John Fissenden, MC Chair, opened the Forum on National Palindrome Day (6-10-16). He welcomed some 39 members (24 had attended the May Open Forum) and encouraged active participation and questioning.
Welcome to Philip Morley, General Manager
Philip introduced himself and his golfing background – both playing and managing. He gave some first thoughts of NOGC, based on his first four days with us. He said that any club’s strongest asset should be its course and so he was meeting each day with Phil Plater. He was also gaining an understanding of the bar & catering working together. Philip said that we had hired an Air2G2 greens aerator and were also going to hollow tine the greens – probably on Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th October. He would in future schedule in the calendar a spring and an autumn “maintenance week”, so that as much notice as possible could be given, subject to weather at the time. Philip also said that the best membership retention and recruitment was always done by existing members of a golf club and he felt confident that this would continue at NOGC.
Jason Riley asked Philip what had attracted him to NOGC. Philip mentioned his love of Oxford, the fact that he didn’t have to relocate from Reading and the very strong feeling he had that he could bring something to the club, based on his years of experience in the industry and as a lifetime member at Reading GC, a members’ club.
Investment off the course
Dave Fitchett gave a summary of the last 12 months of the club’s catering, as he had been the MC member overseeing the transition from franchise to in-house. Following a difficult first few months with agency chefs, we had recruited Stuart Castle, who had previously worked with us as part of Oxford Fine Dining. Despite the difficulties, the dedication of the the staff had ensured that most functions and booked events had been fulfilled. A series of “catch-up” investments in the kitchen had been made, totalling around £25k. Dave pointed out that there is always a price compromise on catering. If it runs at a loss so that members have cheap food – both daily and for special events – then this is effectively being subsidised by other members. The new catering team was aspiring to high-quality food and service standards: food quality is the second highest complaint about golf courses on TripAdvisor. Dave also said that customer service was the responsibility of each and every member – making other members, guests and visitors feel special when they come inside our gates.
Linda Strange asked what the gross profit was on food. Dave said it was around 70%, which was industry standard.
Malcolm Hookham asked about Sunday carveries. Dave said that these were being put in place again. Dave also mentioned the two Sundays for Christmas lunch.
Trevor Scarrott felt that the numbers for the Summer Ball were low because there had been an event the previous night. Dave responded that it was the case that the same 100 members or so seemed to support club events, but that there are another 400 who should be encouraged to enjoy them by attending as well.
Investment on the course
John Fissenden said that previous years had seen major investments on the course, especially the 3rd hole pond and the bunkers. This past year had seen £100k investment in course equipment, the addition of three new tees, plus extensive tidying activity, rather than specific large on-course projects.
Ann Coyle asked if there were notices across the public footpath, especially by the railway bridge.
Colin Varney asked whose responsibility it would be if a walker tripped over the rope by the 12th bridge.
Richard Burridge said the bunkers remained at inconsistent sand levels.
Jason Riley said that the black membrane linings had been visible in some bunkers for some time and had not been addressed.
Mick French asked which three bunkers were being trialled with the new sand mixture.
Colin Varney said that the greens and other winter areas were always roped off too late, once the approach areas and walkways had started to get wet and churned up.
Chris Smith expressed concern about the sustainability of a few greens, notably the 6th and 16th, especially if we were to have a wet winter
Ann Coyle said that the sprinkler heads were not being strimmed. Two lady members had tripped over these already.
Malcolm Hookham said that players were not using the pathways, which was leading to areas of the course becoming messy.
Dave Titcombe said that several members, including himself, were always prepared to volunteer to help Phil if he is short-staffed, but that Phil sometimes seems reluctant to take up these offers. John Fissenden said that the requirement for course works always had to be balanced with budget availability.
Brian England asked what feedback had been received from the Oxfordshire Captains Day and from the professionals at the ProAm. Stuart Newstead said that this feedback had been very positive. Everyone recognised that pros were briefed to be “on message”, but that one could have informal conversations during the round. His own pro had been positive, saying that “you shouldn’t change much here”, and “yes, a few things can be improved at the edges, but nothing major”.
Brian England also suggested that the Newsletter be more explicit if there any particular challenges on the course, eg with fungus or drainage. This could help dispel any rumours that might gain inappropriate momentum.
Colin Varney asked if the new tees had irrigation.
Mick French asked if the Air2G2 machine might damage the watering pipes under the greens. Philip Morley confirmed that there was no risk.
John Fissenden updated the meeting about 2015/16 finances.
