Long game working out for North and West Coast Links Golf

%North and West Coast Links Golf is probably a more recognisable brand on the international markets than in its own home country. Established in the late eighties as West Coast 4, the company was set up to drive international green fee business to its then four founder member courses – Connemara Golf Links, Westport Golf Club, Enniscrone Golf Clubs and Co Sligo Golf Club.

John McLaughlin, general manager N&WCL, (then manager of Connemara Golf Links ) recalls the difficulties in trying to make budgets stretch – ‘with each of the courses only making a small contribution, and with little or no additional funding available, we could only scratch the surface in international marketing terms’.

1994 was a significant year in that it saw Westport Golf Club leave the marketing group. From that point onwards, the group became exclusively a links golf marketing organisation, and expanded its membership over the next 18 years to represent 11 of Ireland’s finest championship links courses. The impressive stable of courses reads like a wish list of most avid golfers – Ardglass, Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Ballyliffin, Rosapenna, Portsalon, Narin & Portnoo, Donegal, Co. Sligo, Enniscrone, Carne, and Connemara.

Mr McLaughlin left his post as manager of Connemara Championship Links to take on the full time position as general manager of North & West Coast Links. Graduating from University College Galway, with a B.Comm, HDMP, and H Dip and plying his trade of sales and marketing across various organisations, he brought a fresh approach to the then fledgling West Coast Links.

The expansion of the group to include some marquee courses in Northern Ireland, and the introduction of a focused marketing strategy, in line with Failte Ireland/Tourism Ireland golf tourism policy of the time, kick-started the company into action. Over the succeeding years, N&WCL through the guidance of Mr McLaughlin, began to expose its member courses to trade, media, and consumers across the international markets.

Strategic contacts were built up in the key markets and the courses began to see a return on their investment, through increased brand awareness and international green fee traffic.

In the early 2000s, N&WCL made its next significant move in the golf tourism sector. The courses had begun to grow in international stature. Golfers were beginning to take note of this grouping of championship links courses in the west and north west, and the attractiveness of playing a championship links product at a fraction of the cost of some of their more established neighbours. Mr McLaughlin said “I would find myself at a show in Orlando, Toronto, or Germany, and a visitor to our stand would comment that they wanted to go, but who would make the arrangements for them’.

This led to the establishment of an in-house reservation service that now offers international and domestic clients a one stop shop service catering for green fees, accommodation, transfers, sightseeing, dining – whatever the client desires.

In 2005, just as N&WCL had made the leap into becoming a fully operational international marketing and travel company, a new member of staff was added.

Justin Farrell, a two time graduate of NUI, Galway joined that year. Young, energetic and keen to make the most of the opportunity, Farrell joined McLaughlin and N&WCL in their quest to spread the word of value for money championship links golf in an often forgotten region of Ireland. With a business degree background from NUI Galway, Mr Farrell immediately saw the potential of the travel reservation service side of the business and how the marketing arm of the business could feed good business leads to the travel arm, and develop vital revenue for the company as it continued to make strides across the international markets.

Fast forward seven years and North & West Coast Links are continuing to go from strength to strength. Between the two of them this year, they will travel to Germany, United States, Canada, Denmark, England, Scotland, Portugal, China, Australia, and New Zealand. Their annual marketing programme sees them spreading the word far and wide in their attempt to fight for Ireland’s share of the lucrative golf travel market. As Mr Farrell comments ‘the international golf visitor is key for this economy – not only do the golf courses benefit, but also the airlines, hotels, restaurants, coach operators – their spend impacts across a wide range of sectors’.

With the award for European Golf Destination of the Year 2011 picked up by N&WCL recently at the IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operator ) Awards in Valencia, Spain, and with Royal Portrush Golf Club (member of N&WCL ) hosting the Irish Open earlier this year, and breaking all European Tour attendance records to date – the future for North & West Coast Links is looking very positive indeed.

It is clear from chatting to the guys, that business is going well for this small company based in Moycullen, just outside Galway city. When we meet, the company is approaching the end of the season for international visitors. Over the last eight – 10 years, they have been successful in developing turnover and profit year on year and report that 2012 will again see another record year, with revenues up in the region of 20 per cent.

So what lies ahead for this Galway company? Mr McLaughlin comments that ‘we will continue with a focused push into the markets that continually deliver for us – UK, North America, the Nordics, but we will also look at the emerging markets and will dip our toes into China for the first time this year.’

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