Raising the bar

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I had the privilege of joining the ‘powers that be’ at Goswick Links Golf Club for a general marketing meeting over Zoom last week. The discussion was guided by a thoughtful and detailed agenda, and as you would expect, many of the items related to events, promotions and activities that would help to generate additional green fee business.

For those that have not had the opportunity to play the James Braid designed Open Championship Qualifying course at Goswick, and possibly don’t even know where it is, it is a wonderfully natural, traditional links course in the northern most part of Northumberland within miles of the historic town of Berwick upon Tweed near the Scottish border.
The area has much natural beauty and historic interest; last summer it was like an extension of Hollywood with movies being filmed at the astonishing Alnwick and Bamburgh Castles nearby, with Harrison Ford, Hugh Grant, and others doing their acting stuff. The mystical and spiritual retreat that is Holy Island, Lindisfarne, accessible only when the tide is right is another major place of interest. The people are like a different race compared to those who inhabit London and other major Cities; hospitable, friendly, with more time to spare and share. Visiting this beautiful part of the world is a truly joyful experience.

So, you would imagine that Goswick is inundated with visitors! Well yes, but that is only partly true…there is no doubt that anyone who knows their golf in the immediate region will undoubtedly ensure they get to Goswick whenever possible, but it is golfers who travel far enough to require an overnight stay that present the greater challenge.
Any Group or Society wanting to play Goswick will almost certainly want to play another or maybe a couple of other courses in the area. They will need accommodation located somewhere reasonably close to all courses on their itinerary. It’s not that there is a shortage of other courses in the area; none, quite with the prestige and recognition of Goswick, but very, very appealing courses in their own right.

Bamburgh Castle has views to die for and a course that will put a big smile on your face.

The little known Dunstanburgh Castle is a spectacular links curving around the sandy Embleton Bay with many holes sitting beneath the impressive ruins of the 14th Century castle.

A little further down the coast is the Harry Colt designed Alnmouth Golf Club, which despite having holes where the sea almost laps up against the fairways, is an emerald green parkland.

Should also mention the delightful 9-hole Alnmouth Village; the club was established in 1869 making it the oldest 9 hole links in England.

Accommodation in the area is no great issue, with many hotels dotted along the A1, and in various towns along the coast. A comfortable bed, good hearty breakfast, functioning shower and a well-stocked bar can easily be found.
So, what is the issue exactly? The green fee at Goswick would comfortably be double the current £85 if it were located slightly further north close to Gullane, North Berwick, Muirfield, etc., but green fees at Goswick’s neighbours range between £25-£65.

Whilst you may think that this represents fantastic value, and it most certainly does, the difference in price, is also reflected in a difference in profile, ambition and what can be best termed as brand positioning. The four or five courses could benefit enormously by pooling resources and all be equal partners in promoting the ‘Northumberland Golf Coast’, but that requires a united outlook, and a fair amount of determination and collaboration to get the wheels in motion behind such a concept.

If a golf course is performing reasonably well and the members are happy, then why change? It’s a good question, but one that doesn’t help any Club committed to improving facilities and upgrading the course, which is what so many Clubs in the top 50 in the UK have been doing over the last couple of years during the COVID period, and exactly what Goswick wants to achieve.
It was very clear from the meeting that Goswick is not content to simply ride the COVID wave for as long as it lasts. Quite the opposite: Goswick is doubling down on this unexpected opportunity. It is ramping up its marketing efforts to broaden awareness of Goswick and raise its perception throughout the UK and, strategically, further afield.
This should result in increased visitor revenue that can then be reinvested in the course and clubhouse to, first and foremost, bolster the membership experience and, secondly, support a steady and gradual increase in green fees for visitors. That would help fund further improvements to justify further price increases — and further investment. It’s a cycle of continuous advancement designed to keep spinning well beyond the COVID surge.
To that end, Goswick has employed the services of renowned course architects Mackenzie & Ebert to suggest changes to the inherent weak spots in its authentic links that could move Goswick further up the GB&I rankings. To the majority of members and green-fee paying guests these ‘weak’ spots would hardly be discernible. But such is the desire to present the course at its best that we can expect to see some big changes at Goswick in the months and years to come.

It’s tough at the top though! You have to continue to fight to remain in the Top 100 in England, and perhaps nudge into the Top 100 in GB&I. Golf clubs are having to come to terms with the fact that a lack of investment in their course and facilities, no longer means standing still, it means going backwards, and fast.

Nevertheless, despite all of the above, golf along the Northumberland Coast is an exhilarating experience, and one that should be experienced in your golfing life….and perhaps the sooner the better, before the penny drops.