Creating Value for Your Members

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Johan Hinton, Hintons Golf AB photo thanks to golf.se

images-1Unknown-1When Swedish sports star Sven Tumba picked up a golf club in the mid-60s, golf in Sweden took off like a Saturn rocket with boosters. Almost overnight, golf in Sweden went from a dalliance of the posh to a sport for the middle class.

Golf became so popular that over 500 golf clubs were started and golf players grew to almost 600,000 in four decades. The sport was so in demand that there were waiting lists for membership at many clubs. As club members became share holders in the club, like in any bull market share (membership) prices went through the roof.

Around 2005, golf in Sweden had something happen that never happened before. The Golf Federation of Sweden saw membership and rounds of golf drop for the first time since the Tumba effect. Forty years of meteoric growth came to a screeching halt.

A variety of reasons were given and still are given ten years later: too expensive, too long to play, too hard to learn and the explosion of internet and video games sabatoged people from playing golf. There were panels, discussion groups and consultants discussing the problem, but no solution has been found. Sweden finally was part of the world wide problem of fewer golfers playing.

Golf clubs in Sweden, for years insulated from this global slowdown, now saw themselves in a dilemma. While costs of operations grew, income from membership fees and daily green fees was shrinking. Many clubs opted to get out of the membership share holding formula and looked for other ways to increase income. One common way was to cut back on costs, including course upkeep.

Another idea was to offer low membership fees that gave golfers their necessary SGF membership. These “mail order” clubs increased membership (some to a couple of thousand ) to raise the golf club’s gross.

Around 2010, if my memory serves me, there began loose associations of local golf courses uniting to offer members of one club the opportunity to play at another for a limited amount of rounds. Then, club packaging began where, under one membership fee, you had membership privliges at the sister clubs involved.

In 2014, a group was formed in Stockholm that took the multiple golf course membership to a new level. Calling itself, Unipeg (“peg”is Swedish for tee) the company has a vertical marketing plan. The plan is that a Unipeg member would be able to, for instance, purchase clothing and equipment, book golfing trips, or lessons within Unipeg. To make this plan work they needed members so they began to take over operations of golf courses in the Stockholm area at a furious rate. This rapid growth gave Unipeg over 22 000 active members and players. In addition to games on 17 courses in the Stockholm area.

At about the same time, the Kalfors GK, a very successful family run golf operation in the area just south of Stockholm, had a slightly different approach. Because of their success, Kalfors needed more golf holes to meet the increasing demand. In a mutual decision, there was a merger between the two clubs, forming the group, Golf South STHLM. Members from each separate club are now members of this new union, giving the players 72 golf holes to play. The bonus is that these golf courses are the #1 & 2 golf courses rated for the area.

Last month, another family operator, the Rönnebäck Golf Club, acquired the floundering Malmö City golf club. They will operate under the banner of Hintons Golf AB.

Well, how has this trend worked for these organizations? We asked Pelle Sättare, CEO of Golf South STHLM and Johan Hinton of Hinton Golf about that.

Golf South, in acquiring Vidbynäs GK, helped a successful company get better. Golf South was quick to point out that there would be no acquisitions after Vidbynäs as the Unipeg model was not what they are after. Sättare explains, “Golf South Stockholm is the result of a vision that created southern Stockholm’s best and most affordable golf experience. We decided to allow our members access to all that Kallfors and Vidbynäs offer, all for a single membership fee. We now offer 72 holes on the region’s two highest ranked courses, Vidbynäs South Course (#1) and Kallfors 18-hole course (#2).”

So, how’s that working out for you? “Very well,” said Pelle. ” Membership increased by a net 25%. Rounds played went up by 32%. While income from daily fees remained fairly flat, membership rounds played was increased.” The operation side of the golf courses was merged under the Golf South umbrella but, for the time being, maintenance is being handled by the individual golf courses.

Johan Hinton, from Hintons AB just made the merger with Malmö City, so we asked him what was his reasoning for making the move? “It started this past March. We contacted Malmö City and they were open to the idea. It wasn’t long before the deal was made.”

So, are you aiming to become the Unipeg of the Malmö area? “That’s my goal,” said Johan, “It just made a better economic picture for both clubs, members and golfers of the area.”

