Marie J. Taylor talks to Clint Whittaker, club secretary at Surbiton in Surrey
I worked in sales in the leisure industry when I moved over from New Zealand. Crown Golf were recruiting sales consultants in 2004 and they gave me my first club to run in 2005.
Over the next 10 years I managed five clubs and then moved to private member clubs with secretary roles at West Byfleet and now Surbiton.
What are the challenges there?
The biggest challenge is the balancing act between the need to operate the club as a business while trying to stay true to the traditional nature and culture of a well established private member club. We’ve invested in our personnel, course and equipment in order to deliver the best experience to members and visitors.
“By staying true to our resolve, we are finding those that do join are committed to the club for the long term”
To make investments, though, we need to explore multiple revenue streams which means we can keep members subscriptions realistic and in line with similar clubs in the local area. Sometimes these alternative revenue streams don’t sit well with the more ‘traditional’ members. It’s an education process. Generating new members is a challenge.
Surbiton sits in a saturated local market. There are at least 21 golf clubs within a 20-minute drive. The club rightfully maintains an entrance fee. It’s an investment into the club from a new member, who will, in return, have that money invested into the course.
With a recent shift of clubs moving away from entrance fees, we’re finding more prospective members opting for quick win deals at other clubs. By staying true to our resolve, we are finding those that do join are committed to the club for the long term. Thankfully, with recent course improvement projects, we have a steady stream of interest through our member referral campaigns and we are working on some digital marketing initiatives which will help to attract prospective members from the surrounding areas.
What part of your role do you enjoy the most?
It’s a great office job! The ability to put the pen and paper down and go out and talk to a range of different members from different backgrounds and experiences is refreshing. Our members like a bit of banter and they like to see their secretary out and about.
Although you need to have thick skin to manage a club, if you are keeping the majority of the membership happy then you know you are on the right track. We have two very forward thinking committees which is half the battle.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Always understand where the line is between staff and members and staff and you. Sometimes it’s lonely at the top but for good reason. Respect is important, and banter is great for morale, but keeping clear boundaries is paramount. Understand you’ll never please everyone!
What’s your proudest achievement in golf?
Getting to where I am today. I learned and saw a lot about golf during my time working in the commercial sector. Being able to succeed there and then transfer those skills into private member clubs has been great.
Where do you see the role of a club manager in 20 years’ time?
There will still be those clubs where the traditional secretary role will prevail. Most, however, will need to move towards more business-minded skill sets. We’ll need to be marketing savvy and experts in almost all areas of the business.
My ambition is to make members think of Surbiton not just as a place to come and play golf but as a destination location. I want members to think about SGC when they consider going out for a meal or just a social drink. Currently, once the course is shut then the club is shut.Everything I’m currently working on is trying to push the club closer to that goal.
We’re investing in a new patio and lounge refurb and we’ve got some good F&B staff now on board, so we’re heading in the right direction. “By staying true to our resolve, we are finding those that do join are committed to the club for the long term”