During the 2021 GCMA National Conference in November, I had a very interesting conversation with Christopher Fitt (Director of Golf & Leisure, Foxhills Club & Resort). That is why I invited him for an interview to share his experiences and golf club management insights with you/us.
How has the pandemic changed the expectations from golf club membership?
The pandemic has proved very challenging to manage 4500 members’ expectations. Naturally, it is very difficult to please everyone, but we have found that the best approach is consistency. Members want to feel safe at their club, which demands us to take adequate measures to ensure their safety.
We have tried to follow the government guidelines to the letter from the very beginning as this is a reference point for consistency, even though some member expectations at certain times were that we should have been doing more. On the whole, I think we have managed to find a good balance between service, experience, and safety.
The pandemic has also shown us how much families value their leisure and social time, and indeed how important golf is in the life of a golfer. In the early days of the pandemic, there was a huge pressure on availability – the expectation being that as a member is entitled to play when I want as much as I want.
As time has gone on this has calmed down and I think members have reflected and appreciated the privilege of their membership, and are much more amenable, cooperative, and considerate of the challenging circumstances we’re operating in.
What do you do to attract & retain the best professionals?
We’re a family-owned and operated business. Whilst golf is at the heart of Foxhills Club & Resort, we are now more than just a golf club offering much wider leisure experiences for the family. So the family is at the heart of how we operate as a business and treat our staff, as well as at the heart of our offering and key USP.
But that alone isn’t enough to recruit and retain the best people. It’s a really tough employment market at the moment and we’re not immune to those challenges. We actually have vacancies in almost every department right now which is largely out of our control.
Naturally then the team we do have are pulling extra weight to make up for the shortfall and my focus is on making sure our existing team still feels looked after. For example, we are big champions of training and won’t hesitate to invest in our people and departments.
We have a social ‘fun budget’ for each HOD to use for their team to use as they see fit, fostering close teamwork relationships, and we have a bonus structure in place which means when the business is successful, our colleagues share in the success. So, it’s not anything especially transformational but we just try to do what we can.
Where is Foxhills Club & Resort in digital transformation?
A work in progress. The pace of technological change is very difficult to keep up with, but we are investing in the right places.
We actively run marketing campaigns through our social channels all year, we’re getting better at creating more engaging content, and we’re about to undergo a full website renovation project and explore member apps too.
Do you plan any capital investment in your amenities in 2022?
Yes. We have just delivered the single biggest cap Ex investment the business has ever seen with the Pavilion (see picture below) at £7million so we needed a period to take stock and review the success and our ROI model.
Fortunately, it’s been a fantastic year so far, which has now allowed us to seriously consider more investment into other areas of the business for 2022. We’re finalizing a 3-year strategy for the golf courses and driving range, considering projects within our accommodation, clubhouse, and spa facilities.
The challenge with a business-like Foxhills Club & Resort is that there is always something that can be improved so we have to plan and prioritize those areas most in need or that provide the best return. Whenever you spend on one area, that then raises the bar and puts another area in the spotlight.
What do you do to make Foxhills Club & Resort more attractive to women & younger generations? (e.g., Millennials; Generation Z)
From a golf perspective, we a fully mixed and integrated club. 1 captain of which for the last 2 years was female, mixed competitions, we have a thriving junior program called Foxstars with 150 children enrolled and a successful elite group too thanks to some fantastic PGA coaches.
We have dedicated lessons for novice ladies, a tiered membership structure that makes it more affordable for younger working families to join and we’re about to introduce free golf clinics to our non-golfing members to try and put a club in the hands of more of our members.
Wider than golf, we offer a timetable of over 200 activities a week both fitness and non-fitness for our members to enjoy. From tennis, Pilates, yoga, boot camp, and group cycle, to board games, flower arranging, Forrest school, baby sensory, and swimming lessons.
We are constantly introducing and trialing new activities and classes for our members of all ages to try. The Pavilion has been key in allowing us to facilitate these kinds of activities.
How do you want to take advantage of mobile commerce?
As I mentioned before we’re about to undergo a full website renovation and exploring an app for our members. We’ve also recently invested with our software / CRM provider to improve the online booking journey for our customers.
We will hopefully be introducing table-side tablet ordering in the not-too-distant future, and on the golf course have just introduced Tagmarshal so that our starter/marshal team can better monitor the pace of play whilst on the move.
So we’re constantly exploring the opportunities that will provide our members and guests with a better experience whilst improving operational efficiency. But sometimes it takes a while to put the idea into practice!