Founder and CEO
Golf Tourism England
Interview with Matt Ward
An entrepreneurial sports marketing professional with 35 years of experience in the industry. Cooke’s experience extends to most of the key sports marketing disciplines – including sponsorship sales, brand and governing body representation, event creation, TV and Digital. Andrew has worked across a broad range of sports and events.
While at CPMA he worked on the Ryder Cup, Bells Scottish Open Golf, World Student Games and Rugby World Cup. As a Senior Vice President of Octagon, part of the American owned Interpublic Group, Andrew worked with major brands and sporting events such as F1, Heineken European Rugby, and European Beach Soccer, and brands such as Mastercard, Kronenbourg, Barclays, and Intel.
Golf Tourism experience started when he set up the European Cup event in 1999 with the European Seniors Tour and the Ladies European Tour, on behalf of Praia d’el Rey and Visit Portugal to promote a brand new resort and the Silver Coast region of Portugal. Was responsible for securing the funding for the event, which included sponsorship from Rover Portugal, TAP Airlines and the local tourist authority. Today the venue handles 40,000 rounds of golf a year, and more golf courses have been developed making it one of Portugal’s most popular golf regions.
Over the last 14 years Andrew has been attending the International Golf Travel Market and working with the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, and has built up an extensive network of golf tour operator and media contacts around the world.
Golf Tourism England has now been in operation for 3 years and in the Autumn of 2016 gained support the Visit England’s ‘Discover England Fund’ to help establish England as one of the leading golf destinations in the world.
THE COOKE STORY –
My first experience of working in the golf industry was back in 1985 working at the Ryder Cup at the Belfry. I remember one of the roles I played was helping to deliver event programs to hospitality marquees at some crazy hour in the morning, followed by rushing around helping to manage the hospitality guests. The mornings started early and the nights late, and the work was pretty tiring, but for much of the afternoon, my colleagues and I were able to watch some of the golf and soak in the extraordinary scenes that evolved around the European teams victory that year. Tony Jacklin captained the side to victory over the Americans for the first time in 28 years. The atmosphere was electric, and it was an event I will never forget.
Being a little cheeky in those days, and security not being what it is today, I used the fact that I was wearing a blazer and tie, and holding a walkie-talkie, to get inside the ropes and ended up actually standing on the 18th green beside Sandy Lyle when Sam Torrance holed the winning putt. It was at that moment that I asked myself whether I should ever consider ‘working’ outside the golf industry.
MATT WARD: From a public awareness level for those living outside the United Kingdom — why has English golf languished in terms of attention when compared to courses in Scotland and in neighboring Ireland?
ANDREW COOKE: Government backing and stakeholder collaboration have been the two key factors has seen England fall behind in terms of economic impact. Scotland and Ireland have created a robust framework for how they attract and look after visitors. The history and heritage has allowed both nations to stride forward and really demonstrate the strength golf tourism can have as part of any destinations major economic strategy.
England has all the ingredients to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any major golf destination. This was the catalyst that spurned me on to unite key stakeholders and put forward a united front to help shape trade and consumer perception. The early adopters who joined us on this journey were vital in convincing the government there was potential for them to add their impetus to grow international inbound visitor numbers.
MW: What was the genesis for Golf Tourism England?
AC: I attended the International Golf Travel Market for many years and each and every time was blown away by how impressive some of the destination stands were. A cohesive group that facilitated each and every level of enquiry efficiently and effectively.
I was always struck by the conspicuous absence of an England stand. That got me thinking as to why there was no collaborative representation. I began asking questions from some of England’s most established golf stakeholders and found there was an overwhelmingly positive response; the desire to have an association to drive the interests of growing inbound tourism for golf to England!
MW: What was the initial response when you started to get things going?
AC: When I reflect on the first two years from setting up the association to growing the initial phase, I recall we had a lot of early support, but also had to develop a structure, whereby we could demonstrate we were on the road to making a positive difference.
MW: Is there a different perception between golf course providers — those in the private sphere seeing things one way and those in the public sector seeing it differently or is there a uniform feeling?
AC: Of course different entities have different objectives, albeit under one wider category of providing hospitality and service to balance a business. The different ownership structures have meant we have tailored our approach, but maintained a central focus around the England brand and the wider cumulative attraction benefits a successful strategy will bring.
MW: The key golf / country markets you’re looking to tap into in terms of market penetration are what?
AC: We have a undertaken a considered effort targeting the Scandinavian market, given its scale of avid golfer numbers and distance to travel to England with great transport links. We have also begun the process of targeting the US market with a first phase of activation and have already made good progress within the German market.
There are of course major markets that consider England a bucket list experience. We are laying solid foundations, connecting our supplier networks and growing our cluster program to make golf a very accessible and attractive option for visitors.
MW: Many English clubs are facing a lack of growth — getting older with issues in attracting younger replacements. What remedies do you see as being needed in order to change this situation from widening into an even bleaker future?
AC: When you look at actual numbers and statistics from the avid golf market, the reality doesn’t point to this dramatic fall off or sensationalism we are seeing from some corners. One thing we have seen is the desire to experiment from major stakeholders. Any time you see entities making efforts to innovate, it is a positive. Golf has stood the test of time and we believe will maintain its position as a cherished past time. We would encourage all efforts to introduce new players to the game, but remain focused on showcasing how England’s golf network can attract new visitors to England for golf.
MW: How much of an issue is the declining value of the pound going to play for outside visits to England in ’17 and likely beyond?
AC: It will be interesting. I think it will impact the UK’s scale of outbound travel to more premium destinations and stimulate domestic travel to new regions – especially for golf. Whilst it isn’t a major focus at this stage, we are forecasting our members will see a concerted level of growth from national players.
From an inbound perspective and England’s wonderful golf offering, we are expecting to see an increased level of enquiries. However, we also appreciate the volatility of markets, so have chosen to stay strong with our selected strategy and play the long-game.
MW: There are so many quality accessible courses in England — but if you had to name several “sleeper” courses often overlooked by many visitors which ones would you name?
AC: There are so many – it is hard to list but we have some exceptional courses that are members of Golf Tourism England. Having spent a good deal of time on the road, visiting all corners of the country, it would be unfair to point out individual courses. What I can say is that the variety of quality golf courses we offer is quite extraordinary; I would recommend readers visit our website www.golftourismengland.com to find out for yourself.
MW: What metrics will be used to measure your success and how will you solicit feedback from those who do visit?
AC: We work closely with Visit England’s team on how to analyze and solicit the right feedback to help us adapt and grow. The key focus has been around the product functionality and the ability for trade and consumers to connect; the interaction we now have with tour operators and active DMC’s has allowed us to implement live product itineraries into the market place.
A key long term KPI will clearly be the number of golfers who visit England and the impact it has on clusters and each stakeholder. In the short term, it is about giving the product a life and unlocking sales and accessibility channels.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be?
AC: I think I would have to say the inclusion in the school’s curriculum. The positive traits and characteristics the game provides and the life skills it teaches is something I would encourage for all youngsters. WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?