My success story… ROB MCGUIRK

Steeped in history, Prince’s have held the oldest major of all. The club are constantly improving and embarked on a huge renovation to their Himalayas nine. We interviewed general manager Rob McGuirk

There’s something about the Kent coast that makes for wonderful links golf and Prince’s is a club that more than lives up to the billing.

A final qualifying venue for the Open, the Sandwich course hosted the big one in 1932 and, fittingly, it was a giant of the game – Gene Sarazen – who claimed the Claret Jug. Majors may have moved on for the time being, but Prince’s continues to hold the game’s biggest events – co-hosting the Amateur Championship only last year.

The family-owned proprietary club is already lauded for the Shore and Dunes courses and, over the last year, embarked on a huge project to transform the Himalayas nine. The fruits of that labour, which saw Prince’s entrust venerable architect Martin Ebert with the task, will soon be open to all when the re-designed layout is officially unveiled in May.

The Himalayas is a loop that is popular with members but, as general manager Rob McGuirk explained, visitors weren’t taking the bait. “Every time people came to play here they were saying ‘I don’t want to play a little course out the back’,” he said.

“That’s the feedback we kept getting. Even though we all knew how good it was, that is all anyone would ever say to us. “The members absolutely loved it because of the way it works out with playing loops of three, five, seven or nine. So they play it a lot.

“But visitors just didn’t want to play it. We got to the stage where people said ‘if I have to pay the Himalayas I don’t want to pay this for it’. “We thought we could make it better than the Shore or Dunes, though, but we’d need to have a proper plan in place to do it and to pay the money for the best architect.” Ebert came in and proposed a set of changes “to make it really special”. Among them was a new signature par 3, the 5th, which plays towards the sea, and a penultimate hole that was to become a driveable par 4.

McGuirk added: “We invited all the members to come along for an evening with Martin. “He showed them historical images of how the course used to look and he went through how we were going to reintroduce all these old features, take a lot of trees out that weren’t there in the past, and upgrade parts of it to make you think your way round it a bit more. “It was to take the Himalayas to championship standard like the rest of the 18 and they (members) took to it very well.

“They have been very excited by it. Being a proprietary club, we’re investing all the money and they are getting all the benefit so they’ve rolled with us and now they can’t wait for it to be open.”

The bulk of the work was undertaken through some of the busiest times in Prince’s calendar. With lots of visiting parties passing through in August, September and October, there was the potential for major disruption. But McGuirk revealed that honest marketing and some future incentives were key in helping the club come through unscathed.

“Anyone who was on a stay and play package, we tried to only get them on Himalayas once,” he explained. “We explained to them what we were trying to do, showed them the plans, what we were trying to achieve, and 95 per cent of the people really enjoyed it. “The fairways were exactly the same, the bunkers were still in play as were the greens. “Nothing really changed but we had work going on either side of them. It was disruptive.

“If people were here on a day package, we’d only charge them an 18-hole rate and they’d play Himalayas for free. “So we managed to put a positive spin on it – ‘this is our biggest undertaking since the 1950s and it’s going to be great when it comes back and next year we can look after you with rates’.

“That’s the way we managed it and the guys in the shop were very good and on point with it.” In fact the project has been such a huge success that it has brought an unexpected consequence. “It’s (Himalayas) actually better than the Shore and Dunes.

“We’ve now started doing the Shore and Dunes (bunkers) for final qualifying. “We’ve actually kept the contractors on to do those for us.” McGuirk added: “In time, we’ve got plans to do the Shore and Dunes and we’ve got plans for a par 3 course next to the Lodge.

“We want to be the best 27-hole resort in the country. “Now we’re really excited and looking forward to people playing the Himalayas.”

By Marie J. Taylor

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