Hinton continued, “We feel we can now offer a better product at Malmö and Ronneback. A better product means more golfers and more golfers means an increase in capital. Is it a risk? Sure, but it’s one that makes sense to me.”

Hintons Golf will now offer three courses for one membership fee. In the immediate works are to improve the clubhouse, parking lot and driving range at Malmö City. “By doing this, it will have a positive effect on Malmö’s members. All our members now get more golf for their money.” Hintons Golf AB oversees the management of both clubs, while each club still supports its own men and women players clubs.

As for Unipeg, after a whirlwind pre-season, they’ve been quietly instituting and ironing out the mechanics of getting 17 different clubs on the same page. They closed the downtown retail store for the summer. However, on September 3, 2015, they are hosting a day long event with golf for their business and supplier friends. I can only guess, but I would think there will be some important information about their direction coming out of that gathering.


Swedish Golf’s Day for Women

Did you know that Sweden has a day dedicated to woman golfers throughout the country? Nationell Damdag is, year in and year out, one of the most successful golf events of the entire Swedish golf season. Over 160,000 women play golf in Sweden.

imagesA recent assignment took me to the Bavaria area of Germany and, in a conversation with one golf club general manager, the topic of how his club goes about developing golf for its future. The general manager talked about their junior program, the mantra of golf associations around the world, including Sweden. He also offered that whenever his golf federation has a general meeting and the topic of improving amateur youth teams for European competitions, Sweden is used as the model.

Indeed, during the 2015 British Open, the Golf Channel mentioned that one of the reasons that Sweden produces many excellent professional golfers is that the country maintains golf as an open sport. Club membership is, comparatively,  inexpensive allowing more people to play the game.

National Women’s Dag (National Damsdag) in Sweden is a once a year event that all golf clubs participate in. The particulars are that Swedish Women golfers have the ability to travel to any club and play for half green fees. The concept is to introduce women golfers to travel, meet other golfers like themselves, and build a personal network of golfing friends. Some clubs, additionlly  have competitions that require an entry fee, but that is to cover the prizes and lunch.

Rules of the Swedish Golf Federation for Tournament play are used. Women have to be 18 years of age to play in the tournament, the golfer must have a established handicap and local rules apply.

The day’s participation level grows every year and it’s not unusual for clubs to be drawing over 100+ golfers for the day’s activities. I’m just guessing but it seems that the extra jolt of golfers on a week day to the pro shop and restaurant must off set the reduced green fee.

This is just another way that Sweden looks to include all of its golfers in its golfing activities. Sure, Sweden does very well in international competition. It does better in its inclusion of all its citizens in golf or any other sport, for that matter.


Overview of Golf Play in Sweden

Sweden is one of the best countries to play golf. The season, generally, runs between May and October.

Sweden has many excellent golfing venues, some of them are world class golf courses by architects like Robert Trent Jones II, Jack Nicklaus and Kyle Phillips and native Swedish designers like Nordwell, Nordstrom, Linne and Chamberlain.

Swedish golf courses are a treat for golfers. Swedish golf courses will not only give you a challenging game, they also represent the countryside in which they reside as if Nature shaped the golf course through eons of ice, wind and snow and the human designers decided where to grow the grass for the greens and tees. Swedish golf courses not only give you a good game but many, many are scenic walks as well. A number border on environmental and wildlife reserves.

Facts on Golfing in Sweden

• Number of golf courses: Of the 31,000 golf courses around the globe, 450 are located in Sweden.

• Number of golf clubs: 482

• The population of Sweden is about 9.4 million people.

• Number of Swedish golfers: about 491,401 registered golfers.

• Of all Swedes who play golf, about a third are women.

• 20 percent of Swedish golfers are at or under the age of 20.

• Around six percent of all Swedes play golf, the highest percentage in Europe.

According to a survey done by the Swedish Golf Federation in 2010, exercise and health was reported by no less than 76.3 percent of all Swedish golfers when asked why they play golf. Socializing with family and friends got a 67.6 percent response.

Noteworthy was that only 27 percent of the survey participants mentioned the competitive element, thus emphasizing that golf is a very social sport in Sweden. Swedish golfers take their game very seriously, however. Most Swedish golfers walk their course, pulling a buggy and they don’t dawdle. Golf carts are becoming more available and are treated as motor vehicles by the Swedish government.

