Meet the Manager: Oakdale’s James Thomas

golf club membership
Oakdale’s unique membership offering could help the Harrogate club through the cost-of-living crisis, as their General Manager explains… How did you get into management? I’m a PGA professional. Since qualifying, I’ve done various accounting and management qualifications and I’m currently going through the PGA Director of Golf qualification.  At 21, I was at Rudding Park, managing the six-hole short course, driving range, and the academy.  I came to Oakdale as Assistant Professional whilst I undertook my PGA training and when my predecessor left OGC, I put a proposal to the board, enumerating where the club currently was and where I believed it could move to under my leadership. I took over in January 2016. Tell me about Oakdale… It’s a private members’ club with a growing membership. We were designed by Dr Alister MacKenzie and established in 1914. The course has changed over time, with Martin Hawtree and, most recently, Mark Westenberg having made changes to the original course. It’s two loops of 9 that both come back to the clubhouse, and we have a slope rating of 137.  How have things been going? England Golf produced some stats that the average club recruited 30 new members during covid in 2020, we recruited over 100. This was helped by our membership proposition.  Our old structure was very traditional: you paid a fixed fee and could play whenever you wished. The club was in some difficulty when I took over and, looking back, whenever we increased our annual subscription we saw the number of full members reduce.   That needed to change. We used one of the only levers at our disposal and that was price.  We looked at various models and the previous chairman and I thought this one would suit our club and where we’re positioned. We chose to lower the annual subscription from £1,200 to £700 and then members paid £5 per round. It’s been a tremendous success. Since launch we have added over 300 full members to the club and we are still growing.  How have renewal rates been? Last year, we saw 3% attrition, which is pretty weatherable for a membership of that size. We’re currently recruiting at 1.23 members a week and that’s been sustained for the last two years. We’re forecast to finish the year with 575 full members.  What are the pros and cons of this structure? We had to introduce a booking system when we launched our new scheme in order to police who was on the course and ensure they had paid the appropriate fee. This caused some friction within the club.  When we came to draft the budget for the first year this presented a challenge. In previous years we simply took the number of full members at the time, less attrition plus recruitment, and that became our budget for the following year. However, with this model we had to forecast how many times our members would play in a year. We settled at 1.5 games per week for 40 weeks...
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