A manager’s thoughts on the need to diversify product

By Russ Ford
Manager, Huntley Golf Club

We have known for sometime, that outside of its over-crowded cities New Zealand has more golf clubs per head of capita than anywhere in the world. But while a surplus of Golf and Country Clubs were once a social blessing, for a society with small screen Televisions, box-like computers and definitely no new millennium smart phones; today they have the potential of becoming a millstone around the neck of a few die-hard volunteers still holding on, for the sake of past generations and some awesome memories. 

Dean Murphy in the latest Golfer Pacific spoke of the need for clubs to have population catchment areas of 20,000+ in order to survive. Like any subjective measurement, this doesn’t necessarily take into account that some clubs, like Waiterimu, can easily survive on a regional catchments of under 10,000 people, simply because they already generate revenues from alternative activities like farming the nine holes never developed as a golf course. 

While they probably did not originally intend farming to become such an essential part of their long term strategic plan, they are mighty grateful today that this has become the case. Perhaps some of the clubs bordering on insolvency from falling golf revenues and seasonal liquidity stress, need to try and learn from such successful template models as developed by other clubs.

While selling excess land has become the in vogue survival option over the past twenty years there is now not much silver left in the club draw to sell. Even today we see Pakuranga becoming part and parcel of a neighbouring retirement village and the golf club concept suits them nicely. Such outside the square diversification, or seizing upon an opportunity that guarantees long term golf course survival, has to be applauded. Mind you how public accessible will the course be in future, remains to be seen. 

Every club and course has its own unique characteristics but given the numbers of Clubs, similarities must exist that will allow fruitful sharing of strategic plan templates. Huntly Golf Club is in the process of developing an interesting one. If we were back in the nineties it might have simply been a case of holding on while awaiting the collision of Hamilton and Auckland city populations within a decade or so. The only problem with that model today, is that given the age of the exist-ing members, most are unlikely to be involved with the club by 2029!

So while the club has successfully recapitalised itself through an Angel Investor* model (this should not be ignored by other clubs), immediate diversification of product is still essential for the club is to reboot itself with younger generations of people. While regular golf has become a retirement and weekend pastime, there are many other sports available for golf clubs to try and associate with their operational facilities. The key requirement is that they must appeal to and attract young kids, their Mums and Dads, their school boards and community sponsors seeking opportunity to reach into and be part of society.

Footgolf is one obvious alternative sport, due to its natural synergy with regular golf. Huntly Golf Club has just installed a 18-hole Footgolf course and while it will need to prove itself over time, the initial public reaction has been very positive. The flat but undulating nature of the riverbed land is ideal. As the regular golf course is already very long (5,688m), a Par 72 Footgolf course of 2,680m has been easily incorporated alongside just ten of its golf holes (as per the attached map).

Whereas most clubs who have installed Footgolf courses have focussed on the round (soccer) ball, Huntly are embracing both the round and the oval (rugby) ball versions of Footgolf. Given  that rugby is the national sport it would be silly not to do so and the only difference between the codes, is that the Oval Balls can also be passed as well as kicked, and both thrown or kicked into the hole. There are ten basic rules to Footgolf and these are quite similar to golf, including the shared intent of getting the ball from tee to hole in as few kicks as possible.  

Players are encouraged to bring their own balls and to wear flat soled sneakers or soft spiked golf shoes. Studded soccer boots are not allowed as they can cause damage to the greens. The great news is that over this summer, all kids (under ten) who bring their own ball will be allowed to play for free and that Families are being encouraged with a discounted Family of five group fee. As with golf a reasonable standard of attire is required. Use of Kicking Tees will be allowed from the tees, and very younger players starting out, can use a tee on the fairways. We hope that novice and expert players alike, will find playing our course to be a great fun experience. We are not regimenting ourselves to the strict international rules of the code, as not allowing use of tees is plain daft and a basic failure to understand the very essence of golf.

The fact that players will be able to choose to play circuits of either 6 holes, 12 holes or the full 18 hole course, will allow us to cater for both the fun, recreational and serious sport players and allow players to minimise their playing time to suit their needs. We have set our fees really low and they basically amount to a gold coin donation for kids to play, or free when using their own balls. We wish to encourage families and schools to get involved during 2019 and are hopeful that some Rugby, League and Soccer Clubs will get in behind this new initiative for the town and region.

As a result of new Health and Safety regulations, management of land and time segregation for both regular and foot golf is necessary. The Footgolf course play will happen on the front side of the golf course after 3pm weekdays (except Wednesday being solely a Golf Club Day) at a time suitable for after school groups or individuals. In the late afternoon regular golfers are usually 9 holers or members practicing and they can be catered for on the back half of the course. On weekends the start time will be an hour earlier at 2pm after which time regular golf will be restricted to 9 hole golf, unless there is an Open Event on in which case Footgolf will be sidelined for the day.

Footgolf is only the first of several new multi-sport activities under consideration for what will eventually become a Sporting and Social Hub site at Te Ohaki. Tramping and walking along with Regular Golf on the Huntly Golf Course are existing activities. Weekend walkers on the Te Araroa National Trail can become associate members of the club and use the club’s car park, ablution and social facilities, before and after their walks alongside the mighty but tranquil Waikato River. We now have the potential of fourteen different membership categories covering Regular Golf, Foot Golf, Tramping & Walking, Camping & Caravanning, plus some other sports still under consideration. If you live nearby, or are passing, why not come and get involved in the new happenings at Te Ohaki?

*An Angel Investor is a term used to describe a non predatory Investor, who in purchasing an asset seeks to protect the ongoing business and/or constitutional interests of the seller. Such status will be demonstrated through the purchase and sale agreement, that may provide a friendly term of asset lease-back and empower the seller with the right of repurchase by way of asset buyback. Buyback agreements are common in capital markets where specific financial instruments are provided as security for investors.

Sarah HeadComment