Securing a new boss and driving growth is top of the agenda for the golfing specialist.

Golfing specialist American Golf was the subject of a private equity tussle last year before it was eventually bought by Sun European in December.

It is no surprise that American Golf caught the eye of private owners. However, despite a sometimes inconsistent performance, the retailer has been steadily increasing sales in recent years. Turnover jumped 5.3% to £86.6m for the year to January 2011, while pre-tax profit increased from £696,000 to £2m over the period.

The growth looks set to continue under Sun European, which plans to expand the American Golf estate. The private equity firm believes there is potential for the 88-store retailer to reach 140 in the UK and is eyeing 10 to 15 shop openings a year domestically. The retailer has a strong presence in northern England so has much scope for southern expansion.

However it’s not all rosy for American Golf. Its well-respected and aptly named chief executive, former Dixons managing director Nick Wood, was poached by private equity powerhouse KKR to run its fast-growing Pets at Home business. He departs American Golf this month and the search is currently under way to fill his diamond- patterned Pringle jumper.

Wood has been at the helm since 2008 and has driven recent growth. In the first year he took over it made a £4.5m loss, but Wood helped it get out of the bunker and it has been in the black ever since. Sun European will be looking for a candidate on a par with him.

The retailer had suffered from declining margins in the mid 2000s, although it has improved in recent times. Its new boss will have to continue Wood’s hard work of improving its margin, which will be no mean feat in the current economic climate.

Net margin was 2.7% in the year to January 2011. Retail Week Knowledge Bank believes it needs to achieve margins of at least 5% in order to support investment in the expansion of the business.

Despite the name, the retailer is not based over the pond but a business park in Cheshire. Its stores are situated in retail parks, golf courses and other out-of-town sites across the UK.

It was set up in 1980 by American business partners who held onto the fascia for less than a year before selling to golfing enthusiast brothers Robert and Howard Bilton, and Tony Norton. Robert Bilton was bought out by the remaining owners in 1998 who themselves sold 85% of the business via a £40m management buyout backed  by LDC in 2004.

American Golf is one of those enviable specialist retailers with extremely enthusiastic customers that love the product. The retailer has wisely played on this, launching the American Golf Club, a membership card that offers special deals and promotions. As of January last year the scheme had more than 710,000 members, up from 275,000 three years prior.

The retailer has been expanding its online channel too, predominantly through acquisitions. It snapped up etailer Online Golf in 2010. The online retailer turned over £10.5m at the time of acquisition, while the original American Golf site had sales of just £2.5m.

Online Golf founder Lee Brown subsequently joined American Golf’s board as its ecommerce director to drive its web sales.

The acquisition has helped the golf specialist gain traction in Europe. It is thought its own sales in the region were held back because of confusion over its origin and concerns about delivery times.

The European market reportedly accounts for 40% of Online Golf’s sales. The retailer’s experience selling online across Europe has helped test the waters and it is now set to tee off overseas expansion.

Sun European has identified Germany, France and Sweden as its target markets as American Golf swings its way to becoming a global force in golfing.

Par for the course

Store numbers 88

Owner Sun European Partners

Chief executive Vacant

Full year ending January 2011

Sales Up 5.3% to £86.6m

Pre-tax profit £2m

Net margin 2.7%

Gross margin 37.3%