How does the Farleigh Golf Club make itself competitive?

By: September 6, 2021

In the last three years I wrote about the Farleigh Golf Club (UK) for several reasons:

  • Winner in various categories at the 59Club 11th Annual Award: my59 Ultimate Service Excellence, Golf Operations Team, Golf Manager of the Year (=my interviewee James Ibbetson), etc.
  • Participating in Syngenta’s Operation Pollinator program.
  • More than £5 million spent on refurbishing the clubhouse and golf courses in 2020.

These reasons were just enough for me to interview Farleigh Golf Club‘s general manager James Ibbetson.

Farleigh Golf Club clubhouse

How do you see the situation of women in golf in the UK?

In terms of the media and exposure, I really think that it is definitely moving in the right direction. It was fantastic to see the Curtis Cup getting some TV coverage this week and that’s just adding to the more mainstream coverage of the Ladies’ major tournaments.

In general, it really helps to get golf and the benefits of playing golf in front of as many people as possible, which is of course only good for the game and the future of the sport.

England Golf and some of the sports’ other governing bodies are using celebrities and TV personalities to portray golf in a new light which should help to increase the number of young people that are taking up the sport.

I don’t necessarily think, however, that this has quite found its way to golf clubs yet and I think that clubs, Farleigh included, could do an awful lot more to get more Ladies and Girls into the game and developing through the ranks.

For so many young men, their golfing journey starts at the local club as some fun and develops into so much more, so we are keen to continue to increase those same opportunities for women.

Some of the coaching initiatives (free coaching for Ladies, Girls Golf Rocks, etc…) have got clubs in people’s hands for the initial sessions however hasn’t necessarily then resulted in more ladies taking up the game just yet.

Farleigh Golf Club golf lesson for a lady

Clubs need to accept that in order to grow and maintain a decent ladies section at the golf club, playing rights should not be limited to certain days of the week and on weekend afternoons.

This just doesn’t fit in with people’s everyday lifestyles and commitments away from the course.

On the plus side, the introduction of the world handicapping system now allows for male and female members to compete and play within the same competitions – again, this is only good for the sport.

How do you want to make Farleigh Golf Club more inclusive?

I think for us here at Farleigh Golf Club, the answer to making the club more inclusive is sort of a two-part answer. The first side of this is making beginners really feel like there is a place for them here, one that isn’t intimidating.

Farleigh Golf Club golf lessons for beginners

Young players, including men and women, can often be overwhelmed by all the different rules and dress codes, etc that come with being a golfer at a club, so we are making sure that we run as many courses and classes as possible for real beginners to golf.

The intention is that this will break down some of the barriers to entry that girls may feel at the beginning of their journey. We even provide the clubs, so we just want to make that step feel as comfortable as possible!

The second part of making the club more inclusive comes for the women and ladies who are a bit more experienced or those that really want to take their golfing experience to a more competitive level.

Farleigh Golf Club with an old golfer

Previously, due to the make-up of our Ladies section, competitive golf opportunities for ladies were somewhat limited to midweek golf only.

This is obviously prohibitive to Ladies that work midweek or have other commitments, meaning that their only opportunity to play competitive golf was at the weekend.

Since re-opening our doors in March 2021, all weekend medal and Stableford competitions are now open to all 7-day members of the golf, not gender-specific tournaments. This gives women a much better competitive golf experience within the club, and we hope this will encourage more ladies to stick with the sport once they have started playing.

Where is Farleigh Golf Club in digital transformation?

I think in general; the golf industry is way behind many other industries in terms of embracing change and looking to technology to innovate and improve club life. At Farleigh Golf Club we are always looking at ways to innovate and set ourselves apart from our competitors in the way we do things, for example, in September 2020, we launched a Farleigh mobile application in conjunction with CourseMate.

As opposed to having multiple different apps for tee time bookings, handicap administration, the Farleigh app keeps everything in one place for ease of all. At the touch of a button, it can also easily send push notifications and messages to our members keeping them up to date and informed with everything that is going on at the club.

