Ben Squire is Head PGA Professional at the world famous Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club near Blackpool. As a club which has hosted ten Open Championships, two Ryder Cups and numerous other tournaments we wanted to find out how the club is preparing, and what it means to be hosting The Walker Cup in September 2015. Words by Miles Bossom
GR – Ben, how long have you been at Royal Lytham and what does it mean to you to be Head Pro at such a prestigious club?
BS – I was a junior member here from the age of fourteen years old so I have the club in my blood. I left for a brief spell when I turned professional but I jumped at the opportunity to come back and work for Eddie Birchenough, which I did for over ten years until he retired in 2012.
GR –What has been the highlight of your playing career to date?
BS – That would have to be almost qualifying for the 2000 Open Championship. I played with Brad Faxon and Paul Stancowski in the qualifying at the Lundin Links and it really doesn’t get much better than that.
GR –Has your work started already ahead of the Walker Cup or when do you see it having an impact on you?
BS – We are producing a special Walker Cup crest and that is something we will look to merchandise next year. In the States the Walker Cup is pretty big and we have already had requests for merchandise from over the pond.
In terms of the week of the event we will be hosting around 600 dignitaries and we are expecting fairly big crowds. My role will not be much different to a normal day. I will be responsible for meeting and greeting our guests and ensuring they have the best possible experience of the course, the club house and our facilities. We will obviously have increased retail activities but that will be handled by my team.
GR –If you could travel back in time to attend any of the previously held tournaments at Royal Lytham which would it be and why?
BS – It would have to be the Open in 1926. Having heard so much about it and having the plaque out there where Bobby Jones hit what is one of the most famous shots in the history of the championship I would love to have been there to see it
GR – Do you work more closely with the green keeping staff on the preparations for major events?
BS – I will share my views on the course but Paul Smith, our head green keeper is really experienced and we have a greens committee that will discuss the set up. We won’t make too many changes to the usual set up of the course as it is always at championship standard and we want to make it a fair test of golf.
GR – Why does it mean so much to Royal Lytham to host The Walker Cup?
BS – Because it is the one of the only events that we wanted to host that is missing from our resume. As a club we have always been really involved in the amateur game. We have the Lytham trophy which was originally started by a member and it is now a big event in the amateur diary. The Walker Cup is the icing on the cake.
GR –Has the retail environment changed in your tenure as Head Professional?
BS – There have been significant changes. We have redecorated and merchandised both our pro shop and our ladies department. One of the biggest and most refreshing changes was taking on a female to run the women’s store. Charlotte Dalzell is a breath of fresh air. She understands what women want far more than our male assistants will ever do and it has made a real difference.
Women seem to pay for more attention to the fit, the size, the colours and the fabric where most men just pick up a shirt that they like the look of and buy it sometimes without even trying it on!
Charlotte has liaised with our ladies section and bought on new brands including Rohnisch, Ashworth, Galvin Green, Adidas, Calvin Klein and Glenbrae which are selling really well.
GR – How important is custom fitting to you?
BS – It is massively important, in fact we don’t want to sell any hardware without it being properly custom fitted. My team and I have to be 100% happy that our customer leaves with the right equipment for their game. That goes for everything though including apparel. We have a reputation to uphold and we will make sure that Royal Lytham’s name is not tarnished by making a quick sale and supplying the wrong product for a customer.
GR – So what brands do you sell?
BS – We are a Callaway fitting centre and have full Opticart with all of the bells and whistles. We also sell Ping, TaylorMade, Titleist and Adams and we enjoy a great relationship with all of those brands.
When a customer comes to us for a fitting they will try a selection of the very best products available to them and will leave knowing that they have the best product for their game.
GR – Launch monitors have really changed the custom fit experience. What technology do you use?
BS – We use a GC2 launch monitor inside our studio and Flight Scope on the range outside. It has certainly helped us demonstrate to our customers the benefit of custom fitting and that is obviously good for our revenue.
GR – With this year’s Open Championship being played relatively close to Royal Lytham and a huge influx of visitors to the area you must be expecting a pretty busy time during Open week?
BS – Yeah, we are at bursting point the week of The Open. There are a lot of overseas visitors, especially Americans that want to play Royal Lytham whilst they are over so the knock-on for us is very positive.
GR – The Americans won the Walker Cup in 2013 at National Golf Links of America. Do you think Royal Lytham will favour the European side and what do you predict to be the final outcome?
BS – In the next year we will see who is not turning pro and that will determine to strength of the teams. The European side may have an advantage as some of their players will have grown up playing links golf but then all of these players are very talented. The Americans will get lots of practise in before the event starts and they are all world players used to lots of different types of golf courses so it is hard to call it. The great thing about the Walker Cup, like the Ryder Cup or in fact any other golf tournaments is that they are played in great spirit. We can’t wait.