Meet the manager of the Ryder Cup venue

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu September 24, 2018 15:13 Updated

Paul Armitage is the general manager of Le Golf National, the venue of the 2018 Ryder Cup. He is an Englishman who has been working in golf management in France for about 25 years. He talks to The Golf Business about what hosting the event means for him, the club and the country.

What brought you to Le Golf National and how long have you been here?

I got the job at Le Golf National in May 2014, and started in September 2014. When I saw this job come up, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, so I decided to apply for it; it’s the kind of job that comes up once in a blue moon. I’ve been working in France for more than 20 years now, mainly in the golf industry.

This role seemed like a natural career progression, and the prospect of being involved in hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup, and the Olympic golf competition in 2024, is very exciting.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your time here and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was to change the culture and the mindset of the club. Le Golf National is 25 years old now, and there were a lot of habits and routines to shake up when I arrived.

I wanted to focus the staff on the fact that we are a Ryder Cup destination, the fact that our customers expect high standards and the fact that we have one of the best golf courses in the world.

I needed them to realise that we had to achieve those high standards every single day.

What does it mean to Le Golf National and to France to be hosting the Ryder Cup this year?

For Le Golf National, it’s an honour and a privilege to be hosting the Ryder Cup.

However, without the tenacity of the French Golf Federation throughout the bidding process and all the way now, we couldn’t do it alone, so all credit must go to them.

For the country, it is a huge deal. Pascal Grizot, who is the president of the France 2018 Ryder Cup committee, did a fantastic job of accomplishing his vision of bringing the Ryder Cup to France and gaining support from the government as well as local support. Pascal made it into a nationwide bid.

You can feel the excitement in the media around the event. With the announcement of Tiger Woods as the US team vice-captain, there’s an even bigger buzz, and the enormity of the event really hits home. It’s very exciting, and a huge honour to be involved.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to anyone wanting to become a general manager at a golf club?

You must love people.

It’s not enough to be a passionate golfer, you must have the customer service skills and the ideas and drive to grow the business.

It’s important to communicate well with staff, and to motivate them, and it also helps to take time out to speak with customers and ask if they’ve enjoyed their experience.

How does your relationship with Jacobsen benefit the club? What is your attitude when it comes to turf maintenance equipment?

We have a very long and happy relationship with Jacobsen; we have used the brand at Le Golf National for a very long time.

To be able to keep the agreement in place, and develop it even more, throughout the Ryder Cup, is a huge bonus for us.

The golf course is the most important thing, and if you look at some of the remarks on social networks, the standard of the greens, tees and fairways comes out on top, and is commended time and time again.

Without the correct resources, we can’t do that. The turf maintenance equipment is key, and we are very happy with the Jacobsen kit, and so are the greenkeeping team we have here.

Can you describe a typical day for a general manager?

No. Every day is different. That’s what makes it so much fun. At Le Golf National, we have three different courses, which offer a diverse offering to our customers.

In turn, there is a lot of variety and different aspects to my job. With the Ryder Cup, the 2024 Olympic Games, the French Open, Paris Legends, and other events like that, it adds another dimension, so no two days are the same!

What do you think are the differences between managing golf clubs in France and in the UK?

Golf is a lot less of a fragmented industry in France. Almost half of the market of golf clubs are organised in chains and networks.

The members-only clubs are just a handful of the 700 so it’s quite a lot more commercial in France. We run the clubs more of a business than a social sports club.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I love eating, sleeping, drinking red wine, spending time with my family and cooking!

How big is golf in France?

Golf has 410,000 registered golfers. However, we believe that 700,000 people in France play golf. As stated, there are just over 700 golf courses in France and golf is France’s main ‘individual’ sport.

How many members does the club have and do people in the local community use the club for non-golfing reasons such as the bar and restaurant?

We are a public facility with much more pay and play golfers than members.

In fact we have a limited amount of memberships, or subscriptions as we call them, limited to 150 players per course (three courses so 450 in total).

Another peculiarity is that the golf club does not run the food and beverage part of the business – this is run independently and separately by AccorHotels and Novotel.

With regards to marketing, what does the club do to attract potential new members and visitors?

We attract potential new members and visitors with open days, academy memberships with unlimited lessons, balls and rounds!

We also brand our facilities a little differently and we have moved into the digital era with much more online sales.

What is the club’s attitudes to, for example, dress codes, and could it ever embrace alternative approaches to golf such as footgolf or adventure golf?

Our attitude is basic respect.

We don’t accept ripped jeans and sleevless tee shirts – but apart from that ‘come as you are’!

Adventure golf is something that is being looked into right now as we closed our academy for Ryder Cup purposes and will look to re-open with some exciting new concepts!

How ‘British traditional’ is Le Golf National?

Le Golf National is very Euro continental modern!

What is the club’s approach to customer service?

Our approach is very simple – customer service is key!

Four years ago we nominated one of our managers head of customer services. We focussed him on giving the love to customers and we repositioned all our staff and put value on the front office and outside staff to make sure that the customer be always at the heart of our organisation – on top of our organisation.

Paul Armitage: 10 quick-fire questions

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a golf TV camera man!

Who is your role model?

My dad is my role model. He’s a very honest and hardworking man and has been a great source of advice throughout my career.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Work hard, play hard.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time? 

Cook. It takes so much time to do it well!

If you could be anywhere, where would it be? 

Le Golf National! Where else would you want to be?!

Most admired sports person?

Not everyone’s favourite, but Nick Faldo.

What job would you be terrible at?

Working in a hospital and seeing sick people- I would be awful at that.

Do you have any hidden talents? 

Singing.

It’s hidden because I don’t sing often, but put me in front of a karaoke machine, and I’ll sing all night.

What skill would you like to master?

I’d love to learn to play a musical instrument; either the piano or even to be able to read music.

One thing you do to motivate yourself?

Think about bananas. When I used to play bad golf, I was introduced to sophrology, which is the idea that when things aren’t going your way, you should think of something that makes you feel happy… so I think about bananas!

 

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu September 24, 2018 15:13 Updated
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