Luxury in 2023 is more about aspiration, connection to life events, a moment in time, or lifestyle. Aspirations are diversifying.
Discovering how an exclusive private golf club like La Zagaleta can benefit from the changing luxury industry and golf club business is an exciting opportunity.
During my interview, I had the honor of asking Jacobo Cestino, CEO of La Zagaleta Group, about this very topic.
What is the level of demand for exclusive golf clubs in Europe?
After the pandemic and especially during the pandemic, I noticed a boom in both the exclusive and not-so-exclusive golf clubs in the United States -which is probably the market that has seen the biggest increase in golfers-but in Europe too.
In my opinion, those who were golfers once and who probably abandoned golf for some reason realized during the pandemic that it was a perfect plan to be outdoors and to socialize, practicing a sport which, in my opinion, is the best in the world.
Overall, Europe is an important golf tourism destination, and there will always be room for new exclusive golf clubs or private golf clubs.
Many times, I have been asked why a new golf club or a new golf course would be necessary in an area such as Sotogrande, with nine golf courses. If you’re going to develop an average golf club, there will probably be no demand for it.
The key is to build and design a superb golf course. That way, everyone will want to play. This applies to any other sector in the world. Always aim for the top.
How have the needs & expectations of La Zagaleta members changed in the last 3 years?
In terms of customer service, the quality of the maintenance of the golf courses, the quality of the service, and the restaurant’s food have all remained the same.
But it is true that we at La Zagaleta have faced a serious change in the demographic of home buyers and golfers. 15 years ago, the average club member was 60 or 65 years of age. Now, it is much younger than that.
We currently have many families who spend their vacations, spare time, or live all year round in our gated community, many of whom live with their family and kids, which is a totally different scenario from that of 65-year-old home buyers.
Regardless of age, golf players don’t like to see tee times spaced any less than 20 minutes apart. At La Zagaleta, there are no tee times at all. Players show up and play.
Our occupancy is very low regardless of the season. Our members highly appreciate this. Our customer service is also top-notch.
Our staff knows all our members’ names, favorite dishes, by name, how they like their coffee brewed and their steak cooked. In sum, this is exactly what a private and exclusive club means: personalization, low occupancy, peace, and tranquility.
What services can impress exclusive golf club members in 2023?
There is a trend in some very commercial or modern resorts, especially in the United States, with music on the driving range and where they have this kind of station on the course where you can drink and eat from every 3 or 6 holes.
I had the chance to visit a golf resort in Palm Springs, California, three years ago. A very, very well-known company developed it. And I remember going to the driving range, and there was a man making cigars for free for members and guests and a DJ. I understand this trend, and I like it.
It’s completely necessary for the future of golf. But I would say that in the traditional private golf clubs in America and Europe, these trends are still very premature to be set.
I can’t figure out if Muirfield, Shinnecock in America, National Golf Links, or even Pine Valley have this kind of amenities, activities, and customer service in their facilities.
I cannot envisage it, but you never know. The only things in common between traditional and modern ultra-private golf courses are the values that I mentioned: low occupancy, attention to detail, and exclusivity.
What club membership and green fee pricing techniques will work most effectively in 2024?
I can talk about private clubs, which I know better. Now, I’m less familiar with commercial golf clubs. We have done thorough market research over the last years for our new development in Castellar, right next to Valderrama, a gated community with a golf course designed by Tom Doak, which will be called Majarambuz.
We believe that what will work out most effectively is a very restricted admission committee. Access to the membership must be very, very, very strict. Once set, the membership fee will not be an issue. I know clubs like Valderrama, where the joining fee is nearly 200,000 €.
At Winged Foot Golf Club in New York, you need 20 letters of endorsement by members, plus existing members must analyze your application. Likewise, other members can write letters against your application, which are published on the club’s bulletin board.
These mechanisms work well, but you must have a superb golf design and club and a history behind them. If your development is new, then you must have a big name behind it. That’s precisely why we appointed Mr. Tom Doak.
We knew we had to have one of the “big three” top architects: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak, or Gil Hanse.
Regarding your question, renovation is another key element for a successful golf club.
Not only the grass and the drainage, irrigation system, and greens… but also updating the golf course design and sustainability.
The golf industry must offer a sustainable game focused on water conservation, alternative energy usage, and pollution prevention. At La Zagaleta, we irrigate with reused water and only allow electrical golf carts.
A good number of golf courses in Europe, and especially in Spain, irrigate much more areas than they need, which are hardly used by golfers, not even by not-so-good players.
Clubs should focus on the future and eliminate grass areas with very little use, if any. In the end, the outcome will be customer satisfaction and loyalty.
How do you attract & retain the best professionals for your golf club?
First of all, you need to hire the best, and that means you must spend money. But it’s worth doing it. All workers at La Zagaleta have a fixed pay and a variable pay, based on
- the company’s performance results and
- their own personal performance, which is measured by different heads of departments and, above them, by a committee comprised of three people.
Personalization is the key driver of customer loyalty. Elaborate on your personalization techniques and which one you find the most effective!
We are lucky to have a very low number of members in our club. In that sense, it’s very easy to know any of them by their name, to know their likes and dislikes. We know exactly the time they play. It is really simple to make their lives in the golf club unique and memorable.
How one hires his staff and their profile is very important. Customer loyalty is achieved thanks to the staff’s attention, the quality of food, the immaculate conditions of the golf course, and the passion your staff puts into their daily work.
The golf club’s aesthetics are very important, as well. Beauty is not a subjective thing. There is plenty of literature, mainly philosophy, about this subject. One must pay adequate attention to aesthetics, from the caddy master area to the restaurant to the first tee.
Everything must be beautiful. Beauty is so important for luxury. Never forget that if you have beautiful things, your business will be much more successful.