Meet the director of golf: The Belfry’s Chris Reeve

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu February 14, 2018 07:33 Updated

He talks about delivering the ‘Ryder Cup Experience’ to every customer every day, the club’s £26 million refurbishment and how the venue is generating more and more revenue from its bars and restaurants

Last March one of the greatest golf clubs in the world – The Belfry Hotel & Resort in Warwickshire – the headquarters of The Professional Golfers’ Association, four-time host of the Ryder Cup and home to the world-famous Brabazon Course, announced that Chris Reeve was its new director of golf.

At the time he said: “I’m really excited to be joining The Belfry, especially at a time when the resort is going from strength to strength.

“The Belfry is steeped in tournament history and is a place that golfers worldwide aspire to visit. The Brabazon is of course the main attraction, but when you add two other top courses, a PGA Academy with all the latest technology, a superb hotel, bars, restaurants and spa facilities, you have a one of the finest environments to work in.”

Nearly one year on, The Golf Business caught up with Chris to find out more about him, the venue and how his first year is going.

What’s been your career trajectory? How did you go from working in a pro shop to become the director of golf at somewhere like The Belfry?

Like every young golf professional, I worked my way up from the bottom. I turned pro back in 1994 at Chart Hills in Kent – where I was also pro shop manager – and then had a couple of other roles as senior pro and head professional in the UK. I then went to Marbella in Spain to run a golf coaching programme for a few years. There have been a few other roles in there too, including golf academy director at the Burhill Group and, before joining The Belfry, I was director of golf at Foxhills in Surrey. So, I guess you could say I’ve had first hand experience of the key skills needed for a director of golf role at somewhere like The Belfry. That being said, there’s not another resort in the world with the Ryder Cup history of The Belfry, so I don’t think anyone can be fully prepared when they come to a resort as special as this. The first few months were a bit of a whirlwind, but I’ve loved every minute so far.

Have you had to adapt your skills to an ever-changing industry in those two decades? How different is The Belfry to what it was in the mid-1990s?

The golf industry has changed massively since I first started as a PGA professional in 1994. When I first started, booking systems at golf venues would be done with a piece of paper and pencil, but now technology has taken over and helps so much more with operations – particularly for big resorts like The Belfry. For example, our advanced system that manages all our bookings and enquiries allows us to deal with an incredibly large volume of people, but also allows everyone to have access to the same information and therefore we are all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.

Our PGA Golf Academy is another side of the business that has benefitted from advancements in technology and golf businesses continue to support us in return.

Take PING for instance, they’ve recently installed a new Trackman 4 launch monitor because they’ve seen how committed we are to custom-fitting. Technology is really important in winning new business, and that transcends right across our business to conferences and large-scale events at the resort.

What are the biggest challenges you face managing a club like The Belfry?

I think the biggest challenge I’ve noticed, in comparison to other golf resorts and hotels, is the onus on providing the ‘Ryder Cup Experience’ every single day of the year. When golfers come to The Belfry they expect Ryder Cup standards – and that’s not just on The Brabazon. It’s everything from the three golf courses to the restaurants to the hotel. That means the level of service and attention to detail you deliver must be impeccable. With corporate golf days, particularly the high-profile ones we host, clients expect the very best service – thankfully we’re blessed with a world-class operations team that can manage these days seamlessly. It means I can oversee our big golf events and analyse where we can improve in the future.

The club underwent a £26 million upgrade in 2013 – what has changed?

The refurbishments have made a massive improvement to the whole resort. The most notable improvements came with the hotel – it was transformed with new-look bedrooms, along with the stylish Brabazon Bar and Ryder Grill restaurant. The Bel-Air was refurbished too and that’s proved a massive attraction ever since. The Brabazon also benefitted from the investment and it’s safe to say we’ve never looked back since.

The Belfry was recently ranked in Europe’s top three golf destinations for customer service – what do you do that’s so impressive? How important is customer service to you and what does the staff training entail? What would a visitor who played 18 holes and had a meal notice in terms of customer service?

