Things rarely stay still in Fota Island and 2018 has brought about another positive move for the resort. Fota are now offering a new category of membership that gives golfers access to the tour level academy and playing access to the nine holes surrounding the academy. Often known as the new nine – although the holes are there for well over a decade – the layout wraps around the academy range and practice greens. While Academy members had the option to play the nine holes last year, the new development give them much wider access as well as the crucially important option to hold an official GUI or ILGU handicap. Fota Island Marketing Director Seamus Leahy explained that the 2018 development is part of an ongoing programme to bring the benefits of membership to a wider audience. “Effectively there is now a 9 hole CSS and we’ve seen significant interest in the membership. We see this as a five-year project to help grow and development new members – especially the time poor golfer” explained Leahy. “The higher quality product is more readily available, and the opportunity to bring the lessons learnt to a course environment is a big advantage. The existing academy members are extremely positive about the change for the reasons earlier.”
The new membership category builds on the academy membership changes from last year. The annual fee is slightly higher at €924, which includes the GUI/ILGU fees. There’s also a €2,000 joining fee but that doesn’t appear to be a barrier for potential members according to Leahy. “The new category makes Fota accessible to the time poor golfer. But there is still amazingly positive interest in joining a golf product of the calibre of Fota Island Resort – the value for money is extremely good.” Having changed the Academy membership model last year, the management team went ahead and moved the dial another notch this year based on the feedback from members. “The improvement in quality time that people can spend at the academy, and the ability to play some golf holes to test what they learning/working on in a real life course environment was a success” said Seamus. “The nine-hole membership is the natural evolution of that and it’s a great addition to the resort. Members get several benefits including clubhouse and proshop, as well as resort and collection advantages. With regard to our custom fitting service – the members enjoy working with Ronan and Brian, who offer a comprehensive custom fitting service across all major brands with the aid of Trackman. Most importantly they can see the ball flight thanks to the Academy range.”
The nine hole layout was first opened back in 2006. The new holes and the Academy was completed around the same time that the hotel was built on the site when it was owned by the Fleming family. While Fota delivered a premium golf experience under Tim O’Mahony’s ownership prior to that, the Fleming era turned the land from a golf course to golf resort. The new holes were considered to be very different from the existing championship course when it opened first. Long par fours and par fives, challenging bunker positions and several raised greens meant it differed from the original 18 holes. Over the past ten years the new nine have grown in fully, and there is now a close link between both layouts. Originally the Jeff Howes designed course featured 45 bunkers. Work was carried out in 2015 which saw the number of bunkers reduced to just 20. This led to a very positive response from the golfers playing the course. With a far higher member fee for full members, one possible outcome would have been that full members would move to the nine hole membership category. This hasn’t been the case and the current members look at the new development as a positive. “The members are very supportive of the new category as it will help us and them continue to re-invigorate the club with new members and hopefully change the age profile somewhat” added Seamus. “The members don’t see it as competing with full membership, rather as a great avenue of introduction of future full members. It was put in place with full consultation with membership representatives and with their full support for the positive motivation of the category.” Seamus wasn’t forthcoming on their membership numbers or targets for the year, but given the success of the changes last year its likely that the current plans will also succeed. While Fota weathered many of the challenges that other clubs and courses faced over the past 10 years, there’s a progressive mindset at play that ensures the Fota experience continues to attract golfers from several different categories. “We are continually monitoring our product offering to ensure we improve and enhance the customer journey and experience each year” explained Seamus Leahy. “We believe these steps will achieve that goal – particularly to the aforementioned time poor golfer. This month we launched an after-hours/work 9 hole and food green fee for €35 – after 5pm – we anticipate significant demand for this for those coming from work etc.” As always there are many different moving parts in the golf offering from Fota. Their junior section has received a huge boost with 40 young golfers recently completing a coaching programme. The extensive programme is designed by resident PGA Professional Brian Kelleher and delivered by both Brian and Ronan. The feedback and engagement has been great and this initiative is sure to deliver the next generation of golfers for Fota Island.