Operations and Development Director, Andrew Scholey had vast management experience: before he joined Adventure Leisure he ran Abbey Hill Golf Centre for many years and was recognised as BGL’s General Manager of the Year three years in a row before leaving to develop and grow Adventure Leisure. We caught up with Andrew to learn more about the increasing adventure golf movement and the role it plays in making the game more accessible with a wider appeal.
How do you think adventure golf is changing the way people start playing golf, particularly juniors?
I firmly believe that the earlier you can introduce a child to golf by putting a club in their hand, the more likely they are to transition to playing the game or getting a handicap. Quite often when a child picks up a club at an adventure golf venue it is the first opportunity that they have had to do so. Whether that is on a manicured green or an artificial adventure golf course doesn’t really matter, it is about introducing them to the concept of golf and making sure they have an enjoyable experience when they do.
At Abbey Hill Golf Centre you have an adventure golf course and also a range of other more formal golf facilities. Can you tell us how the introduction of the adventure golf course has helped with those other golf facilities and the food and beverage income?
We opened the adventure golf course at Abbey Hill in 2011 and initially we saw roughly 40,000 rounds per year on it. Now we see upwards of 65,000 which is additional footfall to the venue. This has benefitted the range, short course and in time the 18-hole golf course, as more and more people are introduced to the game and encouraged to return. In turn this has helped to stimulate increased food and beverage and retail sales. Our expectation was for the rounds played figure to increase for first three years and then plateau and decline, however the numbers prove that it has increased year on year and stood the test of time. It is important to build awareness and break down barriers to entry for the public when it comes to members golf clubs, as often there is a perceived stigma which results in potential customers staying away. Through the adventure golf course we were able to open our doors to a whole new audience and inspire them to return and make more use of their local golf and leisure
How are your new indoor adventure golf courses being received by the general public?
Our indoor adventure golf venues have been received very positively at each location that we have opened. They have all proved very popular, and we have found that within the indoor market there are numerous potential revenue streams. From the more obvious family market, to an ever-demanding evening market and everything in-between. We’ve seen a lot of success with corporate groups, education links and birthday parties to name a few. I’m pleased to say that every location we have opened has actually exceeded our expectations, which highlights the success adventure golf is seeing away from the traditional golf centres.
Are you still keen to develop other outdoor adventure golf courses?
Yes, we currently have six outdoor units that we operate and plans are in progress for a seventh which will be built by March 2019. Outdoor adventure golf courses remain an integral part of our business model. The ideal situation for us is to have a mix of indoor and outdoor venues that can appeal to customers when the sun is shining, as well as weatherproofing the business to a degree. At our outdoor facilities we measure in rounds, whereas for indoor venues our customers play games. It is important to think from the perspective of a leisure activity and not as a golfer.
What type of golf centre would be the ideal partner for you?
We wouldn’t be averse to going anywhere, I think we’ve shown that by putting in adventure golf venues at golf centres, leisure parks and city centres. When considering any partner, we take into equation the demographic of the local area as well as many other factors. Generally, we look for a population of 250,000 people within a 20-30-minute driving distance of the site and look for a busy family-orientated location.
Do you see adventure golf courses as competition with each other or are they competing with other elements of the leisure industry?
We look at all leisure activities as competition in some way or another. People are very time poor nowadays and have many options for entertainment, so we look at other activities such as bowling or the cinema as competition. Consumers only have a certain amount of income to spend on leisure and there is a battle to make sure you are attracting enough of that spend. On average weekly convenience spend is around the £48 mark, which includes all aspects of leisure activity. Whilst we are competing with other leisure activities often, leisure complements leisure and we have seen success in clusters with other entertainment facilities in leisure and retail parks with our venues.
Having run Abbey Hill Golf Centre for several years, how did the introduction of the adventure golf course change the traditional golfers view of the centre?
When we embarked on the project naturally there was some opposition to it. Members who had played their golf at Abbey Hill were reluctant to change, however after numerous consultations they came around to the idea that we needed to grow the membership and develop the club further. The members are now huge supporters of the adventure golf: it has brought a warmth and energy to the club without impacting the golf course. They function side-by-side and in fact complement each other well. To any club considering making the change I would advise don’t be fearful, there is always a period of change, however in the long run it is the right thing to do for golf.
Are there any significant challenges that the adventure golf business faces in the coming years?
With the increased popularity of adventure golf we are seeing additional competition at both ends of the spectrum; from the most inexpensive adventure golf at a garden centre to new ventures which have a lot of resource to put behind new technologies. Like any young product adventure golf is evolving and one of the challenges is knowing which new technologies to embrace, and which not to.
Do you think the design of new adventure golf courses will become even more exciting and expansive or have the latest courses already generated sufficient excitement for their customers?
Things are going to evolve and there will be attempts both successful and unsuccessful to improve the game and make it more exciting and advanced. Our goal is to introduce technology so that it adds to the gamification of adventure golf, but not to the point where it takes away from what is essentially a low-skill game involving a golf club. This is an aspirational product that brings families together, so we look at ways to enhance that experience. People are happy to spend money at our venues, and they want a clean and fun environment to do so.