The opportunity for developers in the golf industry – The Property Chronicle
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The opportunity for developers in the golf industry How moving towards mixed-use models can rejuvenate golf clubs

The Analyst

This article was originally published in December 2017.

In our first article we set down how golf courses had developed in the British Isles over the last 120 years: they originally developed in suburban locations on ideal land morphed into mini greenbelts as conurbations developed around and beyond these green lungs. The second wave of building in late 20th century has both been dislocated from local conurbations and designed and constructed on poorer land with less attention to market need and detailed excellence.

Golf now is too often a one trick pony: generally offering 18 hole courses, often on uninspiring land, poorly suited to golf and with a lack of consideration of 21st century leisure and lifestyle habits. The result has been commercially questionable golf courses struggling to survive. This article evaluates the position in more detail and identifies areas in which both golf and property industries may develop to mutual benefit.

We have argued that shorter golf layouts (from 6-12 holes) and/or other lifestyle-driven products can free up land for real estate, regularise the golf business’s finances and reflect what the market wants and needs. However, where can these new strategies be put into practice?

Overview of opportunity

The commercial imperative for change is not in much doubt from the golf business’s perspective.

Latest research (October 2017) states that of the top UK 1000 clubs by value, a third are in danger: over 20 companies are ripe for takeover, almost 300 companies are making a loss and around 50 companies have lost over a quarter of their value in the last trading year measured.

Let’s consider Surrey with the heaviest concentration of golf in the UK, reputed now to have 142 courses. Added to the financially and socially successful Surrey heathland belt of famous traditional ‘golden age’ courses (like Woking, Wentworth and Walton Heath) are plenty of more flawed clubs with a lower quality of course design or master planning, club management or simply location. They were once fairly busy, but can no longer easily move their subscribing playing membership above 350. Such a membership number makes any traditional club business model unsustainable in the medium-term.

In the past, a desire to attract more customers/members usually promoted a knee-jerk of attaching more golf – a driving range/practice area and/or adding a better short game space. This was often entirely the wrong option, just compounding the original flaw. The more likely answer is less golf and more of something new and different. In this sense ‘less golf’ can often mean much better quality and more enjoyable golf and a vibrant business attracting a wider audience.

The Analyst

About Jonathan Dickins and Guy Hockley

Jonathan Dickins and Guy Hockley

Jonathan Dickins began his career at The Gillette Corporation and has been in the sports and leisure industry for over 30 years. He was a shareholder in a sports marketing firm before moving into golf development involving clubs, resorts and events including a spell representing Gary Player Group in Europe. He then joined a start-up credit card business (Sportscard) which floated on AIM. More recently his firm, JD Consulting, has not only continued to advise on golf developments but also on sports, leisure and play facilities required in and around residential development both outdoor and indoor. Guy Hockley leads Golden Age Golf Architecture Ltd (GAGA) – worldwide specialists in structural planning of golf estates, sports leisure and golf course design for a variety of developers including corporates, governments, resorts and private clubs. GAGA’s focus is increasingly on integrating real estate with green spaces combined with a number of different sports and leisure activities – including restructuring of existing facilities as imaginatively flexible golf courses of 6, 9, 12 or 18 holes to provide greater efficiency and vision of land use and development opportunities for real estate. Essentially - planning and design solutions for active, open-air C21st communities. In a 30 year career Guy has been lead architect for three of golf’s most significant names: Sir Nick Faldo, Gary Player and Hawtree Ltd, the world’s oldest golf design practice (est. 1912). A member of British and European Institutes of Golf Course Architecture since 1994, Guy is the only living European architect to have his original designs listed in both the UK’s and Continental Europe’s 'Top 100 courses' listings (four listed) and the only living UK architect with two golf course designs in the 'Top 100 Courses in UK and Ireland'.

Articles by Jonathan Dickins and Guy Hockley

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