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From ball chutes to click and book: how Churston eliminated queuing for the 1st tee

When you go to one of the South West’s gems, Churston GC, you’ll find no queues on the 1st tee, no ball chutes and large numbers of happy members arriving, playing and departing like clockwork. The club is enjoying a 10% increase over the last two years in green fee income because visitors to this much favoured course can book online and get a game and their choice of tee times and rates.

 

But it wasn’t always like this at this 125 year old golf club where tradition wasn’t so much steeped in the club, but part of its DNA. Members used to arrive early, some as early at 6.30am, in order to get their balls in the ball chute on the 1st tee for the 7.45 start. Large queues on the first tee had become a way of golfing life with members waiting an hour or more to play. Visitors on the other hand all too often found they’d paid their green fee but couldn’t get to play and so demanded a refund. Club matches pre-arranged to start at an allocated time would frequently find several balls still in the chute, leaving Club Manager Simon Bawden the additional and unnecessary hassle of having to make all sorts of time consuming re-arrangements in order to accommodate everyone.

 

So how did Churston resolve all these problems? In short, the club’s Committee and its Club Manager had the wisdom to install the BRS Golf online booking system some two years ago.

Dealing with the not so happy chappies

The club had prepared itself well in advance for the adverse reaction they knew would arise from a some people, having taken some initial soundings from the breadth of their membership through a questionnaire that tested attitudes to an online booking system. What the responses showed was that the vast majority of Churston’s members were in favour, and on that basis the Committee had the confidence to go ahead and install the system in October 2008.

 

Not surprisingly, those who were profoundly against any kind of change were a small number of retired members who were unconcerned about wasted time. But when Churston GC’s Committee and Club Manager first announced their decision, some of these members threatened to resign, claiming it would ruin the culture of the club. By comparison, Simon and the Committee knew the younger members didn’t feel the same way at all.

Getting the online booking policy right

Several wise precautions were taken by the club however, to ensure it worked from Day One. Prior to the installation, the results of the questionnaire were broadcast as widely as possible around the membership, as were the operational ‘rules’ of the system and the help that was available. A buddy system was set up so that the more IT literate members were on hand to help those who weren’t familiar with screens, keyboards and a mouse. Interestingly, the club also banned telephone bookings – it’s all done online.

Competitions online as well

Competition bookings are also handled online, but four out of every five tee times are initially only available on the clubhouse PC on a Friday evening at 6pm for those 50-60 members that want to come to the club anyway and sign up. The tee times are then all available online from 7pm onwards to those at home or in the office. That way a wide choice of tee times is available throughout the day. With as many as 180 entrants, if someone can’t get a time they go on the reserve list for the next one, and are the first to go on the tee sheet.

‘I want to play in my usual group’

Groups that had enjoyed playing together, be they eight, twelve or sixteen members, can still do so because Churston’s system has been designed to allow for one member to reserve up to three other spaces, except during the winter months due to the reduced light and playing times.

 

However, the BRS system has brought some unexpected benefits. Churston’s new members can easily go online, check the tee times and names, and where there’s a space, put down their names. This has stopped what used to be a big problem for new members, ie. breaking the ice and getting a game, and has made Churston a more attractive proposition for joining.

Tee time cancellations handled by e-mail

From Simon Bawden’s perspective, one of the most attractive benefits of the BRS system is that it’s now so easy to manage tee times and groups of members playing in eg. three or four balls. Invariably there are going to be the occasional last minute cancellations; these are now done online by the member cancelling, and the others in the same tee time group are informed automatically by e-mail, as is the Club Manager, enabling all involved to know the new situation and do something about it, eg find another player, etc.

Maintaining the social fabric of the club

Because so many members had got into the habit of arriving early and waiting around to play, members would sit around drinking coffee and chatting for hours. This was claimed to be a key benefit of the club and something that the online system would ruin. Some even claimed that their wives preferred them to be out of the house for what could be six or seven hours or more. But as Simon Bawden would frequently point out, the new system doesn’t stop anyone from doing that! In reality of course no-one bothers anymore, because they know for certain when they’re playing and there’s no more waiting for the 1st tee.

Happy visitors, happy club

Another major benefit for Churston is that the BRS system enables visitors to book with certainty wherever they are, and for the club to be able to push visitors to the less popular times that members don’t want. By showing and setting different rates of green fee for peak and off peak times, Simon can protect the members’ preferred times and still ensure that visitors get a game. By their being able to see those times and rates, visitors can and do book with absolute certainty. This is essential to visitor income.

 

Installing the BRS Golf system has helped Churston increase its visitor bookings by a massive 10%, in complete contrast to the reducing green fee revenues experienced by most other clubs. More importantly, Churston commands a premium rate - £45 - for its prime times and is in complete control of its prices, unlike those clubs that sell their times on the open market for an average of £12-17 and still have to pay a 20% commission out of that fee.

 

What’s more, all those members who had threatened to resign have all found the new BRS system much to their liking, and are happy to use it!

Last word

Simon Bawden’s in no doubt that thanks to the club’s decision to install the BRS Golf online booking system, Churston is a better golf club: “It’s an excellent system. It’s helped us to make one of the biggest changes in the club’s history. We’ve eliminated all the queues and waiting around for the 1st tee, and our large volume of playing members all get their games. That’s helped membership retention especially those in the younger age groups whose time is precious.”

 

“Instead of wasting their journey our visitors can all book with certainty, and we can sell them the times the members aren’t interested in, so much so that our green fee income’s up 10%. New members get quickly integrated into the club via available tee times with other members, and that makes Churston a very attractive proposition to potential recruits.”

 

“In this day and age when so many golf clubs are under pressure to improve membership value, and club managers need to focus their time on managing the bottom line, getting the BRS system is a no brainer.”