Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lahinch looking for a General Manager

[Photo: Lahinch's opening hole, a par four]

Well, opportunities like this don't come along every day. I have to confess it's something I've thought about doing myself (not at Lahinch), but it seems to be a thankless task. You're never going to keep all the members happy are you, and from what I've heard, you don't get to play much golf either. And what's the point of working at a golf club if you don't get to play.

If anyone's interested in pursuing this role at Lahinch - one of Ireland's finest links courses (and where Stewart Cink practised before going on to lift the Claret Jug in 2009) - here's the link.

[Photo: the approach to the brilliant par four 6th, and one of the best shots you'll play]

Friday, March 25, 2011

Solheim Cup Accommodation

A while back, someone left a comment on my blog, advertising their place for rent during the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle. It was blatant advertising on their part and while I felt slightly unclean, I published the comment.

If anyone's interested in accommodation, here's the link: the ad states that 11 people can be accommodated, at a price of €155 per person, per night, based on 9 nights. Which works out at €15,345 for all 11. Not exactly cheap, is it!

[Photo: approach to the par five 12th green]

In The Independent today there's an article about the level of 'rent' being charged for accommodation for the Solheim Cup, and how the Revenue will be following the people renting out properties very carefully. Huge amounts of money were made during the Ryder Cup in 2006 (€19,000 for one week for example), and the same will be true this time around. And tax is due on such earnings.

When it comes to offering this 'service', as these people will undoubtedly claim that they're doing, there's a part of me that says:
"Good for you. Take what you can get."

But the other part says: "You thieving bas****s. No wonder people still call us rip-off Ireland."

I studied Economics, so I know the whole 'supply vs. demand elasticity' thing, but it's too easy to go too far. And as soon as one person gets carried away, the rest of the lemmings follow. And, sadly, because of the scale of this event, there will be people to pay it. I'm just sorry that my 10-bed mansion isn't in Co. Meath. I'd make a fortune.

[Photo: view of Killeen Castle from behind the 1st green]

Monday, March 21, 2011

First Sighting

I didn't know the new version of Hooked was on the shelves, so it came as a surprise and a real pleasure when one of my friends sent me a multimedia message with the following photo.

OK, true, I don't take any great pleasure being under that egotistical pillock, Clarkson, but Bernard Jackman's well used to being at the bottom of the pile.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The best things in life are free

It’s a wonderful sentiment, isn’t it! Personally, I don’t really believe it. I tend to lean the other way: ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’.

But there is one thing that’s free… and that’s manners. Golf is one of those games where etiquette and manners are, allegedly, sacrosanct. But you and I know that’s a load of rubbish because we’ve all experienced atrocious manners in the course of our golfing lives. Kirkistown Castle and Donabate are at the top of my list after a couple of very unpleasant encounters, but there’s something else that has always frustrated me… and it’s so very Irish.

It’s the inability to reply to a request, in any shape or form. I mean, how hard is it to respond to someone who has emailed you a couple of times, phoned and left a voicemail and also left messages with colleagues? This was at one of my favourite golf courses and I was trying to reach their marketing person.

I worked in Marketing for years, and one thing I learned very quickly was that you deal with customers quickly and efficiently… in other words, you respond to them. This person clearly didn’t think she needed to and that left a very bitter taste in this customer’s mouth.

I was not asking for the world. I wasn’t expecting special treatment. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have been enough, but not replying is simply rude. And in a time when customers need to be treated courteously in an attempt to maintain business, you’d think such an attitude would have been beaten out of these so-called communication specialists. I imagine that many golfers treated this way would simply phone another course to sate their golfing appetite, and spend their money elsewhere.

But I persevered and after two weeks of trying to get in touch, I tried calling someone else. I got the response I needed in about 20 seconds and went happily on my way. Is it any wonder people by-pass ‘official’ channels!

Manners cost you nothing, so please use them as often as possible.

Druid’s Glen post Paddy’s Day

[Photo: Fin drives down the 9th, over the suspension bridge]

Why is it that playing in bright sunshine in early spring feels so special? It’s like it shouldn’t quite be, like you don’t really deserve it. You expect rain, or cold or – worse – frost. You don’t expect perfect sunshine, warmth and a gentle, caressing breeze.

Druid’s Glen is in beautiful condition right now. The surroundings are bristling with colour, with rhododendrons in full bloom, buds promising vibrant foliage, gorse in glaring yellows, and swans and ducks roaming the waters. The greens are slick and fast – something else you might not expect at this time of year – and the fairways glisten in their tidy mowed lines, like back-combed velvet.

