Andrew Reynolds became head PGA professional at Royal Cinque Ports aged just 23 in 1978. In 36 years he has seen considerable changes at this world famous links and in the game of golf. He spoke to Glyn Pritchard about his experience and continuing desire to provide quality service for members and visitors alike.
They took a chance with me all those years ago, but I think it’s paid off”, Reynolds explains. “When I was appointed I had an old car and £500 in the world. The job paid £1,000 a year with a cottage on the course. I also got the shop as my own business. I drove to the Professional Golfers Cooperative Association cash-and-carry in Putney and bought enough stock to get me started. Back then I chose stock with decent boxes and kept most of the empty boxes on the shelves to make it look well stocked!”
Despite its history going back to 1892 and prestige as a former Open Championship venue, Royal Cinque Ports was not always in robust financial health. “The east Kent coast was very much a back-water then. We complain about the M25 today, but when I drove here from The Berkshire for the interview it took five hours because there were no motorways.”
Reynolds recalls that before his time the club president, Jack Aisher occasionally made the books balance out of his own pocket. “Mr Aisher was chairman of Marley Tiles, his family firm, and at shall we say ‘impecunious times’, he saw the club right.” The irony was that Aisher was ineligible to become a member at the club until the early 1950s, because he was engaged ‘in trade’ and not a professional gentleman. Aisher later became the club president for 40 years and today the club’s formal lounge is named the ‘Jack Aisher Room’.
“Things changed in the early eighties when Royal St George’s just up the coast hosted The Open in 1981 and the Amateur Championship was held here in 1982. It put the area and its links courses back on the map”, Reynolds confirms. Today the club has 850 members including a ladies section of about 130. “We have a waiting list for prospective members and not many clubs are in that happy position.” Despite the strong membership, the club encourages groups and visitors. “For a lot of members this is their second club and we have many country members. There are probably 200 members within 20 miles of the club so we welcome visitors. In a year we have about 25,000 rounds played here.”
Running the pro shop and owning the stock is no longer a common arrangement. “It requires real commitment to make the shop work as your own business and I think fewer pros want to do that now.” Reynolds has very definite ideas about how to run a profitable golf retail business. “What motivates me is helping people and I tell my assistants, ‘we’re in business to give fantastic customer service’. If we do that right there will always be a profit. The pro shop is the front-line of any golf club and I believe you have seven seconds when someone walks in to make a good impression. I sit down with my team once a week and discuss what we can do to make things better, how can we improve?”
Over the years Reynolds reckons he has trained up 25 assistants many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things. “I want my guys to be better than me and if they put in the hours and have the enthusiasm, they will be. I incentivise them and train them because I want them to reach another level in their careers. We’re open 75 hours a week, so I need a good team to run things when I’m away.”
At the rear of the pro shop Reynolds has set up a club room where members can sit and relax. “We have to make the golfing ‘buzz’ of the club in the pro shop. The club room is a home from home, where people can have a coffee, read the papers and just unwind. It’s an idea I got from a golf magazine in the States and it works because people talk about their game and they all want to hit better shots. If you can help them with that and make a sale, they will be loyal customers. I want a customer for life, not just once.”
Reynolds is a member of the TGI buying group and has considerable experience in purchasing and stock management. “We have a policy that no item of stock should have a birthday. If it’s not gone in a year, then it’s headed for clearance.” In terms of margin, branded goods are most profitable items. “I teach my guys about the difference between turnover and profit so they understand where the margins are. Branded apparel is very popular and we have foreign visitors spending four-figures in the shop.” On the thorny question of equipment life cycles Reynolds says, “I think the equipment manufacturers should stick to two year replacement cycles. It’s very hard when you sell a driver to a member in good faith and they come in a week later and see that driver discounted.”
For equipment sales Reynolds provides custom fitting. “We use FlightScope and we charge for fitting because to do it properly can take over an hour. That way if the customer wants to take the fitting data and shop around it’s not a problem. I believe that custom fitting can make an enormous difference to a player’s game. Too many beginners buy cheap equipment and then struggle.”
As a coach Reynolds has an enviable reputation and is ranked as a ‘Top 25 Coach’ by Golf Monthly. He has been the Lead Coach to the England ‘A’ squad and is the Kent County Coach, as well as a former chairman of the Kent PGA. Several tour pros have been tutored by Reynolds including Karen Stupples, who was a junior member of the club. “We want to encourage all groups of golfers to improve so we hold group coaching sessions for juniors, but also for veterans.”
Reynolds does all he can to encourage juniors into the game. “The youngsters can join as long as they have a relative here and the under-twelves play for free on our six-hole par three course where they can learn the basics. But in general I believe there are still too many barriers for kids to get into golf. We have got to work and invest in the future of the game.” Growing the game is important to Reynolds. “I sit on the club business development committee and we do all we can in the pro shop to encourage visitor groups including putting them in touch with hotels and pub accommodation.”
He still finds time to compete and has qualified regularly for the Senior Open. “I guess all club pros are frustrated tour players at heart so it’s great to compete at that level. At Turnberry eight years ago I had one good round when everyone else struggled with the wind. I’m acquainted with Tom Watson and the next morning on the practice green he called me over and introduced me to some of the guys from the States. He said, ‘Andrew’s a club pro that can play a bit’. I was walking on air for the rest of the day!”
Aged 60, Reynolds says he still feels motivated. “After 36 years I still love coming to work and I get a buzz out of helping people. If I ever have an off-day, I walk out to the sea wall by the fifth tee, look across to the French coastline and think ‘isn’t this great’.”