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Time for clubs to empower themselves


Online training and mentoring: PGA professional Gillian Burrell

Online training and mentoring: PGA professional Gillian Burrell

Online training and mentoring: PGA professional Gillian Burrell

Golf clubs might have experienced a boost in membership numbers due to Covid-19 but leading PGA professional Gillian Burrell believes now is the time to empower clubs to retain them.

With that in mind, she has teamed up with trained accountant Eileen Sheehan to roll out Empower 360, which is a new, online club training and mentoring programme aimed at helping golf club management teams address fundamental aspects of club governance and revenue growth.

"In my experience over the last 35 years working in the industry, you can see the lack of business strategy in the clubs because they are largely run by volunteers," said Gillian, who is an Advanced Fellow of the PGA and the Lead Tutor in the PGA Coach Education Programme in Ireland.

"Really good leaders are there for a few years and then go away, and the enterprise falls down again. That lack of structure is passed on from one management committee to the other.

"Some people might have business experience, but if they do not, they have no training, so we have come up with something to help them to help themselves. It is very much like what the Confederation of Golf in Ireland is doing on the ground.

"There are so many clubs for the CGI to cover, it is a very slow process so during Covid-19 a lot of my training work has gone on online so I pitched this to CGI, and that's where we are. It is really about empowering members to help their clubs to prosper."

This means that Burrell and Sheehan, who is also a Corporate Social Responsibility Practitioner and Well-Being Coach, will work with members from interested golf clubs through Empower 360 to give group or one-to-one virtual training, guiding them to develop best-practice processes and tactics to grow the club's performance.

Gillian, who has delivered training to the PGA, Special Olympics Ireland, Sport NI and the Confederation of Golf in Ireland and consulted for Carr Golf and Synergy Golf Management, is passionate about the project.

"Many clubs are doing very little when it comes to membership surveys or membership retention plans, and we hope to help them look at their organisation differently and come up with some kind of a plan going forward," she added.

Retaining the new members that have joined this year will be key for clubs this winter and Empower 360 will enable clubs to look at their members as customers.

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"There is a huge churn rate where clubs lose 30 members, and their goal becomes to get another 30 members for next year," Gillian said. "But it can cost between five and 25 times more to get a new customer than to keep one, and my experience is that clubs have very little in their budget dedicated to retaining existing members.

"All the budget appears to go on getting new customers, and to me, that's folly. It's much less expensive if you can provide your members with tangible reasons to remain members and have an emotional attachment to the club and not just become car park members who play their golf and go away without spending any time in the golf club."

One Irish club recently emailed all the new "Covid members" asking if they were ready to renew for the rest of this year until the end of 2021.

"Just 13 per cent renewed, which was a long way from their goal of 50 per cent" Gillian explained. "So we suggested writing a short script and after giving them a little training, we asked each committee member to personally phone several new members thanking them for their membership, asking if they were happy with the club and whether there was anything they could do before asking if they were interested in the new renewal offer.

"It wasn't a hard sell, and the number of renewals went up from 13 per cent to 69 per cent, which was a nett gain of €60,000 additional revenue just by making a few phone calls. That's the difference between that club remaining open and not."

Empower 360 is a pilot programme and clubs interested in taking the course should visit gillianburrell.com, call 087 2586788 or email Gillian at burrellgillian@gmail.com.

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