When you work at a resort that demands the very best in service, it’s imperative that you have a team that focuses on the same strategy. Staff collaboration and engagement is vital for a premium golf resort. For us, it’s crucial our team understand and buy into the DNA of our operation and of our brand. Quite often at operations meetings, I’ll ask my team – which includes personnel within golf operations, sales, greenkeeping and the pro shop – what exactly does a world class service look like, and I’ll leave the room for about 15 minutes or so to let them discuss. When you charge £160 for a green fee to play The Brabazon, customers demand a level of service that can’t be beaten, so if there are any hiccups with our delivery it’s going to have a bigger impact than what some may expect.

When I return to the meeting room, it’s amazing to hear the level of feedback – good and bad – that the team come back with. There’s a lot more discussion topics and debate than if I had stayed in the room, that’s for sure. It could be something as simple as an issue with staffing the bag drop, but whatever it is, we always come out with a solution and a better service as a result.

We don’t bring people in from outside the business to train staff … everything is done in-house and that seemingly has a much more positive effect.

Food and beverage seems a big part of The Belfry’s offering these days. How much of your revenue comes from the bar and restaurants and what do they do to attract custom?

Food and beverage make up a large part of our overall revenue mix and is hugely important for us.

With Sam’s Bar, The Ryder Grill and Rocca’s Pizza Pasta restaurant, there’s a wide range of dining options for visitors – and that includes those who have come to play golf and stay over in the hotel, or those who just come for a meal.

We have chefs who have worked in Michelin star establishments who continue to help The Belfry win awards for food and beverage.

I also have to mention our sales and marketing teams who have done a fantastic job in promoting food and beverage at The Belfry, mainly through direct marketing, social media and PR, both regionally and nationally.

You’re home to the PGA National Golf Academy. What challenges and opportunities does this present?

The PGA National Golf Academy is a fantastic asset for The Belfry and offers a number of opportunities for us as a business.

Golfers visiting can benefit from world-class tuition and custom-fitting facilities in five different suites which house leading hardware brands like TaylorMade, Titleist, Callaway and PING.

We can provide golfers with the very best teaching facilities, including the latest in launch monitor technology from Trackman in all of the fitting rooms.

The team of professionals at the academy have done a brilliant job in reaching out to a really wide audience and helping increase visitor numbers year on year.

Participation and memberships have been difficult issues for the industry in recent years – what does The Belfry do to attract new people, especially women and children, to the game?

It’s massively important that we cater for every type of player, including beginners, juniors and female golfers. At our PGA Golf Academy for instance, we have a female teaching professional and coaches dedicated solely to junior golfers. We also run open days for anyone keen to play and these have been very popular. We offer group lessons where players can enjoy the company of their friends and we also provide one-to-one sessions. It depends on what the individual prefers, as well as their level of expertise.

Moving away from the practice area, there are three very different golf courses here. The Derby course is a brilliant option for those who are newer to the game or would prefer something less challenging than The PGA National or The Brabazon. The crucial thing is to cater for everyone.

How much do you get involved in the running of the hotel?

I’m obviously aware of what’s going on in the hotel and talk regularly with the executive team and the heads of departments who handle that side of the business, but it’s not my domain. My role lies within the golfing side of the business. Ultimately, like the team who manage the hotel, my role involves planning months ahead and forecasting.

The key areas I oversee are golf retail, the PGA Golf Academy and, of course, golf operations. I have to ensure my team have the tools to deliver a world-class service in all of these areas.

The Brabazon is a world-famous course. Is it doing anything to maintain or even enhance its reputation?

The Brabazon is managed superbly by our director of courses and estates, Angus Macleod.

Angus’ team somehow enhance the conditioning of the course every year, just when you think it couldn’t get any better.

The team of greenkeepers work round the clock, 365 days a year, to ensure everyone who visits experiences a course that is ready to host a tour event, something which we pride ourselves on.

We get some fantastic PR with The Brabazon, however you certainly can’t over-emphasise the power of the Ryder Cup history, which is unrivalled anywhere across the world.

Do you read any of the golfing press?

As someone who has been involved in golf their whole life, you won’t be surprised to hear I consume as much golf news as possible.

Obviously with the enhances in technology, specifically smart phones, I now read more about golf online rather than through magazines.

 

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu February 14, 2018 07:33 Updated
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