[Photo: Fin struggles under the trees. The ball ricocheted onto his belt buckle]

But golf always comes down to the company you keep and I played in a very friendly fourball with three old friends. Finbarr was over from New York and arrived with four golf balls – a very optimistic state of affairs. It didn’t look promising when his first drive soared deep into the trees to the left of the 1st, never to be seen again, but he lasted until the notorious 17th before his second ball disappeared into the water, beside a remarkably unflustered swan. Off a 19 handicap at Druid’s Glen, losing only two balls is a successful visit. Ronan hadn’t played since June last year and his opening drive showed it – a nasty top that Sally Gunnelled 80 yards. At least it found the fairway. He plays off 9 and soon got back in the groove with a couple of sweet birdies and plenty of big drives. Charlie, well Charlie plays off 16 and is affectionately (I use the term loosely) known as a bandit. I call him a single handicapper in sheep’s clothing.

Ronan paired me and Charlie against Finbarr and himself… moments before Charlie split the fairway with his tee shot, and then landed a five iron about eight feet from the flag.

We were 6 up after 8, and we won all of the money rather comfortably. But it’s not about the money, is it!

[Photo: Charlie cracks it down the middle on the famously difficult par four 13th]

On a course this good, in such perfect weather, the guys were highly impressed by the thrill of every hole – and for me that has always been what makes Druid’s Glen so spectacular. The individuality of holes, the constant changes of pace and feel, and all those wonderful extras (suspension bridge, walled garden, ponds and streams, and blasted rock face…). Throw in the course’s condition and you have everything you could ask for. Then add in some perfect timing – your lunch being brought to the table just as the Cheltenham Gold Cup starts – and it’s a day that can’t get any better… at least not until the lads pull out their wallets and hand over the €5 you won.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

K Club Revenues vs. Losses

Did anyone see the piece about the K Club in The Irish Times last Saturday? In 2009 the club (owned by Bishopscourt Investments) made revenues of €14 million and yet managed to make an operating loss of €4.6 million. Impressive, no? Add in interest charges of €1.9 million and you’re looking at a €6.5 million loss. And, according to the article (and the group’s latest accounts), 2010 saw continuing losses.

Now, everyone’s favourite ‘management’ agency is mightily involved – NAMA took over the Bishopscourt Investments’ €55 million bank loan last year – so you know there’s trouble brewing. The question is: are we at risk of losing our esteemed “K Club, home to the 2006 Ryder Cup” (as the golf club now seems to be known)?

[Photo: approach to the infamous 18th green]

I don’t know the answer but, from what I’ve read, Mr Smurfit seems very keen on buying out Gerry Gannon, so maybe he has plans… again! Somehow I doubt that the K Club will actually fail, so it’s a question of what they do to overcome the problems they’re currently experiencing.

Let me offer the club some thoughts on the golf front: get your head out of your arse and come back down to earth with your green fees and your airs and graces. Have you not noticed the dwindling tourist numbers? Have you not noticed how corporate hospitality has taken a battering? Have you not noticed that your green fees are still way too high and are still laughed at by about 99.9% of Ireland’s golfing population?

[Photo: approach to the 16th green. over the River Liffey]

I like the K Club Palmer course – it’s one of my favourite parklands – but golfers won’t visit it for two reasons:

1. Green Fees

The green fees are way too high:

You’re charging rates that are amongst the highest in Ireland, and these compare with Old Head, and exceed even the priciest links courses… where green fees are aimed at American visitors specifically. These visitors are prepared to pay for something special and unavailable in the US, but the K Club is not special to US golfers, even with the Ryder Cup pedigree. Irish golfers, meanwhile, simply won’t contemplate €200 green fees, which leaves corporate outings and societies – the former are drying up while the latter may still view the society prices as being too steep (€65 until the end of March, and then rising fast).

Even the ‘special offers’ are seen as expensive, and often require you to spend the night at the hotel – although the current ‘March Madness’ offer of €125pps is excellent value -

[Photo: view of the 5 star hotel from the 1st, on the Smurfit course]

The hotel is amazing (I’ve spent a night) but special 'golf' offers that require you to stay the night do force your hand somewhat.

2. Attitude

The superior attitude that the club used to exude has been tempered somewhat by recent times, but it still exists. Honestly, the K Club is the only club that gives off that ‘your money isn’t good here’ feeling. There’s a recession on folks! Golf clubs are failing, green fees are tumbling and you still think charging the highest green fees is important to be seen as the ‘premier club in Ireland’.

[Photo: views of the 15th, from the 13th green]

It’s time to go on a charm offensive. Bring down your fees, promote your sunrise and twilight rates, and open up the club with good grace and a smile. You want people to start talking about you in positive terms instead of all that negativity that fills the air every time the K Club is mentioned in conversation.

But Then Again…

The truth is, you made revenue of €14 million, so perhaps your income isn’t the problem. But if that’s the case, it’s time to plug that very large hole that’s leaking money like a sieve. And for that I have no suggestions. But talk to my dad – he’s an accountant.

[Photo: the lethal 7th, Index 1, where Stevie dropped Tiger's club in the water]

You probably think I’m having a right go at the K Club. And I am, but only because I want the Palmer course to survive for the right reasons. It’s a thrilling course with possibly the best set of par fives in the country. The Smurfit course? If you told me tomorrow it had been bulldozed I would not shed a tear.