GCMA professional development manager, takes a deeper look at how Whitby Golf Club transformed their fortunes.
This is a feel good story about golf club governance and what can be achieved when necessity and questions of survival strip away the non-essential elements of running a golf club. Amanda Ing, Karen Fellows, Al Higgins and Ali Leslie, with the support of their team of professional staff headed up by Sam Foster, Club Manager and Pete Fenton, Head Greenkeeper plus the captains and president of the year, have transformed their local club which was on the verge of closure into an increasingly successful semi-private members club which is also a local community hub.
Whitby is a seaside town in North Yorkshire with a population of 11,000. It receives approximately half a million visitors each year – mostly in the summer months. The club was established in 1892 in the local village of Goathland and became an 18-hole golf course in the 1940s, moving to its current location at Upgang Ravine.
The course suffered from coastal erosion and so land was bought to develop new holes to replace those lost. This purchase almost bankrupted the club.
At its peak in the 1990s, Whitby had around 600 members but this number dwindled to 165 full members by the beginning of 2020. With the lease from the council running out and an unsuccessful buy out by a private company in the interim, time was running out to save the club from administration and closure.
Change in governance 2020
With the club facing closure, Amanda Ing was appointed as finance director for the club in August 2019, with the purpose of putting the club’s financial affairs in order for it to be wound up as a going concern. What happened was something different:
Three other key individuals joined the board and essentially formed a management committee of four, although the club captains and president made up an overall board of seven.
Things began to change radically at Whitby and governance was at the heart of that change. The following was implemented:
- Articles of association were reviewed to become more inclusive
- Policies and procedures were documented
- Board meetings revolved around action points and strategic objectives
- A five-year strategic plan was developed with KPIs established and periodically reviewed
- Catering was franchised out and bar facilities brought in house
- Club policy document developed for standards of behaviour
- Communication between board, staff and members greatly improved
- Sam Foster was appointed as club manager and a new head greenkeeper, Peter Fenton, was also employed
- Funding for club improvements were secured
- Culture of team working was developed
At an operational level the changes made at board level began to have an impact:
- Investment in staff training and development
- Financial controls on all aspects of the business were implemented
- A family friendly policy adopted
- A visitor friendly policy adopted
- Social and charitable functions became frequen
- Volunteers were trained and managed to support professional staff
- Commercial alliances with local businesses were formed
- Social media became a new and important medium for communication
- Collaboration with golf industry groups provided important support
The results of the changes made at Whitby Golf Club have been inspiring. Only some of the transformation can be seen in the numbers but the atmosphere and feelgood factor around the club is there for everyone to see and enjoy.
There is a real sense of community, togetherness and collective achievement that is intoxicating when you spend a day at Whitby.
These were some of the tangible results achieved in the 18-month period:
- Junior membership increased from four to 37
- Ladies membership up to 40 and growing
- Total full membership has increased from 166 to 220 with a further 100 members in other categories.
- Clubhouse redesign and renovations completed
- Course condition and operation has shown marked improvement
- Club profile both locally and nationally has become much more visible
- Club culture has changed to become welcoming and inclusive
- Technology embraced and incorporated into the club.
Whitby Golf Club is an example of good practice in golf club governance and application. From a position of having to make a fresh start, the management committee at Whitby have transformed the club into a modern success story where members, guests and visitors feel the warmth of welcome and have a genuinely pleasurable experience.
There are lessons to be learned from this for all clubs and hopefully it will not need the question of survival to be the catalyst for change in your club.
Click here to watch a video webinar, outlining in more detail how Whitby was turned around.