Concluding our profiles of the nominees for the GCMA Manager of the Year Awards, which will be presented at GCMA 2021 Conference, we talk to those shortlisted for the prestigious Manager of the Year prize…
The nominees are: Matt Parsley, General Manager at Conwy; Ben Driver, General Manager at Chigwell; James Maclean, General Manager at Bognor Regis; Stuart Leech, Secretary/Manager at Formby; Bob Tawell, General Manager at Rushmere; and Gary Stangoe, General Manager at Reading
Matt Parsley, General Manager at Conwy, in North Wales shepherded through a successful Curtis Cup – despite the top amateur tournament being delayed a year for coronavirus
Congratulations on being nominated, Matt. How did you feel when you found out?
It came as a real shock but it felt really good. When your peers put you forward for something, when somebody nominates you, it shows what you do has been noticed. It’s very humbling really, but I am really honoured to be nominated.
You’ve had an incredibly busy period – a clubhouse refurbishment, Covid, and the Curtis Cup. What are you most proud of from that period?
Naturally, the Curtis Cup stands out. That was always the pinnacle of what we we’ve been aiming for the last three years – to deliver a successful Curtis Cup.
An awful lot of projects needed completing for that to happen. It wasn’t just delivering the week. It was the planning and the preparation before it.
Overall, I’m most proud of how as a club we’ve moved forward and as a committee, and a group of staff, that everybody’s on the same page.
I think I’m most proud of how the Curtis Cup was delivered. That was the icing on the cake, and the outcome, but going through the process of the last three years has been really tough.
The most enjoyable aspect of it was seeing it all come together. It’s a team effort. I’m the manager in charge and it’s my job and my responsibility but you can’t do it on your own. You need a very strong committee and very supportive staff.
Presumably this has all helped the club strip fitter for the future?
It has. It was the platform that we wanted to build on. We knew if we got to a level where we could deliver a successful Curtis Cup we’re then in a position to move forwards. We want to keep moving forwards. The bar has been raised. Strategically, we are where we wanted to be and now it’s a case of pushing on and using the success for the club to benefit for years to come.
Looking forward to Conference?
Really looking forward to Conference. I went in 2019 and it was an amazing event full of learning and networking with other managers. It will be exciting and good luck to everybody else who’s been nominated, and it will be a night to remember.
Ben Driver, General Manager of Chigwell, in Essex, is hoping to go one better after his club were nominated for Team of the Year two years ago
Give me a sense of what it was like when you learned you were one of the nominees…
Ecstatic. Really excited, really pleased and grateful. Obviously, it’s about the team around me as well because I genuinely don’t believe you can have a Manager of the Year, or be a good manager, without the team around you.
Chigwell were nominated for Team of the Year two years ago. What do you think has helped you to be nominated again?
Consistency. We don’t put things in place for the short team. Everything we’re doing here, we’re trying to build a culture at the club of fun.
We want people to come in and have fun and, hopefully, that has led to this. It’s about creating that culture for members and it’s momentum. I think it’s the passion for doing something different. We are constantly developing the club and having fun with it.
There was plenty going on when you were nominated last time – a five-year course plan had been voted on and then you’ve gone through the pandemic….
We’ve kept the plan going. We are approaching four years and it will finish in 2023. We’ve redesigned more bunkers – we’ve got six holes left to go – and installed more greens drainage. We’ve moved more trees, built new tees, ponds and ditches. [Off the course]. We’ve changed software providers. We’ve made changes to the food and beverage.
Of course, lockdown was really difficult for us as a club but we all rallied together. We called the team together and communicated regularly with the members.
They are all on board because we’re transparent, we tell them what we are doing, and everyone is together with the club’s plan and strategy.
I imagine you are looking forward to Wyboston Lakes Resort?
I can’t wait. I think it’s great. My first one was in 2019 and I honestly can’t see me not ever going to one again. It’s just the kind of the things that you take away from it – the keynote speakers and just catching up with other managers as well. The camaraderie last time was just so good and I am really looking forward to coming again.
