Bowers Warns of Golf Club Industry ‘Cleansing’

Patrick Bowers.

Singapore: Only golf establishments that have worked proactively through the Covid-19 pandemic can expect to survive an imminent ‘cleansing’ in the region’s golf club industry.

That’s the stark warning from respected golf industry veteran Patrick Bowers, Founder and Chief Executive of Vantage Pointe, a specialised boutique firm offering strategic advisory for golf project developers, entrepreneurs and family offices.

“Crisis often accelerates the inevitable and this is something we’ve been talking about a lot with our clients,” said Bowers, former Managing Director and CEO at Singapore’s Laguna National Golf & Country Club, for whom he now acts as Strategic Advisor to the Chairman, Peter Kwee.

“One thing we’ve seen during this period is that the club-member relationship impact is significant. This has provided a fantastic opportunity to clubs who have innovative and creative membership communications departments,” said Bowers, speaking during a LinksAsia webinar about the future of the golf industry in Asia, alongside Bill Lisle, AIA’s Regional Chief Executive, and Eric Lynge, Chief Executive Officer of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.

Bowers added: “I think the question is: Have you devalued your membership at this time or have you capitalised on the opportunity? And are you communicating uniquely? I’ve seen some groups doing on-line quiz nights; having zoom concerts; having yoga sessions for people dealing with stress; access to therapists; special meal deliveries; even special hand-written notes that come with the food you might order. I’ve seen some that have talked about creative options for subscriptions, or dues.

“But others, unfortunately, have been in radio silence indicating a real laissez-faire attitude towards the membership and their subscriptions and I believe this will have a huge long-term impact on clubs that have not taken this proactively.

“So, have you dealt with it in an administrative and dictatorial fashion, literally one letter – we’re closed, we’ll see you in seven weeks, 10 weeks, whatever it may be? Or have you been empathetic and understanding about that process?

“The ones who have done that stand to survive the great cleanse. There will be a cleanse and there will be groups that don’t have strong balance sheets that won’t survive this. But you can do mitigating things such as dealing with your membership properly.

“Accelerating the pre-existing trends and taking advantage of crisis situations actually is key in an industry that at times can be accused, and rightfully so, of being stuck in the past or being very stodgy.

“I actually encourage clients to use this as a great excuse to implement some of the things they’re thinking about. Some start very simply. A shift of the business model from a private club to semi-private or resort setting.

Singapore’s Laguna National is adding a Dusit Thani hotel.

“Laguna National, as an example, is making that shift from a very private club originally to one that will now have resort guests playing it … and it’s not easy to do. But using the ‘excuse’ of the crisis to accelerate that is going to be very important because it comes with changes that not everybody likes.

“But it can be even simpler things. There are groups at some clubs in Asia that still require you to go physically to the club to sign up for your tee-time for the following week. These are clubs that should be looking at making a bespoke application which members can order food on, can book tee-times, can buy from the pro-shop, book a spa.”

Citing the inevitable march of touchless and digital payment systems, Bowers said: “Can you imagine with all the restrictions that we now have that you have to drive to the club and stand in the pro-shop two feet away from someone to book your tee-time?

“It’s hard to get some clubs in Asia to embrace digital payment systems, as opposed to cash or writing out cheques. Even from a back-of-the-house standpoint, writing cheques costs money now, specifically in Singapore where it’s a dollar a cheque for each business. So, switch to digital.

“I think it’s a real opportunity for some clubs and businesses even, not just golf facilities, to differentiate themselves from the service culture, to being a safe or a clean business as the priority. That’s if there needs to be a trade-off. If you’re not perceived as a safe and clean facility, and a place where someone’s going to get this virus when they go there, then you’re going to be involved in that great cleanse, I’m sorry to say.”

*To watch a recording of the webinar, follow the link:

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