How to…Manage Expectations

More than 100,000 rounds are played every year at The Belfry. How do you maintain a course with such heavy use and what can all clubs learn from the Ryder Cup venue? Angus Macleod, director of golf courses and estates, tells Steve Carroll his secrets. They have to throw away the manual at The Belfry. Being a four-time Ryder Cup venue is both a blessing and a curse. It means you’ll probably never be concerned about getting enough people through the doors. But it also requires standards of excellence that are exceptionally difficult to achieve all year round. Golfers want the same greens they’ve seen on the TV and, crucially, the same speeds. At peak, around 107,000 rounds are played on the Brabazon, Derby and PGA National courses each year. That’s a lot of divots. Maintenance that’s just routinely done at clubs around the country isn’t as straightforward to carry out in this corner of Sutton Coldfield. You can’t just top dress your greens and expect your visitors to put up with sand on the surfaces. They simply won’t return. Angus Macleod is the man charged with walking the tightrope. As director of golf courses and estates, what the courses look like on any given day falls on his shoulders. And there are plenty of people waiting to pass comment – reviewers, guest shoppers, visitors and people on social media – if it has an off day. “We can’t afford to have a bad day at The Belfry. The challenge is: I have to manage expectations. I have to manage what the customer is expecting,” Mcleod says. “We had Tony Jacklin’s golf day last year and we gave them last day Ryder Cup pins. We tweaked the golf course to give them that unique experience so they could follow in the footsteps of the legends and play the Brabazon. “We give them about 10 1⁄2 to 11 1⁄2 feet (of green speed) every single day. That’s hard to do. We are almost giving them tournament standard every single day. But the price point dictates that, the customer expects that and we want them to return. If we give the guests the same experience at their home club, they go ‘these greens are absolutely unplayable’, but they don’t want 8 1⁄2 or 9 feet. They want and expect fast greens. That’s the challenge.” While your greenkeepers and course managers are routinely carrying out spring and summer maintenance, that’s out of the question at The Belfry. Macleod’s teams are at their busiest during February and November and December. But, as he admits, as soon as you start punching holes or hollow-coring and scarifying, guests are going to be impacted. So what does he do, and what can we all learn from it? “Everything is tailored to the customer,” he explains. “We have to change techniques. We carry out microtining and give them a roll straight afterwards and the guests don’t even notice. They are 6mm tines, at 5 inch depths, and not...
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