How Martin Kelso played his part in returning the struggling Borders club to more prosperous times
Peebles Golf Club has turned around its fortunes and is a club very much on the up after member Martin Kelso stepped up to guide the club through financial troubles that threatened its existence.
The club was suffering financially after it saw its membership numbers drop by a third in the space of just four years between 2007 and 2011, and a stark warning from its financial advisors was when the severity of the situation really hit home.
Thankfully for the club, it had chartered accountant Kelso as a member, who was willing to step forward and take the bull by the horns.
“The first thing I had to do was try and understand where we were, how much cash we were spending compared to how much we were generating, and the picture wasn’t pretty,” Kelso exclusively told Scottish Club Golfer.
The club made a loss of £50k in 2012 and Kelso knew he had to get everyone pushing in the same direction if it was to continue. A survey of its members found what they liked and didn’t like, before the club spelled out the problems they were facing.
Some rallied behind the cause, offering to pay subs in advance and deriving fundraising initiatives, others decided to leave.
Another 10% drop in membership at the start of 2013 forced the club to make some unwanted, but necessary, adjustments.
“Unfortunately, we had to make two of the greenkeeping staff redundant and we had to terminate the club professional’s contract, neither of which were easy things to do,” said Kelso. “It’s a community golf club, it’s a small town 20 miles from anywhere but these things had to be done.
“The most important thing about business is generating more cash than you’re spending. Happiness follows as long as that’s the case, so through 2013, we made sure the club was doing the right things and got our costs below our income. We ran the risk of running out of cash in 2012 but we got through it and people started to get quite energised about it all.”
Over the years that followed, Peebles was aggressive with its new member discounts and Kelso believes the real challenge it faces is from the diversity of its membership.
“Peebles is the town golf club,” he said. “We’ve got a whole range of members from company directors and doctors to people who are working on the bins for the council, so we’ve got to keep the fees realistic. I’m desperate to keep the main fee below £500 for as long as I can.
We’re at £489 now and next year I’ll only put it up by £5. I don’t want anybody saying they’re packing it in because we’ve made it really expensive.”
The club has also been pushing to get more visitors to the club, and through a number of advertising schemes and offers, it increased visitor numbers by 15% last year and 10% the year before, with Kelso optimistic they’ll see another rise this year.
After surviving for effectively two seasons without a professional, the club felt it had to take action on the advice it was getting from its members and visitors, with both saying they weren’t getting the welcome or service that they’d like.
The chosen man was Steve Johnston, who joined following a successful stint at The Roxburghe. He started in the role in April and the club has already benefitted from his work coaching beginners and juniors.
“The family-friendly feel of Peebles is very refreshing and that made the position more appealing to me, “ said Johnston. “There’s no stuffiness, the dress code is relaxed and all ages and abilities are encouraged to be members.
“Everyone has made me feel very welcome, so settling in has been easier than I expected.”