If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that Michael Gove MP was wrong when he said: “the people of this country have had enough of experts”. If you require a medical diagnosis, consult a medical professional, don’t Google it; if you want accurate information about a pandemic, listen to a virologist, don’t believe social media; and, if you wish to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the global golf and hospitality industries, few organisations are as well placed to offer comment as 59club.
With unprecedented access to performance data from a wide variety of venues across the globe, 59club, with its seven divisions, is in the perfect position to assess the vagaries of the sector, as well as knowing who’s doing what well, and when. And, who isn’t …
Mark Reed, 59club Director, explained: “When comparing 2021 performance levels with pre-covid 2019, we have witnessed a minor decrease in measured service standards within our golf visitor experience mystery shopping programme.
“Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, golf clubs have experienced significant increased traffic, often alongside a depleted workforce and amid challenging operating conditions. It is, therefore, remarkable to think that fewer servicers have been servicing more people, but to almost the same levels of 2019, when it comes to ‘customer experience’.”
Available data shows that the global industry average for service standards across 59club clients had decreased by just 5 per cent in 2021, when compared with the pre-Covid 2019, and that visitor and member rounds increased dramatically, whilst staffing levels reduced.
It’s an anomaly, yet, perhaps, part of the reason for that lies in the fact those facilities are clients of 59club. That means, of course, each is routinely visited and rated. Those facilities where such measurement isn’t undertaken will not have access to such knowledge or data, though data suggests a 20 per cent lag across the industry for non-59club venues. (non-contracted venues receiving 59club trial audits).
Reed is prepared to go further, and posited: “Not only are we able to advise clients of performance stats, we are able to see when they invest a higher proportion of capital into 59club resources to develop and educate both new and existing staff and, ultimately, relate that to maintaining the experience afforded to members and guests.”
During the past couple of years, that investment has been made largely in onsite and/or remote training, in tandem with 59club’s virtual education platform; MyMentor, which affords data driven learning directly linking to an individual’s mystery shopper audit, and, as a consequence, filling any learning gaps for employees.
Indeed, a 34 per cent increase in the number of venues being trained – either in person or virtually – by 59club staff in 2021, compared with 2019, might be seen as a direct correlation with the service standards remaining almost the same. What’s more, across the ‘podium’ venues – the best-performing facilities – service standards have remained stable over the two-year period.
This is also reflected in 59club’s own performance in the years in question. It has seen a 200 per cent increase in contracted venues around the globe, in the two years since 2019 – and all this at a time when the globe – and golf in particular – spent large periods of time in both lockdown and shutdown.
A good example of how investment in staff training and data analysis can have a direct effect on satisfaction levels of members and visitors is Hoburne Golf, which operates three venues in the south of England: Crane Valley GC, in Verwood, Hampshire; Bulbury Woods GC, in Poole, Dorset; and Hurtmore GC, near Godalming, in Surrey.
Each has embraced the challenge of mystery shopping and has engaged in a tailored staff training programme that has delivered, not only, a 10 per cent growth in their 59club visitor experience measurement, but also a four per cent increase in membership satisfaction (measured using 59club’s Survey platform; My59, between 2019 and 2021).
That experience is not solely the preserve of Hoburne Golf, either. Harpenden GC, in Hertfordshire, joined the 59club community shortly after reopening following the first English lockdown in early 2020.
The club’s general manager, Tom Scott, explained: “Having worked with 59club in a previous role, I had a good understanding of what it delivers and felt it could support our aim of delivering a better level of service to our members and guests.
“We began a programme of mystery shopping in 2020 to gain a thorough understanding of our strengths and weaknesses and were thrilled to be awarded a Bronze Flag Designation in the 59club annual awards ceremony, based on our year one results, and a year later we increased to Silver; an incredible achievement in such a short time frame, which is testament to the commitment of our staff members.
“59club has supported the development of our team by delivering a number of engaging training sessions at the club, and we are delighted to report we increased our measured service across all operational departments in 2021, by 16 per cent.
“We plan to continue this training alongside the virtual mentor platform, which can be used on a day-to-day basis. The My59 Survey platform also allowed us to gather valuable feedback from our members on a number of important topics in a very user-friendly way, delivering an overall response rate of more than 75 per cent.
“This gave our data further credibility and allowed the club to make confident and informed decisions. The entire team at the club remains fully engaged in the process and we look forward to challenging ourselves further in 2022.”
Other clubs are following the lead of Hoburne Golf and Harpenden GC according to 59club’s own data. The total number of surveys undertaken by member clubs via the My59 Survey Platform showed a huge leap of 268 per cent in 2021 compared with those launched in 2019, across the globe. Positive engagement with members, guests and staff has never before been so prevalent.
Meanwhile, the MyMentor virtual learning experience now supports in excess of 2,250 employees to develop themselves and the team. And, with 59club clients reporting challenges in recruitment – especially with greenkeepers and catering staff – the on-line training platform is expected to further increase its reach in 2022, not least as recent independent data stated that one in eight roles in the hospitality industry remains vacant.
Ironically, the increase in 59club’s client portfolio may, initially, skew the average figures.
Reed added: “In addition to the challenges facing the industry it is important to note that an influx of new clients is likely to create an initial dip in the industry average as managers and their teams often spend time gathering performance data and generating a full understanding of strengths and weaknesses, before undertaking necessary training, reinforcing standards and developing a plan of improvement.
“However, with golf clubs becoming more accustomed to increased footfall, an increase in skills, and an increased sense of ‘business as usual’ – in tandem with a number of clubs moving in to a second year of measurement – we would expect to see a return to pre- pandemic levels or higher this year.
“Of course, clubs not utilising the 59club toolkit won’t be in a position to discover their strengths and weaknesses until much further down the line, by which time, they may have lost disgruntled staff or members, and be back to square one.”
He concluded: “One challenge that will remain this year is that of attracting and retaining great people. It is, however, very gratifying to hear more and more clubs recognising wellbeing, education and a need to invest in their people, and, to assist with this, 59club UK delivered more than 50 days of training and education within clubs between December and March alone.”
Ian Knox, head of European Tour Destinations – a network of world-class venues with a close association to the European Tour – has worked with 59club for over 10 years. Maybe the last word should sit with him – he is an expert, after all.
He said: “In 2020 and even the start of 2021, for a lot of venues it was a case of controlling costs, and there was almost a survival element. Now … they are realising their operational focus needs to be back on the levels it was, in fact, exceeding the levels it was. So now is the time we have been kicking in with mystery shopper visits and working with venues to look for areas where they can continue to improve.
“The biggest area people are now focussing on is human contact again. You’ve missed that through the problems you had with the pandemic, so that personal service, that personal touch is really going to be the key focus. That’s what we’re looking for our venues to be delivering.”
As the great Willie Nelson once sang, “Nobody said it was gonna’ be easy”, but, with experts available to guide one through the metaphorical minefield, it’s a journey that can be made with a lot more confidence.