Meet the manager: Gleneagles’ director of golf, Gary Silcock

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 27, 2017 07:28 Updated

Gary Silcock is the director of golf at 2014 Ryder Cup venue Gleneagles. He tells The Golf Business how he got to one of the most prestigious roles in the industry and explains the measures that have been introduced to keep a large, high net-worth membership happy

How long have you been at Gleneagles and how did you get to the position of director of golf there?

I started my golf career aged 17 and, for the last 30 years, I have travelled widely, working in some of the foremost golfing venues in the world. In each successive position I’ve been able to reinforce my knowledge across all elements of golf – from tuition and construction, through to operational management and commercialism. My proven success across all these disciplines has led to my current role in general management and leadership strategy.

I began as assistant PGA professional at Panmure GC, then The Westerwood Resort, a PGA professional at The Old Course Hotel & Spa, St Andrews, then golf operations manager / head PGA professional at Parque Da Floresta in the Algarve. Afterwards I accepted the post of the CEO of Aamby Valley GC, India, and designed and opened the PGA academy and clubhouse, and redesigned golf holes and worked in course construction. Additionally, I wrote a business plan using IMG procedures. Following this I was appointed as the the CEO of PGA National Ireland at Palmerstown House / Citywest Hotel, in which I pre-opened the golf course, set the brand, built the clubhouse, recruited a full team and designed marketing with the team and brand. After that, I was director of golf at The Belfry, where I changed the management of golf, achieved the highest golf revenue in The Belfry’s history and worked with the golf team to construct and redesign the Brabazon course. This was followed by my role as director of golf at La Manga Club, Spain, where I managed two clubhouse food and beverage operations, was the general manager for all its golf courses, worked in the construction and design of the academy and brought in the Leadbetter Academy, changed the sales / marketing / pricing as well as managed 2,000 members. And since March 2015 I’ve been the director of golf at Gleneagles. I manage all golf, courses and the estate, influence the sales and marketing for golf, which impacts the whole business. I also create awareness and increase operational standards during ‘change management’, creating a succession plan for the future linked to the vision of ‘Glorious Playground’.

Picture by Julie Howden

What would you say are the biggest challenges you currently face?

Gleneagles is a five-star facility and is one of the great resort hotels in the world. We do not compete on price and we therefore continually work to strengthen awareness of our quality, service and the full ‘Gleneagles Golf Experience’. The easy solution for generating business would be to reduce the price, however, we have never taken the easy option and our goal has always been to create a lifestyle experience – a place where people dream to play. This represents wonderful value for money.

How big is your team at Gleneagles, what is the current management structure and how well does this serve the needs of the club?

The summer season we have 52 greenkeepers, 35 in the operations team, 11 retail staff and 11 PGA professionals.

I report to the managing director of Gleneagles. My direct reports are Andrew Jowett, head PGA pro, David Blackadder, golf operations manager, Scott Fenwick, golf and estates manager, and Alyson Lilley, retail manager.

I work with the commercial team and the marketing team to increase awareness and the golf focus to the business. I also work closely with Conor O’Leary and the food and beverage team to enhance the golf experience.

As a profit-making business, the golf operation at Gleneagles is one of the largest in Europe and the team structure reflects this. The managers of all the areas within golf (tuition and membership, operations, course management and retail) have their own teams, but all these team areas work very closely to ensure the golf offering is a seamless and successful operation.

On arrival at Gleneagles you decided on a more commercial approach. How did you go about constructing your initial business plan? Did it run to target and produce the results you were looking for?

The business model in place when I arrived was simply the successful delivery of the 2014 Ryder Cup. We needed to maximise the business from this event, but we couldn’t rest on our laurels and we had to enhance the overall golf experience and customer journey. A commercial approach is about ensuring a wonderful guest experience, whether that’s the condition of the golf courses, the set-up of the golf courses, ensuring the right staff are in the right positions with the right knowledge, providing guests with the best and the right information, or just making sure the guests have everything they require to enjoy their stay in The Glen.

My first approach was to create more knowledge within the whole golf team, by encouraging them to immerse themselves more fully in their areas of the business, and give them the confidence to make changes, which has, in turn, created ownership. The team has enjoyed this new direction.

In golf, you need to continually review the quality of what you offer, and ensure there is a dynamic spirit within the team – so team members don’t stagnate and are continually aspiring for higher, further and better. For me, it was important to bring in many new team members who could see the resort with fresh eyes, supported by the core players who have been here for many years with incredible knowledge of the Gleneagles product.

In the short term, we are in a very strong position, with the team exceeding targets, and all of us getting fully on board with the new Gleneagles’ direction. Our new brand position celebrates not just golf but the whole leisure offering at the hotel – the ‘Glorious Playground’ of country pursuits, golf, leisure and outstanding culinary experiences that is unparalleled in any other golf venue and sets Gleneagles apart from anywhere else in the world.

In the longer term, our new five-year plan shows the developments and enhancements we are working towards, which has helped the team understand the direction better and also motivated them to continually aspire for improvement.

How far in advance are you currently laying business plans and what are the goals you would like to achieve over the timeframe you’ve allocated?