James Maclean, General Manager of Bognor Regis, in West Sussex, has overseen a quite remarkable transformation in the club’s fortunes
What have the last couple of years been like and why do you think you’ve been put forward for this award?
The last couple of years have been pretty horrible. I think every manager will probably say the same. It’s been a really difficult time. We’ve all had to adjust to different challenges during that period. I think my nomination is probably as much about how the club’s progressed over the last four or five years, as much as the last two.
How has the club progressed?
If you go back five years, we had 300 fewer members. We had an average age of over 68 years.
We’ve brought in over 300 members and dropped the average age down to 57, which is a huge achievement. Most of that was before Covid.
We’ve been able to sustain it and continue to grow. Over the last two years, we brought our pro shop in-house – so it is run internally and the staff are employed. That is the same with our halfway hut.
In the last five years, we’ve gone from 23 employees up to 38, which is massive growth. I think our turnover has gone from £900,000 to just under £1.5 million as well.
And this has secured the future of the club?
Definitely. We’ve got an excellent team. The senior management team are superb, really passionate about what they do, and that rubs off on their individual team members.
Looking back over the last couple of years, what has made you the proudest?
One of the biggest things was introducing a flexible membership. That was back in 2016 and gave the real injection to the membership growth in those first couple of years. It’s just grown since then.
Lots of members joined as flexible members and progressed through to full membership because they’ve enjoyed the product and realised how much golf they were playing.
It worked just as well as a feeder category, as for those that couldn’t justify the full subscription.
What does it say about your career, and where it might take you, that you’re a GCMA Manager of the Year Awards nominee?
I try not to look too far ahead. I’ve got a really good opportunity at Bognor and we’re currently going through a redevelopment project – similar to what Royal Norwich did a couple of years ago. I would love to carry on here and be a part of that. It’s obviously an exciting project.
A dazzling number of projects and initiatives have been guided by Stuart Leech, Secretary/Manager at Formby through the coronavirus pandemic
Congratulations on being nominated. How do you feel about the accolade?
Very proud. It’s great to have somebody nominate you from the club and, obviously, it means a lot. I’ve had a very long list of items we’ve gone through and achieved over this last 12 months, and in 2020 as well, so it’s been really positive.
What have you been doing then over that period?
We’ve worked very hard on member engagement throughout Covid. We’ve done a lot with sports personalities, Zoom calls and weekly quizzes. We’ve had evenings with Phillip Price, Rob Key, Dave Fairclough, Alan Stubbs, Steve Smith. We’ve had the pro doing clinics. We’ve had history evenings to cover our 135-year history.
We worked hard on making sure we had good outside catering provision. We were one of the first to install marquees. In terms of projects, we’ve tried to cram in an incredible amount through the lockdown at the beginning of the year – to take advantage of the fact that the course was empty.
This was a bit of a gamble – because you’re spending money and have no idea how the rest of the year is going to pan out.
But we installed some roadways and improved others and infrastructure around the site. We’re working on irrigation improvements. We’ve just commenced a 16-week project to replace the main irrigation pipe and cables around the entire site and we’ve also worked on installing a huge main drain. We’re working really hard on drainage and irrigation.
The course agronomy improvement programme will continue. We’ve been involved this year in a coastal erosion collaboration group with the R&A, also involving clubs from Holland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, where we’ve been looking at various ways to try and slow down coastal erosion or protect certain areas. We’re proud to have made a significant contribution there.
There’s been a lot going on…
We’ve also installed a new membership and till system to make sure we’re going more contactless to help move towards the cashless society. Finances have been quite significant.
We’re going to have a record year on green fees this year, which is a fair achievement to say the least. We’ve been able to tap into our social media presence, which has increased significantly.
Next year actually has far more on the books than we have ever been at in terms of pre-bookings. I’m aware a chunk of that has to do with American visitors deferring but, equally, it’s significantly up. We’re really pleased with the work that we’ve done.
