Golf Features meets Colin White

People in Golf - Golf Features meets Colin White, Group Operations Manager of Green Grass Golf 
Colin White PGA started as a golf professional at The Marriot Forest of Arden and moved to a head professional post in Spain, before returning to the UK to join Crown Golf as Head Professional at Addington Court in 2008. He became Director of Golf at Chelsfield Lakes in 2010 and oversaw the transition to the new ownership structure. He is still based at Chelsfield Lakes, but as Group Operation Manager for the Green Grass Golf he now oversees Broke Hill, which was acquired in 2012 and Cranleigh Golf and Country Club, which was added to the group the following year. Golf Features caught up with Colin at Chelsfield Lakes:
Golf Features: How does the operation of the three facilities vary?
Colin White: Chelsfield Lakes is a very busy pay and play course, with a big golf operation and lots of functions. Broke Hill is just over a mile away, but is a membership golf club and Cranleigh Golf and Country Club is a lifestyle leisure facility, which has a range of other leisure facilities to complement the golf course. We offer all sorts of incentives to members of the facilities to use the other parts of the group and this is obviously much easier between the two Kent based facilities, as they are so close to each other.
Golf Features: Is Chelsfield Lakes your favourite?
Colin White: To be honest it is. I have a strong link to the site and am based here most of the time. The other sites are very strong businesses and I like them very much, but Chelsfeld Lakes has always been a special place for me.
Golf Features: What are the long term goals with the business?
Colin White: The Green Grass Group manage and own three facilities at present and we want to expand as suitable opportunities present themselves. We would like to add more quality pay and play, membership and lifestyle complexes to the group, but are not in a hurry to do so. It is vital that any acquisitions are a good fit for our existing structures.
Golf Features: Is the business improving this year, despite the distractions of the Referendum, the Euros and Olympics and some dubious spring weather?
Colin White: The year to date has been pretty steady so far, but we expect some gentle growth if we get good weather for the rest of the year. Our performance would have been much stronger already had conditions not been so poor in June.
Golf Features:  How do you keep on top of the day-to-day running of the sites, and is this becoming easier?
Colin White: It is a lot of work to run the group, but we run ESP management software throughout and this had made things substantially easier. When we took over at Cranleigh, there was another system in place. We carefully investigated all the systems on the market and found that ESP was by far and away the best all-round solution for our needs. Since we have installed it across the group, we have been able to run the whole operation with a higher degree of efficiency and professionalism. Best of all, its easy to train new staff members to be up to speed in a short time frame and it doesn’t crash.
Golf Features: What challenges do you think that the golf industry will face over the next ten years and are you preparing for these issues now?
Colin White: We are all time poor in the 21st Century, so we have to be aware that our customers cherish their leisure time and have a lot of options besides golf. We have tried to ensure that they feel comfortable to bring their friends and families to the facilities and that we offer plenty of friendly options for new visitors to enjoy coming to our sites.
Golf Features: How important are PGA professionals to your team and are you using their skills differently in the group, rather than the traditional roles of teaching and retailing?
Colin White: Our PGA professionals perform key roles for us at all of the sites. There are obviously some poor quality professionals in the UK, but all of our team are doing very well and delivering high levels of customer service. They are more involved with membership and managing our various events, so the job is more interesting than just purely teaching golfers on a production line.
Golf Features: Do you prefer to run the retail side of the business ‘in-house’?
Colin White: We run all of our retail in-house and are doing very well this year. This links back to our professionals who are now far more involved with the whole business and are selling more clubs and equipment than ever before.
Golf Features: What are the biggest problems in running the business?
Colin White: Our main frustration is the weather. No matter how well run the clubs are and no matter how well trained our teams are at customer care, a month of rainy, cold weather doesn’t help the bottom line.
Golf Features: What are the future plans for the group in terms of reinvesting in the existing facilities?
Colin White: To broaden our appeal we are looking closely at adventure golf and other ideas to broaden the appeal of occasional and non-golfers to our sites. We are discussing things with the planning authorities at present.
Golf Features: What are your best tips for maximising revenue for food and beverage?
Colin White: A good food and drink operation is dependent on so much more than merely getting food and drinks to customers quickly. Happy customers are great for business and unhappy customers can really broadcast their feelings! Great service is normally lacking in the UK. This may seem blunt, but the levels of customer care elsewhere in the world, particularly in the USA are far better than ours. We are heavily investing in staff training and use the 59 Club to test and train our team with random ‘secret shopper’ calls and visits. We are very pleased to see this bearing fruit, but it is a constant process to improve standards. 
Golf Features: How important is the function side of the business to you?
Colin White: Functions are a large proportion of our turnover and a great way for us to continue to trade when it is too dark to play golf. All of our sites do good trade and are all in excellent locations and we will continue to develop and improve this side of the business over the coming years.
Golf Features: Is recruitment a difficult issue for you, or is it easy to find and retain good staff?
Colin White: It is always hard to find good staff, but we are very pleased with our team at present, who are working well to deliver excellent results across the group.
Golf Features: Would a fairer tax system within golf benefit your trading operation considerably?
Colin White: The inequality in VAT and taxation in general is a complete disgrace. We are forced to pay more tax on encouraging golfers to play, while private clubs, with an unwelcoming policy towards new golfers are able to get enormous tax breaks and offer their members subsidised, exclusive golf – its crazy and it must change.