Last time I asked Chris Duffy CMDip about the challenges of golf club committees & boards. His article was so popular among golf club managers that I thought to interview him this time.
Since his article, Chris Duffy became the general manager of Modry Las Golf Resort (Poland). Before I start the interview with him, here is a quick introduction to Modry Las Golf Resort | PGA National Poland:
- Modry Las Golf Resort was officially opened by Gary Player and Poland’s Vice Minister of Sport and Tourism, Adam Giersz, on July 4, 2009.
- Modry Las Golf Resort was ranked number 96 in Golf World’s Top 100 Resorts in Continental Europe in 2020.
- Modry Las Golf Resort was named Poland’s Best Golf Course at 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019 World Golf Awards.
How do you see the situation of the Polish golf industry?
I first played golf in Poland in 2016 and have since had the pleasure to travel and play many of the clubs over the past 4 years.
With only around 6000 registered golfers in the country, golf is still developing but it is slowly increasing in popularity.
The recent success of Adrian Meronk, a Polish European Tour professional golfer who successfully kept his card on the European Tour in 2020 has highlighted that with the right facilities and coaching it is possible to reach the top of the game.
A number of golf clubs along with the Polish Golf Union are working hard to develop golf into schools, with coaching and engaging the local communities to visit the clubs which is helping to encourage families and friends to visit clubs and take part in coaching.
Unfortunately, golf still has a stigma as a ‘rich persons’ sport’ in Poland, and breaking down the invisible barrier that exists across many golf clubs’ entrances is a challenge.
All clubs need work on through community engagement and increasing local employment opportunities in the clubs who then encourage and allow the employees to learn and play the game at the same time.
New golf course development in Poland has also struggled due to the issues around land taxes.
The current legislation means that land taxes a golf club is required to pay are based on the area of the entire property whereas in other countries golf clubs are recognised as either agricultural land leading to lower taxes or taxed only areas that are being used for the game to be played reducing costs significantly.
A golf course is not like a car factory where 5000sqm is usually developed and used, on many courses 40-50% of the land the course sits is naturized for wildlife development, habitats, and ecological developments.
Due to the issues around land taxes the course that has been developed includes a number of 9-hole courses (which have the potential to be developed to 18 holes) and are proving popular for newcomers to the game.
In recent years the development of indoor simulators located in major cities is offering potential new golfers the opportunity to try the game in an “entertainment environment” which is fantastic.
With only having a limited number of local golfers, most golf clubs rely on golf tourism to support their business.
There are a number of superb golf clubs and resorts strategically positioned around the country, with accommodation onsite allowing international golfers the opportunity not just to play golf but also to visit some of the wonderful cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, or Gdansk.
Modry Las Golf Resort | PGA National Poland – is different
Modry Las Golf Resort | PGA National Poland is a little different in that we are the only signature Gary Player designed course in Poland and located in North-West Poland, in the center of the wonderful Polish countryside.
At Modry Las, the natural environment and a wonderful golf course are our biggest selling points.
Attracting golfers to Poland is one of the hardest challenges for most clubs. I’m realistic and can say that Poland is not usually positioned high on a golfer’s dream destination and we face a number of challenges including:
- The general perception of “Golf in Poland” – many golfers just don’t know about the superb golf courses, hospitality, and facilities that are on offer in Poland.
- The general perception of Poland as a country – many people still can’t move beyond the stigma of the communist and WW2 era.
- Some just cannot perceive taking a ‘golf holiday’ in Poland.
- Finally, the perception of the Polish weather – many still believe it is cold and wet all year round which it isn’t, it’s actually in general dry from April – October.
These perceived invisible barriers are slowly being broken down.
These perceived invisible barriers are slowly being broken down. The wonderful historic and picturesque cities such as Krakow and Poznan are becoming more and more accessible with low-cost airlines are offering direct flights from many major European cities.
The Baltic coastal locations of Gdansk or Szczecin are attracting more and more visitors from Scandinavia who can take the regular ferries and given the flight restriction that is ongoing the ferry and car travel industry are key markets in 2021.
We are seeing more and more repeat golfing customers who are choosing to return to Poland because of the value for money against other more established golfing markets.
When I say ‘value’, that is not to say golf in Poland is ‘cheap’.
The Value Equation
Value = Experience less Cost.
