds being played at many courses, club managers have to re-examine the operation of Clubhouses. Poor building planning and bad menu planning result in high costs and low returns

In our experience of over 300 golf projects there are some simple lessons in planning and operating:

• Single storey is preferred by the vast majority of golfers and operators alike.
• Clubhouses are remarkably different across the world from 10 sq ft in Scotland to 150,000 sq ft in Asia. Cultural differences exist – recognise them before it is too late. American guests expect a different service to Asian guests and both expect more than UK golfers are prepared to tolerate. The lesson is understand your market and success will follow.
• Plan the layout to give golfers an opportunity to buy as often as possible. Well we all know what clubhouses are for but there are very few which make real money. Clubhouse design is all about retailing – for virtually all clubs this is where the money is made. If the designer and interior designer do not recognise this you will lose profitability.
• Don’t let them escape to the car park without the opportunity to buy something. Do this as subtly as possible to avoid an overbearing sales push.
• Work out what you will sell and then fit out the shop accordingly. Take advice on this depending on your membership and market positioning. It remains amazing to me that many clubs carry out no research amongst their members to understand what the market needs and the customers wants. On one mystery shopping exercise to compare other clubs in the same region to one ailing club, we saw a lack of good sales technique, the lack of retail understanding and a generally run down appearance of the club building. It really doesn’t take an architect to see this. if you’re running a club right now, just take a look with a different viewpoint. You’ll be amazed.
• Ensure that the plan operates with minimum staffing at quiet times. Staff costs can drain the bank balance faster than we all realise. An efficient plan can help highlight those staff members who may look busy but aren’t adding value. Can you close off any areas of the clubhouse during quiet times?
• Plan the kitchen for the type of menu you intend to provide. Typically in the UK this will mean speed is of the essence for pre and post-game snacks, although high quality is also required for functions. The kitchen should be geared up to producing the most profitable lines as fast as possible and the front of house staff should be doing everything they can to sell these profitable lines.
• Make the spaces as flexible as possible to enable functions of all sizes. Much of our design work now involves ensuring that the maximum floor area within the clubhouse is revenue earning rather cost generating.
• Take advice from an operator before the rubbish bins ends up next to the front door. On all of our architecture projects, we recommend an operator is brought in to the design process as early as possible.
• Most advertising for golf uses the clubhouse as the marketing image. The Clubhouses of Dubai have probably done more to “sell” Dubai golf than the courses on which they sit. This will of course depend on market positioning. The clubhouse offering must fit within the overall development in terms of style and capital expenditure.

In difficult times, it is easy to cut budgets. However, once you’re on this downward slope, recovery to financial viability becomes progressively more difficult. Good business planning is a far preferable exercise and, believe it or not, there are new members to be had and new ways of encouraging them to spend money in the clubhouse.