We have a five-year plan that will provide excellent returns for the business to grow and improve, very clear courses standards, and clear positioning messages attributed to each of our three, very different, golf course set ups. We also have a very strong succession plan for all areas of the team – from the greens staff, to the PGA professionals, and even the sales team.

How do you currently categorise the Gleneagles golf memberships and what growth have you seen in these categories?

We have created a lifestyle membership for golf in Scotland.

We have full membership for Golf at Gleneagles (junior also), country and international membership, this is for all golf facilities – our three championship courses, our nine-hole course, our PGA National Academy (free range ball) and food and beverage incentives. We also have academy membership. Two years ago saw 10 per cent growth and 2016 saw eight per cent growth.

Then we have corporate members with five different packages that also involves rooms and access to other pursuits and leisure.

What growth will you be looking for in the varying membership categories in the coming year?

We hope to gain five per cent in 2017 and this will complete our membership target.

What do you ensure is offered to corporate groups to maximise the yield of this category in the time they spend at Gleneagles?

We have found groups’ sizes have reduced so we now require more groups but this has allowed us to offer more than just a golf day. Now with 20 golfers we can get them out on the course, and then give them a group shooting session or another team-building leisure experience within the estate, such as falconry, gun dog handling, archery or off-roading.

The smaller size of groups coming in also allows us to blend those groups into our normal food and beverage offering.

Done correctly, the golfers have their breakfast and morning coffee before the clubhouse restaurants get busy. Then, when the restaurants are busy with non-golfers, the golfers are out on the course. When the golfers return for more food and beverage, the non-golfing food and beverage guests are changing. This maximises food and beverage revenue and creates more peaks in revenue.

The Dormy Clubhouse is central to the social aspect of the Gleneagles golf offering. How closely do you work with Conor O’Leary, the hotel manager, in looking at food and beverage and associated social events?

The Dormy Clubhouse’s two venues – Auchterarder 70 and The Dormy Restaurant – are two of the hotel’s more casual dining, along with The Birnam Brasserie in the main hotel. Conor and Angelos (the casual dining manager) work to ensure a vibrant environment for all our guests. Our role in golf is to communicate speed of play, when larger groups are coming in. We have three courses so, in peak season, the clubhouse can see 12 golfers arriving off the courses every 10 minutes. The volume of golfers coming in and going out means it’s a busy clubhouse, and that’s before you even add hotel guests.

Conor and I meet twice a week for general management of the property. Communication and information sharing between golf and the food and beverage team is crucial, with information being passed back and forth hourly as well as daily and weekly.

Of course there is also the odd game of golf with Conor, which is a lot more rewarding!

The Dormy Clubhouse and Auchterarder 70 bar are scheduled for a redesign. What are the plans and what will this deliver to the members and visitors?

Auchterarder 70 is a new craft bar which opened in April 2016. The Dormy Restaurant refurbishment is expected to start in January 2018. There are also plans to redesign the golf shop, in line with the other new designs across the hotel. This will ensure we are offering an even better start to the golfer’s journey at Gleneagles.

The new and improved clubhouse will provide an even greater experience for golfers and food and beverage guests alike. When the golf shop is closed, the clubhouse will feel less golfy, more of a casual dining experience. As a team, we’re thinking carefully about how we can increase satisfaction and improve the customer experience for all our guests, both golfers and non-golfers – further enhancing one of the most successful golf clubhouses in Europe.

Gleneagles – Queens Course

The retail shop is an important part of the golf offering. How do you decide the range and quality of product stocked, are there any customer preferences that drive the listing of certain apparel and how do you ensure at all times the sales are being maximised?  

Our golf shop caters for clothing, gifts and balls, before and after play. We fully understand the requirements of our customers – so we always stock the favourites, but also keep refreshing our offering by looking for the next ‘must have’ products. It helps that we have one of the most famous and iconic golf logos in the world.

Our golf academy now sells the most expansive club selection we have ever had – including the latest equipment from the five leading manufacturers, Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway, Ping and Mizuno – while remaining competitively priced within the industry. We have partnered with Mizuno to provide a custom fitting facility, which provides a free overnight turnaround service on a bespoke set of clubs.

With clubs being custom built and assembled just 30 miles away at the brand’s Cumbernauld facility, it means guests can be fitted Monday-Thursday and take delivery at the hotel on the following day, which is a great service for time-poor golfers. You can get fitted on the morning of your arrival at the hotel and then spend the day honing your game across Gleneagles’ three championship courses and enjoying the hotel’s luxury facilities. Meanwhile, we’ll arrange for your clubs to be made and delivered straight to your hotel room – ready for you to play with the very next day. It’s another manifestation of our commitment to providing an outstanding golfing experience at Gleneagles.

We also offer 80 rental sets from the main manufacturers, not just in steel, graphite, reg and stiff but also in different lies and length. In addition, we have a buggy fleet with GPSi, 40 power trolleys, 100 pull trolleys and the services of our caddie programme ‘Caddie Master’, with 175 on roll.