Any member of a recognized golf organization can play at any course in Sweden although there may be local handicap restrictions. A golfer needs to be of a certain playing skill, usually acknowledged to be a handicap of no higher than 36. Don’t be surprised if you are paired with Swedish golfers when they ask what is your handicap or how many points you scored for your last round. Swedes play Stableford Golf with full handicaps. ( 1 point for a bogey, 2 for a par, 3 for a birdie, 4 for an eagle and 5 if you bag an albatross. Lycka Till (good luck) with that. Anything worse than a bogey, pick up to keep the group moving.

Average Green Fees:

SEK 400 ($56) near metro areas

SEK 300 ($42) in rural areas
**Tee Time Reservations**

You can book golf tee times through your travel agent, the hotel you are staying at or directly to the golf course you wish to play. When you go online directly to the club, you need to ignore the booking service labeled something like “LOGGA IN TILL MIN GOLF.” That is a service for Swedish registered golfers. You need to go directly to desk or send an e-mail to the course VD (General Manager).

Members of recognized golf organizations can usually play at any course in Sweden although there may be local handicap restrictions. A golfer needs to be of a certain playing skill, usually acknowledged to be a handicap of no higher than 36.

How Swedes Play Golf

Öppen Golf, or Open Golf is the Swedish system of golf created in 1983. The intention of the system is to make Swedish golfers more competitive in international tournament play.

Previously, Sweden used the same system as elsewhere where amateurs played in amateur tournaments and professionals in professional tournaments, and rarely in the same event. the consensus in Sweden is that way was not the best way for Swedes to improve. Why not let the best players meet in the same tournament in order to sharpen the competitive edge among the best.

Open golf was implemented by the Swedish Golf Federation and the Swedish PGA in the winter of 1983. Starting the following summer, all Swedish golf events were declared open to all, provided that handicap requirements were met. Needless to say, amateurs still cannot accept prizes above the limits of amateur status. However, the issue is not monetary gain but the level of competition.

There is no question this decision has played an important part in the success of Swedish golf in the competitive world of international golf. However, in countries that look at golf as a recreation first and a competitive sport second, the thoughts of the SGF, who say they wonder no other country has followed this easy step to encourage higher playing standards, may be a topic of debate.

Don’t be surprised if you are asked what your handicap is or what you scored on your last round in bogey golf (with HDC, you score three for birdie, two for par, one for bogey, 0 for double bogey or higher). They are direct results of Open Golf .

The Weather

Take some time to make sure that you know what to expect from Sweden when it comes to the weather. A little bit of foreknowledge can help you in what you need to pack and what you need to be ready for.

In the first place, you will find that Sweden manages to enjoy a fairly temperate climate for many months out of the year, thanks to its proximity to the Gulf Stream. In the northern, mountainous areas of Sweden there is a more Arctic atmosphere and for about six weeks you can enjoy the Midnight Sun in the far North. Though I mentioned Arctic, most days are still warm enough for shirt sleeves, but always have a jacket or sweater.

While you will not see the midnight sun phenomenon in southern Sweden during the summer, the days are quite long, with dark that lasting around five or six hours. In the south of Sweden the summer can last upwards to four months.

Remember that you will deal with rain, even during the summer months. You should bring along a set of warm clothes. The weather can change with unexpected rapidity, and it is always in your best interests to be prepared. Consider what your personal needs are and how much time you are going to be spending outdoors.

Make sure that you prepare for your trip if you include large cities like Stockholm. The city is a very popular tourist’s destination and the best hotel options will go fast. On the other hand, also remember that you can book your hotel room and secure it with no effective delay when you go online. Make sure that when you come to visit this beautiful city and the rest of Sweden that you are going to have a great place to stay.

If you pick Sweden as your next golfing destination I know you won’t be disappointed. Find out why a small country like Sweden has produced some of the best golfers, male and female, to ever play on the world stage of golf. Between golf rounds you will experience the history and culture of a country who helped to shape the world. Sweden has everything to satisfy golfers and non-golfers alike.

Gene Oberto / Swedish Golf Online