Revolution at the Royal: “Golf is not enough”

Growing Golf

The manager of the first Royal golf club in the world to relocate says golf alone is not enough for a modern club to maintain a sustainable business.

Phil Grice, General Manager and Director of 125-year-old Royal Norwich Golf Club in the east of England, will this month open the doors of a new, purpose-built club featuring a microbrewery, bakery and family nature trails.

Speaking to Syngenta Growing Golf in a new podcast and multimedia feature titled ‘Is Club Membership Dead?’, Grice says, “I am not convinced that golf on its own is enough.”

“You have got to create a community and a reason for people to be part of it.”

Grice’s comments come as the old Royal Norwich Golf Club site, which suffered declining membership for 11 consecutive years, prepares to close ahead of redevelopment for housing.

“The business was unsustainable,” admits Grice. “The challenge of having an older clubhouse, with an older membership, an older mentality and an older golf course was leaving us cut adrift.”

While the upheaval has enabled the construction of an impressive new 18-hole course and a six-hole academy course, both by Ryder Cup course specialists European Golf Design, the move is much more than a relocation.

What’s emerging is an entirely new club, with a bold people-centric vision and a clear strategic plan, informed by market research and customer insights.

Grice explains, “We’ve looked at the technological world, we’ve looked at the time-based world, we’ve looked at what youngsters and families want and what fits today, more so than telling them what we offer and hoping they want it.

“We’ve taken a top down approach as to what we can do – and a bottom up approach as to what people actually want.

While the move at Royal Norwich may look like a revolution, according to one leading expert on the private club business, Henry DeLozier of Global Golf Advisors, the move is part of a wider evolution in the golf business.

“I don’t believe that traditional club membership is dying as much as it is evolving,” says DeLozier.

“The fact of the matter is, what was considered traditional 20 or 30 years ago has changed. It’s just different. One can fight that, or one can embrace the evolutionary process and be a part of it.”

While many clubs have been agile at adjusting their membership offerings, many clubs have not taken the strategic, long-term approach Royal Norwich has, says DeLozier.

“There is still a large proportion that is stuck in the trap of thinking short-term, lacking the strategic vision that will ensure that their clubs remain relevant 10 or 20 years from now,” he adds.

Back at the new Royal Norwich Golf Club, final preparations are underway for this month’s opening.

As well as all-inclusive memberships, the club has been successfully selling new points-based memberships.

“We are absolutely, fundamentally, one hundred percent a private members club, but we believe we operate in a customer-focused way,” says Grice.

“We’re just ensuring the customer is getting exactly what they want.” 

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