The 18th Green at Balgowlah

My recent “Kodak or Fuji?” article (May issue) generated a heap of great feedback and stories from clubs and readers across the country.  This month, I’d like to share a success/turnaround story about one club in particular, Balgowlah Golf Club, near Sydney. By studying the ups and downs of clubs like this, we can all learn a thing or two to ensure the long-term future of our own clubs.

Like many (or most) golf clubs and businesses these days, Balgowlah had experienced years of declining returns. This, combined with a poorly-managed water retention project, forced the club into Administration in March 2012.

The new Board determined that costs had to be rationalised to ensure a viable future for the club. Realistic plans were drawn up, and members raised sufficient funds for the Club to be released from Administration in April 2013.

The Board and club then introduced some major changes which eventually saw the club return to cash-positive in 2013.

“We changed from employing greens staff to maintaining the golf course through contract management by Landscape Solutions,” says Tom Bourke, President of Balgowlah Golf Club. “This has produced excellent results in course presentation and cost savings, both in staff management overheads, less administration work and management of environmental and occupational health and safety issues.”

“The Professional and Pro-shop activity at Balgowlah Golf Club is now run by an experienced team lead by Head Professional, Andrew Webster, who also manages golf at Wakehurst Golf Club. This has resulted in significant cost savings to the Club, a very well-stocked, presented and maintained Pro-shop and regular golf clinics for children of all ages,” he adds.

Additionally, the Golf Club appointed an experienced club manager and an experienced finance administrator to replace the previous full-time and part-time staff. The club also replaced their in-house catering operation with an experienced local catering firm to establish a consistent and viable catering operation which provides good food at competitive prices.

The club is also determined to be innovative. Balgowlah opens all club competitions to all players (though they admit few men are yet brave enough to play on the traditional Tuesday/Thursday “Ladies days”!).  The 9-hole configuration of Balgowlah Golf course lends itself well to the modern requirements of today’s “family-oriented” golfers, so nine-hole competitions are managed side-by-side with the standard 18-hole format. The Club has embraced the Handiskins initiative (see Event Calendar on pages 73), and, in conjunction with Lite It Up Golf, staged the first Night Golf event in northern Sydney in May this year.

“Over the course of two years, we have pared operating costs by almost $300,000 – all areas of operations, course, clubhouse and administration, have been vigorously examined and rationalised,” explains Bill Colwell, Treasurer. “The initiatives taken during 2013 will have a more beneficial impact on the results for 2014 and following years.”

The club is now concentrating on rebuilding its membership base with particular emphasis on young/junior members. The Club’s membership fees are set to be competitive but also to encourage member retention. Junior membership rates are set to cover the statutory golf affiliation and insurance costs (and equates to less than $1 per week for full access to the course).

“Was it easy to turn the Club around?” ponders Bourke. “Of course not. But, thanks to a tremendous effort from members, we’re well on the path. Nothing is more powerful than a group of people with a purpose and a love for something that, for many, has been a part of their life for over 30 years. Our Club is an egalitarian mix of keen golfers that see Balgowlah Golf Club as a haven from the norm and want it to continue. We may not be Royal Balgowlah but we’re certainly LOYAL Balgowlah Golf Club!”

It’s stories like this that give us all hope for the future of the game.

See you on the fairways


About Richard Fellner

A four-time winner of the Australian Golf Media Awards, including Best Photojournalism, Best Opinion, Best Column and Best Photographic Presentation, Inside Golf Group Editor Richard Fellner is the quintessential Golf Tragic, having played the game for over 50 years (but has never gotten any better!) He has played and reviewed courses all over the world, and has interviewed many of the great players of the game (including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman). Richard is a member of both the Australian Golf Media Association and the Golf Society of Australia, and has been a featured guest on many Australian "sports talk" radio shows and networks, including ABC Grandstand, SEN 1116, Melbourne Talk Radio 1377, 2GB and others. Follow Richard Fellner on Quora


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