Membership numbers are up, with subscription revenues a little down, due to the general ageing of the membership and their transition to less expensive categories (eg Lifestyle). When the catering came in-house, we did not have any data on which to base a budget. Previous anecdotal evidence from our franchisees pointed to an annual loss of around £20k and that looks to be about correct for our first year of operations. One of the BNI networking breakfasts had been lost in 2015/16 and the other has just finished as well, so revenues are affected by £25k-£30k per year. John also said that the specific numbers in a Profit & Loss account are mainly technical accounting matters and of less importance than the cash flow and balance sheet of a business. These latter two are very strong at NOGC, for example the long-term investment of £300k, as part of the financial settlement of our subsidence claim, had risen to £390k inside five years. John also explained that the MC would present a Financial Statement to the AGM, containing all the important cash-affecting numbers. The Club does not require a full audit, which would cost £10k-£15k. Instead the Club has always had auditors check, to their best ability, whether the Club’s financial processes are sound. John said he was more than happy to meet with any member who would like to go through finances in more detail.
Ann Coyle asked about the state of tables and chairs. John Fissenden said that it is probably time these were replaced and that the MC would look into this.
Alan Bennett said that the Oxford colleges each summer attracted many Americans on conferences and that this should be a great opportunity for afternoon and evening golf. Stuart Newstead agreed and said that we had, to date, been too late to get to the colleges but that he would be looking at that with Philip for 2017.
Mike Cahill asked what it was that was making some visitors, eg one of the BNI groups, feel that they are “unwelcome” at NOGC. John Fissenden said that the MC recognised that it was very hard to strike the balance between being a members’ club and attracting outside business, but that it is vital that each member makes every guest feel welcome.
Ben Tobin asked what lessons could be learned about how members and visitors interact to ensure that the right balance is struck. John Fissenden said that the club’s principal values of being friendly, accessible and professional should guide all our behaviours and that it is in all of our interests as members that guests feel welcome and bring extra revenue to the Club, as this helps keep subscriptions as low as possible.
Anthony Kelly asked if there were any plans to develop the upstairs meeting room as a bar. John Fissenden said that this would be looked at again once we had more certainty about the leases renewal.
Chris Smith asked if Philip Morley had any accounting skills, so that he might train Sue Ayres in the office to do more of the financial postings and thus save money. Philip said that this was not his background. Stuart Newstead said that we may approach this same question from another angle. Philip’s background is marketing & sales, so the working relationship that he establishes with Sue may release some of her time to learn more about the financial operations from John Fissenden’s experts. John Fissenden said that Sue was already familiar with the ClubV1 system, which we use to keep all member-related information (both golfing and financial) and she would be doing more financial work with ClubV1.
Malcolm Hookham asked if the AGM would receive the Annual Accounts. John Fissenden reiterated that the Accounts are not audited, nor were they audited in the past when presented to AGM. Instead the MC would present a Financial Statement to the AGM, which would contain all the cash-affecting revenues and costs.
Any other business
Mike Cahill asked whether the Simulator was being used to best effect. Martin Wathes said that it is unreliable and subject to breakdowns. He and Lee Jackson are negotiating an upgraded replacement. In addition the current Simulator is not easily portable, so we cannot put in place the original idea of holding winter simulator events in the clubhouse. Martin also said that we need to market our Simulator better – to members, to societies and to the rest of the outside world.
Trevor Scarrott asked if there is enough room in the proshop for the Simulator.
Brian England asked about the pricing structure for the Simulator. It had been bought with members’ money, rather than by our professional, so members should not be asked to pay a full price for its use.
Ben Tobin asked what lessons could be learned from other Simulators. His father-in-law is a member at Tiverton, where they have an “indoor winter league”
Richard Burridge said that the Simulator does not look professionally installed. If we are going to market it to societies and the outside world, then it should look good.
Richard Burridge asked whether communications, such as the Newsletter, the MC minutes and the Open Forum notes, should be more detailed and more frequent / immediate. Stuart Newstead said that the new website would address these kinds of questions, as it will have a News area and more search capability for past news.
Trevor Scarrott read from a statement he had prepared. He said he had been injured at the time of the SGM and thus unable to speak. He was very pleased at the overwhelming support for the MC in the SGM vote and he called for an end to any further jibes between members.
Pete Jackson asked if there are too many men’s competitions at the club and whether some of them could be combined in order to give the greenkeeping staff the opportunity to prepare the course in its highest condition for every competition, which was not possible week in, week out. John Fissenden said this was a matter for the Men’s Committee and Ladies Committee.
John Fissenden thanked everyone for their contribution and closed the Forum at 8.55pm