Golfers who choose to visit Poland are perceived to be receiving better value than maybe in their home countries.
Playing golf still has a price, but the overall experience on offer golfing in Poland costs less to deliver so we can offer better value to our clients.
How do you rate Modry Las Golf Resort’s performance in 2020?
I only joined the team at Modry Las Golf Resort | PGA National Poland in September 2020 but having had a very difficult start to the year like nearly all clubs in Europe due to Covid-19 the year ended up successful.
The hardest part for most golf clubs was the ‘condensed’ season.
With many clubs and resorts reopening in May/June, golfers were just looking to get out and play, so the golf courses were busy, the restaurants and accommodation too but this then had a knock-on effect with course maintenance schedules and left little time for the team members to recharge or take holidays.
The winter period has allowed our team at Modry Las Golf Resort to complete a number of key maintenance projects and also to have some well-deserved time off, so we are now looking forward to an exciting 2021.
Have you got a recovery plan for the post-COVID-19 times?
At the end of 2020, our financial projections were not too far off what was planned. Mainly due to shrewd management of costs and also postponing or delaying some development projects.
2021 is currently looking very positive with reservations and group bookings increasing daily.
This is of course countered by the potential for further disruption in the international tourism sector, so we are trying to be as flexible as possible with reservations and also targeting the local Polish market for early season packages when cross-border travel may still be problematic.
How do you want to integrate into the European golf tourism industry?
When I arrived at Modry Las Golf Resort one of the first events I took part in the ‘Virtual’ International Golf Travel Market (IGTM) and being able to link up with a number of key industry influencers was a great starting point.
In terms of integration in the European Golf Tourism Industry, I’d first like to see more development between Polish golf clubs and resorts to work together and create packages offering opportunities to play each other’s courses.
Then following this work with the R&A and other governing bodies and look into hosting some major European Professional and Amateur Golf tournaments that can bring international attention to ‘Golf in Poland’.
What are you doing for the sake of an attractive employee experience?
We have a relatively small team at Modry Las Golf Resort, but I am proud to say that it is 95% Polish! We have a French Director of Gastronomy and an English GM but apart from this our entire team is Polish.
Since joining in September I am delighted with the team I’ve inherited, and we have already started with our employee engagement plan.
We are offering our team opportunities to continue their professional development through the Club Managers Association of Europe (CMAE) MDP Pathway and with BIGGA.
Our Course Manager recently took part in the BIGGA Virtual Education Conference which offered him an insight to best cultural practices and developments in the industry.
We are also in discussion to develop a ‘Poland Club Management Conference’ to be hosted at Modry Las Golf Resort in conjunction with the Club Managers Association of Europe (CMAE) and Polish Golf Union.
The two-day conference will allow club owners, managers, and key staff to attend a course that will give an insight into professional club management and best practice solutions.
How do you use customer data to create personalized offers and services?
When I arrived at Modry Las our team were not really engaged with collecting customer data.
I have always had a saying: Data = Knowledge = Certainty.
In January we completed our first-ever members’ survey, asking what the members really thought of various areas of our operations.
We have also just completed our ‘Guest Satisfaction’ survey which will be sent to every guest after their visit.
This information is a key indicator to developing an appropriate training plan and creating opportunities for the team to adjust our member and guest offering based on customer feedback.
Do you plan to redesign the driving range experience in Modry Las Golf Resort?
As part of the PGA National Poland designation, we have a PGA accredited practice facility that includes
- a 100m wide grass range,
- a number of covered hitting bays, and
- 2 practice putting and chipping greens.
We also have a 9-hole par 3 course which is ideal to practice your short game skills or spend time with beginners or younger family members who want to learn the game.
Given our limited season and remote location away from a major population we currently cannot justify the investment into these systems.
I have actually spoken to all three major players in the market over the past two weeks and it’s certainly something we would like to offer our guests, but the financial outlay currently would be justified.
In the future, we may look to install a simulator room in our recently opened 2000sqm Clubhouse (we have space) or develop our practice range with these technologies but as with all developments we need to decide these developments in a strategic manner.
2021 is lining up to be an exciting year at Modry Las Golf Resort | PGA National Poland and I hope to be able to welcome many of your readers to visit.
People forget what you said,
People forget what you did,
People NEVER forget how you made them feel!
All the best for 2021!