Stoke by Nayland is one of the busiest 36-hole venues in the UK with a significant membership who like to play a lot of golf.
Managing the differing needs of members, hotel residents and pay-and-play golfers represents a challenge, but also being just one moving part in a significant resort business means I have to coordinate the activities of the various elements of my own department – booking, retail, starters and marshals, greenkeeping and academy – as well as managing a relationship with key partners such as membership committees and other hotel departments, such as rooms and F&B.
I’ve worked with 59club for around 11 years – the last three here at Stoke by Nayland. Of all the many benefits we’ve enjoyed from working with 59club, I would say the most significant – and something that helps us grow as a golf club – is the ability to benchmark against other venues.
For example, how do you know that what you’re doing is any good, in comparison to other properties? The beauty of 59club is that it gives us the ability to choose a cluster of venues that are very similar to us and our operation and to see how they perform as a collective; and with that peripheral view ultimately, we’re able to benchmark ourselves in terms of where we lie in the market.
And that mystery shopper intel isn’t limited to those competitor properties either; we also benefit from insight into 59club’s industry benchmark defined by the 3 best performing venues, which is always slightly higher than the actual industry average data. So, we’re comparing ourselves constantly not only to our immediate competition but also with a range of properties, which really helps us.
I have an excellent relationship with 59club and we speak regularly, whether it is to discuss ideas related to the club, or to discuss challenges. We also use the data we receive as part of our internal induction process and ongoing staff training. We have monthly team debriefs where we use that data as the key training issue or the tool to highlight the training need.
If, let’s say, our mystery audit comes back and it appears that a retail member of staff wasn’t particularly clued up on an item of clothing they were trying to sell, that indicates, clearly, a requirement for further training for the team. Pretty much every month we’ll highlight the big downfall, for want of a better word, within any audit and we focus our training on that area over the next few weeks.
Again, the ability to benchmark our member and guest survey data against similar facilities, is absolutely vital for us. An example is where I ask the members to survey the bunkers – and we score six out of 10. To the untrained eye that score may look pretty poor, but what 59club can do for us, in terms of the survey platform, is telling us the average score that club members across the industry have rated their bunkers, and a lot of the time that industry data is not as high as you’d imagine.
In a perfect world you’re aiming for a 10 out of 10 but the ability to know that some of the better courses may only be scoring 8.8, for example, is a good tool for us to be able to manage what we’re trying to achieve. Six no longer looks as low as it might have done previously.
The benefits to staff training and planning are also manifold. It could be somebody in the halfway hut, who hasn’t greeted a guest in a particularly great manner, or the example of the retail staff. We go through a series of meet and greets and building relationships with people.
We sit down at the start of the year and one of the big things we do is we review the mission statement we have with the golf club. The mission statement doesn’t necessarily change much, year to year, but some of the measurements we use to ensure we’re on track do change.
In the last couple of years, we’ve set benchmarks in terms of the member satisfaction scores generated from our 59club surveys and a guest satisfaction score from our mystery shopper audits, and, additionally, one of the measurements we aim for has been the 59club silver flag award, which are presented to the venues that not only achieve the required standard of service as part of the mystery test audit criteria, but also provide excellent facilities for customers to enjoy… It plays quite a big role in the bigger picture.
We didn’t get to win the silver flag award we covet, so that’s something we’re aiming for this year, but we have seen multiple success at the awards based on our appetite for gathering feedback from members and guests and the effective management of the survey data we received. We won an ultimate service excellence award in 2019, being one of only two venues recognised at that standard, and again in 2020 we retained that premium title, and also in 2021, we were honoured with a service excellence award in the same category.
From a personal perspective the most important and valuable element 59club delivers for me, is the data; collecting data, helping make sense of the feedback and being able to action any kind of changes accordingly, because of what our actual customers and a panel of mystery shoppers are telling us. Ultimately, it’s a really objective measure of the performance of the golf business.
Furthermore, every year we run the members’ survey and, as a result of that, we identify the three or four lowest scoring areas, and we implement changes based on the feedback. The changes we’ve made in the past are ongoing, and we will address any further necessary changes when we complete this year’s member survey.
We deliver pretty much the same survey, annually – albeit we break it down into three different parts: you and your membership; the course and its facilities; and staff. So, we can track progress that way.
In 2020 we used the survey platform more frequently for really nuanced stuff. For example, when coronavirus hit, we surveyed the membership on its preferred choice of touch-free hole inserts and, from the golf-club perspective, it’s really factual. It’s not my decision to use option A, for example, it’s the decision of the membership, because they’ve voted on it. I’ve found it’s far easier to justify a decision with a set of data to support you.
Without doubt, if we weren’t working with 59club we’d have a really subjective view of the golf club’s performance. I would only have opinions to judge my business on, rather than truly objective measurements.
If you look at the real top-quality venues in the UK, there’s a very high possibility those venues are working with 59club and what that says to me is that 59club gives you a really good, stable platform upon which you can build your business, whether that be a service or a product.
There’s a very experienced team of people inside 59club, and, ultimately, if you follow the guidance of these guys you’re not going to go far wrong.
Knowing that, I don’t understand why clubs in our sector wouldn’t work with 59club, to be frank. It’s a tool that offers so much in terms of looking at the broader picture, as well as somebody who wants to look at minute details in terms of, for example, selling golf shirts.
It’s a no-brainer for me. I’ve worked with 59club for years and I will continue to work with them wherever I go in the future. It’s incredible value for money.