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“Recession’s no handicap” says golfing entrepreneur

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In September, Stanley’s golf travel company booked more than 19,000 golfers on breaks across the UK, Europe and beyond – a 52 per cent increase year-on-year.

UK bookings, which account for more than half of the company’s business, are up 45 per cent on the same month last year, while international bookings have increased by a staggering 117 per cent.

The company employs 80 staff, with sales due to top £20m this year.

“We offer golf breaks in more than 900 venues across the UK, Europe and further afield – and 90 per cent of those venues have lower prices than they did this time last year,” says 40-year-old Stanley. “For example, we are currently offering a one-night stay to the Turnberry Resort in Scotland that includes a round of golf on the Ailsa Course (which hosted the 2009 Open Championship) for £175. This same offer would have been nearly £250 a year ago."

Stanley did a degree in hotel management before working for a direct sales company, selling aerial photographs door to door. “My parents weren’t impressed,” he says. “But I was on 100 per cent commission. The harder I worked, the more I got out of it, and I loved that equation.”

He set up Golfbreaks.com in 1998 from his bedroom, using £8,000 of personal savings and maxing out his credit card to the tune of £4,000. “It was dotcom-bubble time,” he says. “There were stories left, right and centre about companies raising money from VCs – but that didn’t feel right to me. I felt happier building the business myself on a shoestring budget.”

He started out organising Ryder Cup-style golf matches for groups of 12 (his first corporate client was McDonald’s) but realised that the real demand was for no-frills golf breaks for smaller groups. “Now we’re high volume, low margin, rather like EasyJet,” he explains.

Bad debt isn’t an issue for the company. “Everyone pays us up front, before they head off on their golf break. If they don’t pay, they don’t go, it’s as simple as that.”

More than 132,000 customers booked through the site this year. Stanley’s target for next year is 150,000. “There are four million golfers in the UK altogether – so we still have a big slice of the pie to go for,” he adds.

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