And we’re in the process of finalising our refreshed strategic plan, which we look at on a regular basis.
Bob Tawell has been the General Manager at Rushmere Golf Club for 20 years and has helped push through a series of improvement projects during his time at the Suffolk club
How did you feel when you learned you had been nominated?
Quite surprised. I’ve been here for 20 years and have never had any of that sort of recognition at all.
What are your proudest moments over the past two years?
The way the staff have dealt with the lockdown has been fantastic. I had a relatively new food and beverage crew and they’ve moulded into an excellent team. I’m also proud of [how] I’ve worked with the greenkeepers over the last year and my captain Mick Coe. We’ve re-constructed all the workshops and the outside area. That’s been quite a nice project we’ve all worked together on and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for nearly 20 years so that’s made me feel quite good when you look at it and you see it’s done and finished.
Are you looking forward to Conference?
Yes. The last one I went to was at St George’s Park [in 2015] and it will be quite good to meet up with people, which has been a bit of a strain over the last two years.
Why do you think you are one of the finalists?
I don’t know, to be honest. I’m an easy-going sort of person. I love the job and just get on with it. Whatever comes up you have to deal with and different things happen every day. I get on with an awful lot of people. I’ve always been connected with all the other secretaries on a regular basis and have a good understanding of my membership.
Can you tell us about some of the successes at your club?
I’ve been here 20 years and I worked for Goodyear for 27 years. I told the committee it was a golf club that if it didn’t change was going nowhere. The front of house needed a complete restructure. We employed Kelvin Vince, who is still with me.
We refurbished the bar and lounge area and the irrigation, which we decided to do in 2004.
Before lockdown, we did a complete restructure of every bunker on the course, which we did on a four-year project. That’s complete and we are now working on the front of the clubhouse, which is in desperate need of an uplift.
Gary Stangoe, General Manager at Reading Golf Club, has spent the last year guiding a huge relocation project from the club’s previous home to a new site at The Caversham
What were your thoughts upon learning you had been nominated?
I was kind of uncomfortable because I’m assuming the reason for my nomination is because of the project and what we’ve been through here. I see it very much as being a huge effort and, particularly, huge bravery on behalf of our board of directors.
I’ve been prepared for being the front person for this project, which has been highly emotional and controversial as well as being very rewarding. I hope in time it will be appreciated but to be individually singled out, truthfully, [I’m] uncomfortable.
What would you say you are most proud of over the last two years?
The fact we achieved our relocation project in the timeframe we said we would. We haven’t undertaken our clubhouse project yet, but to do the full renovation of the golf course within the last couple of years and within the timeframe, given the fact there was a pandemic and within budget on the golf course side of things, I’m hugely proud of that.
Are you looking forward to Conference?
Yes, I’ve been a regular in attendance at the Conference and, from a network point of view, it’s been very beneficial. I think the last Conference, and certainly St George’s Park, were the strongest of the Conferences and I found it very worthwhile.
Why do you think you are one of the finalists?
I have absolutely no idea. I don’t see it [from the] individual side of things, I see it as a team – because I am the front person of a huge team effort, including our membership. [It’s a] huge walk of faith to take a 110-year-old golf club and relocate in the face of quite a lot of adversity. I don’t know why I have been nominated, or who’s nominated me. It was a surprise.
You must be doing something right, Gary?
That’s for others to decide, I’m certainly not somebody that’s going to do that. As you can tell, I am uncomfortable with that side of things. I made some life-changing choices in terms of this project and, obviously, really put our heart and soul into seeing this through. We‘ve still got a long way to go. We’ve still got a whole clubhouse refurb to do and a new academy course and practice ground to build. Certainly, [on what is going right] that’s not something I’d feel comfortable commenting on. That’s for others to do.
Delegate places and Breakout Sessions are filling up quickly for GCMA 2021 Conference at Wyboston Lakes Resort. Check out the full programme, book your sessions, and get all the information you need by visiting our dedicated website here.