'It's Going To Be A Tough Year' - Golf Club Operations Director On Cost Of Living Crisis

Harleyford GC Operations Director Jack Slade admits clubs will need to be tighter in 2023 amid rising inflation

Golfers walk on a fairway in winter
(Image credit: Kevin Murray)

Harleyford Golf Club Operations Director Jack Slade thinks 2023 will be a tough year for the leisure industry, with clubs and golfers facing continued inflation.

Harleyford has picked up around 250 members since the pandemic and is situated in an affluent area of England but even it expects to feel the pinch in these challenging times.

Thanks to the influx of new members during the pandemic, the club has been able to invest around £500,000 on the golf course but Jack admits that the business will have to be tighter in 2023 as costs continue to rise and golfers begin to look at their own personal finances.

"I think it’s going to be a tough year for leisure in general," Jack told Golf Monthly. "I think there’ll be more government support coming for leisure industries because it’s a bit of a sleeping giant at the moment, but with leisure industries, there are so many pressures coming from different sides. There are energy and staff costs, and people retracting their spending if they’re concerned about their own personal finances so I think, whilst we’re not seeing it at the moment, I do feel like next year there will be a shift in business.

"I think we’re going to have to get much tighter in terms of our overheads, but in saying that I do also think that we’re lucky in our location, we’re in an affluent area of the country and we should hopefully continue with that support that we’ve been getting from the members. I think they’ll only expect an increase, as will every golfing member up and down the country."

Like almost every golf club, Harleyford will be putting subscription fees up next year and will therefore expect a higher attrition rate as pandemic golfers perhaps start to tail off and golfers struggling with rising costs think carefully about cancelling their membership.

"The first thing I’d say is obviously inflation so we have to be aware that inflation is a big part of our business," Jack explained when discussing the impending fee rises. "We’re quite a high margin business, as all golf clubs are. From fertiliser to staff, the minimum wage is going up so we have to increase everyone accordingly, to even chicken in the kitchen, all prices are going up massively and we are going to have to compete with that with whatever increase that we put on.

"The second thing is that we’re currently in the process of spending nearly 500k in investment on the golf course this winter. We’re having all our bunkers completely re-done, so we’re going to have 26 new bunkers to replace our current ones and we’re also doing phase 1 of our new irrigation system.

"Basically the investment in the golf course is about 500k so also an increase which is appropriate for that as well. The thing we like to do at Harleyford though is we like to spend the money then do the increase, we don’t like doing the ‘Oh we’re going to put your subs up 20% and then we’re going to do the bunker project”. We do it the other way round so we show the members what they’re getting for their money and then implement the increase."

Harleyford can afford to invest in its golf course because of the surge of new members following the Covid pandemic. It's prioritising its golf course because that is now far and away the number one revenue stream of the golf club, when pre-Covid it was the food and beverage department that had to help subsidise the cost of improving and maintaining the golf course.

"So it’s changed because of priorities," Jack said on how the landscape has changed over the last two-and-a-half years. "We pulled back a lot of the secondary spend investment, so we pulled back a lot of F&B and clubhouse spend, which used to actually generate a lot of income for us to subsidise the golf but now because the golf has seen such an increase, we’re actually investing more in pure golf things so making the process much simpler. Focussing on providing a really good golf course and making sure members get a good golfing experience. The F&B now has taken a back seat so we’ve increased the number of greenkeepers, decreased the number of bar staff and that sort of pattern of going forward of re-focussing our efforts on purely providing great golf."

Harleyford is clearly in a good position with a full membership and a waiting list, but clubs are having to be vigilant to survive and thrive over these next couple of years. The cost of living crisis is affecting all industries and golfers and clubs are just like everyone else, having to deal with rising costs. The pandemic has breathed new life into the game, and maybe it is those new golfers - 5.2m played golf in Great Britain in 2021 vs 2.5m in 2017 - that will help clubs, and the industry as a whole, make it through this recession.

Elliott Heath
Senior Staff Writer

Elliott Heath is our Senior Staff Writer and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news, features, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Elliott has interviewed some huge names in the golf world including Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Bernd Wiesberger and Scotty Cameron as well as a number of professionals on the DP World and PGA Tours. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as four Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 2-6. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Max

Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max

Irons: Mizuno MP5 4-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x