Golf Business News sat down with the outgoing and incoming chairs of Golf Business International – Howard Swan and John Ashworth respectively – to find out what’s in store for the group, its members, and its clients in the years ahead …
What are the main focus areas for Golf Business International moving forward?
John Ashworth JA: Golf Business International’s core business is to act as a marketing consortium for the consulting businesses of its members. The concept is that by working together, the consultant members of Golf Business International represent a stronger force in the market place, and offer a more comprehensive service to clients, than they could do working independently. We need to convert that message into more opportunities for our members to win business.
Are you continuing to look to recruit new members? And in any particular field?
JA: Yes, we are still welcoming new members, provided they meet the criteria of at least two years’ operation of an independent consultancy, offering professional services to golf business clients. Product areas where we are under- represented include golf travel and tourism, golf retail, golf club catering, and golf business funding.
When media coverage effectively mocks expenditure spent on consultancy, is there still room for consultants within golf? And, if so, is the field of consultancy constricting?
JA: Consultancy is about providing specialist advice and assistance to buyers who recognise they need help in specialist areas. Very few – if any – golf businesses have the in-house skill base to deal with, say, planning applications for holiday lodges, plus knowing how to design an irrigation system for a golf course, plus ensuring compliance with employment regulations, or health-and-safety legislation. In most cases, hiring in outside specialist consultants makes good economic sense when developers or operators are faced with specialist or technical issues.
Are there young consultants coming through with new skills sets and, if so, in which areas are they active?
JA: Technology is providing one impetus: the growth and application of social media is a prime example where technical knowledge and practical experience can boost significantly a golf club’s marketing programmes. Economic and political change creates new demands on business: for example, the implications of Brexit; or the drive towards environmentally friendly golf courses. The need for specialist skill sets will always exist.
What has been the biggest achievement of Golf Business International and its membership?
JA: Golf Business International is at a point on a journey of growth where talk of ‘biggest achievement’ is premature. The former Golf Consultants Association (GCA) needed a significant injection of new thinking and coordinated effort to avoid collapse. The last few years with Golf Business International have provided a new energy and sense of purpose. The new website, and a strong PR and marketing push have boosted market awareness of Golf Business International. The preferred partner agreement with England Golf offers the potential for growing demand for Golf Business International member services from golf clubs in this country, and the opportunity to roll out the preferred-partner concept to the governing bodies both domestically and internationally.
You currently have four corporate partners – what’s the thinking behind that, and are you happy to speak with further potential partners?
JA: There is an obvious financial benefit to Golf Business International from the corporate partner programme and a strong promotional benefit to the corporate partners from Golf Business International members’ interaction with golf businesses. Golf Business International would be pleased to associate with further corporate partners, particularly companies working in areas of the market that do not conflict with the interests of our existing partners.
John, what lasting legacy has Howard left following his time as chairman?
JA: Howard has been the driving force behind the transition from GCA to Golf Business International. He, personally, has been responsible for successfully launching the corporate-partner programme and for recruiting a significant number of new Golf Business International members. And he established a strong relationship with England Golf with the consequent preferred partner arrangement coming into force. But he is not finished yet! As Executive Officer, we are hoping he will continue to drive Golf Business International forward to generate more business for the members and to provide a growing level of consulting service to the market place.
Howard, how do you think John will take the group forwards?
Howard Swan HS: I believe John will be a fine chairman. He has done it before in the days of the Golf Consultants Association, of which he was a founder member, and is a professional and greatly experienced expert in his field of financial and business management of golf developments in golf operations. He is a strategic thinker and will guide Golf Business International excellently towards achieving our aims as we plan towards 2024.
John, what are you hoping to achieve in your time as chairman?
JA: Golf Business International has a new board with the enthusiasm to capitalise on the sound base which has been put in place over the last few years and my role will be to encourage and guide. We want to significantly improve opportunities for consultancy work for our members by converting awareness to leads and to assignments. That will require us to be more proactive in chasing down opportunities, something that we have not concentrated on over the recent past when we have prioritised building awareness of Golf Business International in the market place.
Howard, what does your new role entail?
HS: Essentially, I will act as the coordinator of Golf Business International following the direction of the exciting, visionary and ambitious new board, liaising with our membership, with our four corporate partners, with our PR and marketing advisors, and driving the way forward.
The principles and practices laid out in the highly valuable preferred partnership agreement, which we have with England Golf, are likely to be developed and rolled out to other national golfing bodies, both at home and abroad, thereby giving our members much greater opportunities for gaining consultancy work in all those places.
Is the relationship that Golf Business International has with other UK-based associations, like England Golf, also a ‘preferred partner’? Can more be done with the other unions/associations and the UK Golf Federation, formerly the UK Golf Course Owners Association?
JA: We have agreed to approach other governing bodies in the home countries with the idea of a preferred partner arrangement along the same lines as that with England Golf and that is now underway. In addition, we are in talks with GCMA to explore how best we can provide Golf Business International’s services to its members.
What is the area of activity outside the UK – Golf Business International does contain the word ‘International’, after all. I know that some members already have extensive international networks. What can Golf Business International do to spread the business of its members in the world of international golf development?
JA: Many of our members have internationally based clients and deal with overseas projects. At the present time, two of our members are based outside the UK, in Italy and Latvia. We have received invitations to speak at conferences in Asia and Europe, and invitations to bid for projects in countries such as Russia and the Lebanon.
We are at the point of reviewing what has, to date, been an ad hoc- approach to building an international presence and adopting a more structured approach toward international development. But we need to keep the needs of our members at the front of our minds – not all of them provide services which are readily translated into international markets – and to be wary about the costs of an overseas development strategy.