This month the London Golf Club in Kent hosts the Volvo World Match Play event. Glyn Pritchard spoke to Paul Stuart, director of golf at the club, on what it takes to make this prestigious venue run smoothly.
The Heritage course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1994. It was the venue for the European Open held there in 2008 and 2009, but is normally open only to members and their guests. The International course was designed by Ron Kirby and the JN Design Team and is open to non-members and corporate golf events. The London Golf Club was originally developed by Japanese businessman Masao Nagahara, but today Bendinat, a property development group based in Mallorca, has ownership.
Paul Stuart has been director of golf at the prestigious club for over four years, but has a career spanning 20 years with the club, starting in the golf services team. A highlight in Stuart’s playing career came in 1996 when he represented England as an amateur against France at Sunningdale and was paired with Luke Donald.
When asked what The London Club offers members and visitors Stuart states, “It’s all about providing an aspirational experience, from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave. We as a team aim to present both courses in immaculate condition and I try to ensure that the golf operation runs as smoothly as possible. We want members and guests to feel they receive the very best experience throughout their time with us.”
To maintain high staff standards Stuart believes in training and personal leadership. “I feel my role is to motivate the team and ensure good communication throughout so that everyone has the information they require to do their jobs effectively. This is important because we can potentially host four or five corporate golf events as well as member play in one day which can be very demanding.” Stuart is conscious that in such a busy environment the interests of members must always be priority. “We want our members to feel special and that this is their club and they are looked after accordingly.”
In this regard Stuart believes the right recruitment policies are key. “We’re in the leisure and service industry so you look for a personality which fits that culture. We want alert, smiling faces with the relevant experience. We like ambitious people who will go the extra mile and are looking to further their career in the industry.”
The retail operation also falls under Paul’s remit. Apparel lines stocked in the club shop include Oscar Jacobsen, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, J. Lindeberg, IJP (Ian Poulter’s apparel brand) and Peter Millar. It has a feel of a golfing boutique with a relaxed atmosphere in keeping with the London Golf Club in general. “The guys in the shop take pride in how the shop is presented and have identified where the hotspots for selling are. Using the EPOS system, they can report on sales for all product lines we carry and position merchandise accordingly to maximise sales”, says Stuart. The London Golf Club also proactively runs sales promotion programmes to stimulate sales. “We even organise bespoke shoe fitting sessions which have proved very popular”, Stuart confirms.
London Golf Club uses a variety of social media channels to ensure members and visitors are kept informed of all club news and promotions. “As a retail operation we use social media to promote the latest fashions and promotions. The club also has its own members’ magazine and we use our excellent relationship with suppliers to contribute a feature on fashion or hardware. I also supply a coaching article to each edition.”
With regard to golf equipment Callaway, TaylorMade and Titleist clubs are stocked in the pro shop. “Custom fitting also plays a big part in our service to members and we work hard as a team to give a bespoke service. This may include one of our PGA professionals escorting several members on a custom fit experience with one of the hardware manufacturers.”
The attention to detail and the emphasis on high quality standards is paying off in terms of revenue says Stuart. “We’re only 17 miles from Canary Wharf. The City of London is buzzing again and we’re benefitting from that. We can offer corporate clients a range of additional branded products such as on-course banners and gifts for their clients as part of the corporate golf day package.”
The prestige of the London Golf Club is enhanced by being the only joint-venture partner golf club of The European Tour and part of the prestigious European Tour Properties network. “It’s great for us, because as a European Tour Destination our members benefit from preferential rates at other European Tour Properties, We have a great relationship with the Tour and it gives us a high profile and credibility.”
Although the London Golf Club has 36 championship holes, Paul maintains they are accessible and playable for golfers of all levels. “We have four teeing grounds and outside of pro-tournament years we prepare the set-up of the courses appropriate to the standard of events we are hosting, so it’s a challenge but a fair test. I am keen to know the condition of courses, so I can relay this to members and visitors alike.”
The build up to the Volvo World Match Play event presents its own challenges for the London Club team. “Everyone here is excited about it and really looking forward to the week. The build-up has already started. I’m planning logistics for the week and ensuring the staff are up to speed on developments. The Heritage is open for members during the tournament so I can envisage plenty of member play.”
Stuart believes the set-up at the London Golf Club is unique. “This is not a traditional members’ club with a committee or a conventional proprietary club. The requirements here are more rigorous and commercially minded and I see my role more as a manager. I have a team of 18 currently to oversee and enjoy the challenge that presents. In addition to my management responsibilities I still like to maintain a good playing standard and I keep abreast of new coaching techniques and trends.”
Over the years the London Club has seen many VIPs and film stars walking its fairways and Stuart has hosted Jack Nicklaus on several occasions. Summing up he says, “We are a special club looking to keep moving forward. Hosting the Volvo World Match Play will enhance our reputation as a golfing destination and I look forward to being part of that for many years to come.”