Gleneagles – Kings Course

Three choices of course are offered at Gleneagles, Queens, an inland course, Kings, and inland links and Centenary, a modern classic. What plans do you have to deliver best quality playing surfaces at all times and how will you and the greenkeeping teams work together to ensure delivery?

The three courses are set up: Queens – heathland, PGA Centenary – modern classic and Kings – inland links.

They offer three different course lengths. Kings and Queens are closely cut, offering fast running wide fairways as James Braid designed, while the PGA Centenary offers a refined and defined emerald green golfing.

The green team provide stipmeter, trueness and smoothness reading each week along with firmness. These provide the team with facts and information we can provide to the guests.

We are on a journey to keep improving and it’s a journey that never finishes.

You run an hourly speed of play report from 10am to 4pm. How does this help you to run the business and what action do you take if things do not seem to be running to plan?

This report helps the golf operations team action an issue before it becomes a problem. Gleneagles is an experience, and people do not want to play golf in three hours (the members do but we manage their time to help their journey). Most of our golfers want to enjoy their golfing day but over five hours on the course is too long, so this report system assists us with ensuring this does not happen very often.

You work by the adage ‘what gets measured gets done’. What areas of the business do you measure, how does this aid you daily and what has using KPIs achieved for the business?

KPIs encourage knowledge growth and create ‘ownership’ for the team, because they show where the business is doing well or needs further attention. This knowledge increases staff productivity, improves the guest experience and also provides a platform for the teams to understand and respect each other’s departments.

Gleneagles is the home of the PGA National Golf Academy for Scotland. What is the academy currently doing to introduce the younger generation to golf?

We launched the Gleneagles Foundation scholarship programme a couple of years ago to support the development of the next generation of Scottish golfers, which is particularly beneficial for those youngsters who may not be getting the assistance from the national body. We offer the scholars both one-to-one and group coaching, and organise matches against juniors at other prestigious golf clubs.

Junior membership is offered but our main focus is starting potential new golfers to this great game and I am sure many an adult has started their golf here at Gleneagles.

You work closely with 59Club, Foremost and STRI. What have each of these organisations brought to the table and how do they contribute to the business?

Third party companies provide us with feedback that validates our success, or the focus to improve in some areas. We focus most during the golf season on working to monthly targets. The hotel industry operates within a strong measurement framework, but there’s a lack of equally robust measurement frameworks in place for golf.

These golf partnerships have therefore helped us achieve improvements within the hotel measurement framework and also enhance the guest journey.

They provide an excellent management tool for golf teams who wish to over achieve, especially those that aren’t afraid of hearing poor news and who embrace critical feedback as a means to change and improve.

How would you describe your style of management, how do you grow your staff and how should change be managed?

Coming from a PGA pro background, I would say I have a ‘coaching style’; I encourage trial and error to improve and learn from your mistakes, because if there are no mistakes then there is no learning.

From here I like to develop a succession plan, along with core staff who provide the backbone to the business. I look for leaders who help me communicate the direction and grow the team and business.

My joy comes from watching careers grow, not just locally or nationally, but worldwide. Having experienced all of this myself, I am able to share ‘many stories’. This is one reason I like tutoring for the PGA in business management.

Communication and interaction with departments and members is important. How is your week structured in terms of meeting with the various department management heads to keep on top of the business?

Monday – I meet with all my heads of department for one to ones. I also spend a few hours walking around the golf course with Scott Fenwick, our golf courses and estate manager.

Tuesday – I meet with the hotel’s managing director, Bernard Murphy, then I chair a golf leadership meeting with my own team.

Tuesday or Thursday – I attend the ‘Gleneagles Leadership’ team meeting.

Friday – I represent golf at the weekly yield meeting, along with all the other areas across the hotel, to explore the business on the books for the coming six months.

Gleneagles – Kings Course

What currently gives you the greatest satisfaction from your job? How do you feel daily when you are moving around the resort, looking at what you and the teams have achieved? What do you feel are your biggest achievements to date at Gleneagles?

I get the greatest satisfaction from developing my team members and seeing them progress. I also enjoy seeing my team continually improving the quality of its service, and contributing to the improvement of the whole facility.

Over achieving with our daily business and of course profit and loss each month is another area which motivates me.

With your years of experience, what advice would you give to youngsters starting out and wanting to pursue a career in the golf club management profession?

Golf management is the future. It’s a great career which is also your leisure. I work to live; my family is very important to me, and my career has enabled all of us to see and experience so much.

The quality of your work is always more important than quantity.

Your next job is only the next step to the next job – you should aim to have a five-year and 10-year career plan.

It is always good to reflect. Reflecting on things you would do differently helps you to improve, but it is also important to give yourself a pat on the back when you have accomplished something.

Golf is a worldwide career, if you are not prepared to look worldwide then review your goals.

Theory only gets you the interview; it’s success and experience that get you the job.

Gleneagles – Queens Course

What changes do you think need to be made to benefit the industry sector and profession of the golf club manager?

Employers and owners need to have better knowledge of the golf business. The industry also needs more stats to help validate the business. Golf needs facts, not opinions.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 27, 2017 07:28 Updated
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