Tom Rourke is general manager of Troon Golf’s The Els Club, in Dubai. Here he explains how working with 59club has achieved an unprecedented level of membership at the facility and why he regards 59club as an essential partner, both now and in the future.

Although I had worked with 59club previously, I hadn’t utilised the membership sales experience audit as I was previously based at a daily fee only facility. Upon joining The Els Club and better understanding the membership structure, I thought the best thing to do would be to have 59club involved with some membership enquiries and mystery shops – to go through that experience to see where enhancements could be made to improve the conversion of our prospective member show rounds.

I met with 59club MEA director Mark Bull who discussed the expectations, the history of the previous membership enquiries from past mystery shoppers at The Els Club, the benchmarking process, audit criteria, and the recommendations to get the most success out of a potential new member or membership enquiry.

Subsequently, I sat down with our membership manager, Thomas Nicolson, and gathered his feedback before we instigated the first membership related mystery shopper enquiry. After receiving the initial audit report, Thomas and I analysed the feedback and established there were quite a few areas where improvements could be made.

Thomas is a great member of the team and together we very constructively worked our way through the audit feedback; with Mark Bull on hand to provide his insightful recommendations on further measures to advance.

The Els Club, Dubai; collecting the 59club Gold Flag Designation

Thomas took all of the data and feedback within the audit on board, and, worked to improve the membership enquiry process, and the following month, achieved a near perfect show round appointment mystery audit. The process has transformed our membership sales procedures, and, after receiving this great feedback, we started to look at the membership offering and made some additional adjustments.

And it’s really paid dividends. Thomas did a fantastic job: in December we had around 30 new members sign up; in January we had 40 new members; and, in February, another 15 – so it’s been a huge success. Since working with 59club, we’ve had more new members sign up at The Els Club than ever before.

It illustrates that by reviewing the customer journey and the show-round experience, utilising the 59club tools, and doing a refresher of all the Troon Golf operational standards as well, makes a massive difference, even at an incredible property such as The Els Club. We’re delighted with the results.

With 59club, the attention to detail from the tester is incredible and, when you’re able to review recordings of the telephone call, when you’re able to analyse the sales techniques demonstrated, and in other audits the upselling measurements in the golf shop, the photographs and the reports from the agronomy perspective as well, it is hugely valuable detail.

There was already an agreement in place with 59club when I arrived at The Els Club, but I would be looking to work with them at any facility that I would go to within Troon Golf. It’s an absolute no brainer – the costs you’re looking at for 59club, the detail and information you’re going to receive, and the improvements you can make, mean you’re going to get back that investment 10-fold, with all the enhancements you’re able to identify and implement.

As a new general manager or department head, there’s great value in reviewing the previous 59club mystery shops, so you start to understand the operation with a different set of eyes. And then to be able to meet with 59club and engage with them and understand what’s happened previously, the feedback that was given, and whether any adjustments were made, is a big help.

I’m also a believer in the integrity test side of the business, especially on the driving range or areas where, maybe, there’s fewer associates, or they’re further away from the main hub of the clubhouse. It’s fundamental for department heads and the GM to study these mystery shops and integrity checks, just to have some eyes on those areas from an experience side and a security perspective.

To be engaged with 59club to monitor your business, make improvements, and for it to complement Troon Golf, is for me, just the minimum standard. After the first couple of mystery visits and the results of the integrity tests, associates begin to see things differently and take call handling, sales processes, and cash handling more seriously.

It’s really been an eye opener for the team – you always get a few shocks, speedbumps and hiccups along the way, but you start to make improvements and the revenues will start increasing. Certainly, using 59club services will only increase revenues, whether that be on membership, green fees, retail, or on the driving range. To receive that detailed feedback helps enormously.

There is such incredible value in the level of detail in the reports, it’s a set of independent eyes, seeing it through the eyes of the guest, which is so incredibly valuable. Nine times out of 10, you are going to see an increase in revenue, and that is an absolute no brainer.

The wider business goal for The Els Club is to become more of a country club and engage with the local community. The Els Club will always be, fundamentally, built on an incredible golf course – Ernie Els did a fantastic job with the design.

But we’re currently underway with the construction of two padel tennis courts, a spa, ladies hair salon and a gents’ barber shop, and, because 59club does not just specialise in golf, we will also be engaging with 59club in these areas of the business.

59club is very much across the whole area of hospitality and the business – which Troon Golf also specialises in – and it will further enhance the guest and member experience, help drive revenues and give the general manager, and his decision makers, and department heads the information they need at their fingertips.

As the flagship facility, all the fantastic standards we have within Troon Golf are at the very highest level at The Els Club. But, with 59club – whether it be SOPs, training, uniform standards, or something else – we’re just going to get additional feedback, which will only further enhance what Troon Golf has in place and ensure it is followed, consistently. We’re already at such a high standard, but it will give more information, data and feedback – and it’s always great to receive.

We can also utilise other platforms within 59club that might not be on the guest side of things, such as associate training. There’s always something, for example, upselling, that you can never improve enough. If you want to improve the engagement with the guest, improve product knowledge, and the way that information is delivered, 59club is a great partner to guide you through that process and deliver training sessions. Department heads at Troon Golf always do an incredible job, but it’s additional support, and that goes a long way.

Having a 59club division ‘on the ground’ here in the region has made a big difference. I was very fortunate, previously, to do my PGA training with (59club CEO) Simon Wordsworth, and have worked closely with both Mark Reed, Matt Roberts and Andrew Etherington, so I know it’s an incredible team; but, having Neal Graham and Mark Bull on the ground here, is a great addition to the club. They are on hand with recommendations, training, or support, and will pop over at any time.

You don’t ever feel with 59club – unlike some – as if you’re on ‘the meter’; you know you’re calling them over to have a coffee, catch up and go through some feedback. You feel they are a pure partner and that they simply want to enhance the guest journey, and the operation, and genuinely care about The Els Club as a business. Both Mark and Neal have great experience in the region and it just further complements the club.

I feel the 59club team understood our goals from the start; the key part for us is we are all about membership – so we want to hit our full membership cap of 200 members which we’re now very close to achieving. They understood that, and, also, the history of The Els Club: that the number one focus is golf. They looked at how they can assist us and give recommendations, improve that mystery shop and guest journey, so that we could attract more members. Then we looked at the F&B experience, the upselling in the golf shop, the engagement during the experience with the guests, the experience on the golf course – every part of the business. But, number one, was membership and, then, the driving range, just looking to make sure policies and procedures were being followed.

It’s an absolute pleasure to be associated with and work alongside 59club and I’m sure the relationship and support will continue to enhance and complement The Els Club and Troon Golf’s operating and hospitality standards.

This year we were delighted to receive two 59club Service Excellence Awards, in both Golf Retail Team of the Year, and, The Els Club was awarded the highest honour, the Gold Flag Designation, which is credit to the hard work and high standards we all work to achieve.

I do genuinely respect and value what 59club offers and to see it branching out now all around the world, is wonderful. It’s something golf never had previously, and I just hope everyone else values it as much as we do, and doesn’t see it as an expense line. Properties need to see their products and services as something that provides tangible value; with 59club your guaranteed to improve the overall experience, and ultimately that will make a difference to your profits.