TWENTY years ago there was a Tiger that had just been set loose on the golf world, there was still plenty of bite in the Shark and anybody who was anybody wanted to be associated with this booming sporting landscape in Australia.

Scores of courses were built, equity memberships that were so commonplace in America began to take off as demand outstripped supply and we gazed headily into a future of a utopia where the golf course was the only place to do business.

Fast forward to 2017 and it feels as though we have been one poorly executed family budget from financial ruin for a decade, time has become the most precious commodity in the modern world and luxuries such as annual membership fees totalling in their thousands have become harder and harder to justify.

Lakelands Golf Club
The finishing stretch of holes places plenty of water beside the targets.

On the Gold Coast, a region hit particularly hard by the Global Financial Crisis, the conglomerate of some 40 courses in the near vicinity has been fighting each other for survival, under-cutting rates to attract locals and visitors alike, seeing every blank space on the tee-sheet as another potential nail in the coffin.

On the outside, the pristine property that is the Jack Nicklaus-designed Lakelands Golf Club amid the collection of courses just 15 minutes from bustling Broadbeach seemed impervious to such market forces, but there were indications of financial stress as long as five years ago.

At the height of ClubCorp’s interest in Lakelands members were paying joining fees in excess of $20,000 for the right to absolute privacy, but by November 2013 the club was advertising on billboards memberships for $4,500 and no joining fee.

Lakelands Golf Club
The par-4 eighth hole offers multiple strategic options – and hazards.

Earlier this year the owners of Lakelands, Chateraise Holdings, a Japanese dessert company with 16 courses in Japan, advised members that as of July 1 the club would no longer be offering membership as an option as it became a wholly public facility.

There was widespread shock at the decision at what many deemed one of the Coast’s elite golf offerings, but the reality was that the club was operating with just 320 members, and only 90 of those were full-paying members.

On Saturdays, traditionally the most popular day for member competitions, Lakelands members were using less than 60 percent of the tee-times allocated to them on what was still their best utilisation of the course for the week. With the new financial year almost upon us, by making such a change to the organisational structure of the club Lakelands is now in a position where it can do less business during 2017-’18 and make significantly more money.

Lakelands Golf Club
Water flanks the entire left side of the par-4 10th hole.

“In the past 12 months we did 41,000 rounds. It’s not a huge amount but that’s not our goal, to be putting 60,000 rounds through a year,” says Rowan Beste, Lakelands’ golf and membership manager. “In the next financial year we’re trying to target 35,000 and if we hit that we’ll be well, well above what we are this year on the rates that we are putting out there. If we get 32,000-33,000, that’s probably more realistic to what we’re hoping to get and 35 would just be cream on the cake.”

So what changes?

Once a facility that required a dissertation on the golf course design principles of Jack Nicklaus and introduction from six left-handed members in order to be granted permission to grace its fairways, in recent years Lakelands has had up to 70 per cent of its tee-times available for guests. This has never been – and according to staff never will be – a place that runs whacky ‘Cheap Tuesday’ promotions or ‘Buy 1 Get 3 Free’ deals, but getting a game has not been as difficult as many may have imagined.

Except on a Saturday morning. That remained sacred, member-only tee-times, off limits to those on the outside.

For tour operators such as Emma Beauclerc from golfOZ Tours, having one of your big-ticket items off limits for half the weekend made accommodating discerning travellers short on time a difficult proposition.

Lakelands Golf Club
Short but often far from sweet, the 14th hole is a tiny gem.

“Where this change really assists tour operators such as ourselves is in our shorter trips where the guests want to play the top three courses on the Coast,” says Beauclerc. “If we had people arriving on Friday morning for three days and they wanted to play Lakelands, Sanctuary Cove and Hope Island, we could have some real difficulty getting them tee-times, especially if there were any corporate days booked at any of the courses.

“Providing Lakelands holds that premium place in the market, this will allow us to more easily accommodate those guests who are here for the weekend, want to play the best there is and are happy to pay for the privilege.”

Ask Beste and he is adamant Lakelands won’t be engaging in any kind of price war with the other courses in the near vicinity, although with prices starting at $100 for the full Lakelands experience, the price-point has to be considered more than fair.

“We’re not going to compete with those that are just willing to cut their rate to get people through the doors. That’s not a great business decision,” Beste says. “If you get 300 people at a really cheap rate, you still need to pay staff to service them but you’re not getting the money through the door to cover your expenses. We’re pushing towards targeting that upper echelon; those that want a good experience – still want the service and a great conditioned golf course – and aren’t afraid to pay for it because they want quality.”

In targeting visitors Lakelands has not forgotten its local market, formulating access passes covering a variety of round quantities (10, 20, 40 and 60), a corporate access for up to three people for $6,000 and the existing VIP Access that for $500 provides five rounds of golf, a handicap maintained at the club and a daily fee of $85 for any rounds over and above the initial five.

Lakelands Golf Club
Jack Nicklaus’ design traits are in full flow across the Lakelands layout.

It’s a different way of offering what in many cases the members already receive but without restrictions on guest tee-times and is, in the vast majority of cases, actually a better alternative financially.

“A lot of people, if they actually thought about it, would realise that they are in fact pretty busy and six months of the year they can’t play golf and when they can, they’re lucky to be [playing] once a week,” Beste says. “It’s actually better for you than paying $4,500 a year and then not being able to come out and play.

“Those that really think about it long and hard, the majority have been able to justify it. They realise that perhaps they do only pay 40 or 60 rounds a year and those package options are better for them than what they are currently on.

“A better financial position for the club means we can go back and improve the clubhouse, which is now 20 years old. We can revamp the function rooms and locker rooms and work through the place. Each year we have been redoing a green out on the course but it would be better if you could do three a year and make it a far quicker process.

“We always want to keep the integrity of the golf course. That is our owner’s main focus. That’s our pride and joy, so we have to keep spending our money on that and we want to be able to translate that throughout the whole property.”


Lakelands Golf Club
Gooding Drive, Merrimac QLD 4226
(07) 5579 8700