Saturday, October 24, 2009

Irish Golf Looks Towards Grading

An article in The Irish Independent has raised the issue of grading and classification for Scottish Golf Clubs once again. The issued was raised a couple of years ago in Scotland when VisitScotland distributed a list of criteria fopr golf course grading and classification. At the time the issue appeared to receive short shrift from the golf courses themselves and as far as we are aware was then shelved.

The fact that the Irish are apparently going down this route is certainly interesting enough in tiself and they are now seeking someone to look after the job of grading and classification for the golf courses.

The problems behind grading and classifying something such as the golf course experience was viewed as being fraught with difficulties and in essence the fact that so little of the overall visitor experience could be measured objectively was seen as the key issue. In defence of the QA department, the draft documentation undoubtedly based on their experience in classifying visitor attractions was comprehensive. The problem in grading and classification however must be the consumer acceptance of the validity of the gradings. Two star clubhouse facilities in a remote west highland course but with 5 star views across the loch; how many points would Brora have for sheep droppings on the fairway for instance!

Our thought at the time that the document produced would have had a very positive impact on how golf courses could and should audit their own levels of service but not necessarily translate to relevant information and guidance for the visitor. It's often the case that the hammer of compulsory grading is use to crack the nut of quliaty improvement. Perhaps quality should be encouraged, not forced. It is an argument only.

Anyway, Failte Ireland has just launched a search for a "hotel-type" inspection service to rate the country's golf courses and to give those who qualify its seal of approval and under their plan it is expected that more than 200 golf courses will be assessed on things like hospitality and customer service by the end of next year and tenders to carry out the work have just been issued by the tourism authority. They also recently issued a tender document to investigate a "federated tee time search" facility.

The assessment service will look at the whole customer experience and what services clubs are providing such as the booking process, club facilities, hospitality and reception and those which meet the standard will become a Failte Ireland-approved course. Strangely similar to the proposals issued by VisitScotland.

In response to market research results, a working group developed a set of minimum standards which have just been piloted in 18 golf courses and the plan is now being rolled out across the country and the plan has the backing of the Irish Golf Course Owners Association. "We are just like restaurants and hotels, we provide a service to the people," secretary Bernard Gibbons said. "There are standards that will have to be met and it will make sure people keep to those standards."

We shall keep an eye open on how they plan to proceed.

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