We are very happy with the way the app has gone, and we believe that our members are too. We are now in the process of moving our membership cards away from a physical printed card to a digital version through our Farleigh app, which helps to streamline our systems, the members experience and helps to work towards becoming a more environmentally conscious club with the removal of having to produce so many physical cards.

We have also recently signed up with Golf Genius, the tournament management software. We are currently using this software for all external corporate, society, and charity golf tournaments and marquee member competitions with a plan to move all member competitions over to this platform as of 1st January.

Farleigh Golf Club greenkeeper

Will you exploit mobile commerce in the near future?

It is not something that we have discussed at length internally but yes, I think we all definitely see this as a growth area for the golf club, specifically in terms of retail and golf coaching.

I think we are being careful not to overlook the importance of face-to-face interactions which still are a key element of the golfing experience, but by having online presence and purchasing capabilities, it helps to widen the appeal to Farleigh whilst opening us up to more potential customers and future members of the golf club.

This is a big area to grow into when it comes to the younger players and potential club members.

I think it is fair to say that the interest in mobile commerce will be best used by younger generations who are fully versed in similar systems across different markets, so maintaining this mix of face-to-face interaction and mobile commerce will be key to balancing our relationships with all the different sort of people at the club.

Farleigh Golf Club mobile commerce plans

Do you want to increase direct tee time booking?

Third-party tee time operators are of course a massive part of our business and will continue to be because of their influence especially across online bookings, however, yes, we are always looking to increase our direct tee times bookings.

To facilitate this we have recently hired, for the first time, a Golf Reservationist, to solely deal with member and visitor tee time calls and bookings – on speaking to many members and regular guests, phones not being answered was one of the main negatives of their Farleigh Golf Club experience.

We take the feedback of members incredibly seriously, as this is our main indicator of success in our minds, so to have someone that people can go to with booking questions and queries is a huge plus.

Making the online customer experience as straightforward as possible.

In terms of the online experience, we are working with our reservations system provider to continuously improve and develop the online customer journey, removing unnecessary clicks and steps where possible, thus making the online customer experience as straightforward as possible.

We fully understand the importance of having a smooth process in such a competitive market as golf booking, so it will remain a major focus of ours to continue updating and improving the system.

To further incentivise this method of booking, we have recently introduced a loyalty card scheme with a retail incentive for all bookings that are made directly through the club’s website.

We are hoping that this will help to inspire some people who wouldn’t usually book online to try and do so, which will keep the Golf Reservationist more freed up to be there as support and keep the feedback coming in from the online system.

Farleigh Golf Club golf course

Have you got an employee experience strategy?

Our colleagues are at the heart of what we do. Without them, Farleigh would not be the place that it is today and the place that the members love.

They provide fantastic service, make visitors and members feel at home, and make sure the course is always in perfect condition; they deserve huge credit for how they have performed, especially with all the changeability that the last 18 months has brought.

We, therefore, need to ensure that we are doing our best to retain and motivate these employees. Teamwork and communication are integral to getting the best results, so to foster this we have recently introduced a “departmental fun budget” to cover the cost of regular team outings.

We also have 2 staff parties per year, under normal circumstances, one after Christmas and one before the start of the summer golfing season to say thank you to our teams for all of their hard work and dedication. We also have an employee of the month scheme in place.

Farleigh Golf Club bar

Previously this was voted for by all heads of department however we have recently opened this up to allow all employees to vote, with reasons, for who they think deserves to be awarded the employee of the month title.

Making people feel fully appreciated is often key to maintaining a happy staff base, and by opening up the voting to all staff, we are hoping to bring some names to the fore that maybe heads of department might have missed.

Those people who do a great job every day they work, that provide the best service but maybe get a bit lost because they aren’t the loudest etc. – that’s the people who keep a business moving and succeeding and we want to make them feel valued and wanted at Farleigh.