Meet the manager: Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club’s Luke Edgcumbe

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 18, 2017 12:37 Updated

Luke tells The Golf Business about major improvements at the club, how it is celebrating its 125th anniversary and transferring hotel management skills to a private members’ golf club

How did you become the general manager of Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club?

Having just made it through school, I spent four years at Westminster Hotel School, London – an environment I flourished in as it was very much a hands-on experience, rather than exam-based.

Having successfully graduated (surprised even myself!), I then spent the next 15 years working in the hotel industry – from a 12-bedroom B&B, to a 212-bedroom country club resort, to a 350-bedroom hotel in central London. Almost without exception, I enjoyed every day of my working life, despite it be long hours and poorly paid. The challenge of working alongside a young transient workforce and endeavouring to exceed customer expectations meant that every day was different.

I was then extended the opportunity to present my CV for the position of general manager at Tyrrells Wood Golf Club, Surrey, and through their desire to challenge the established norm of a golf club secretary, I was offered the position.

After five fantastic years, I was then offered the opportunity to become the chief executive at Sundridge Park Golf Club, Bromley, where I was able to build upon my golf club experience and draw on the wealth of hospitality experience.

Some three years later, I found myself at Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club. Who would have thought that little more than four years later, I would have experienced the completion of a £1.7 million USGA green project across the JH Taylor course; the successful completion of a £4.25 million investment to secure a 150-year lease for the club; and I’m now overseeing celebration events to mark the club’s 125th anniversary!

With regards to the course project, what work was undertaken and how has this benefitted the club?

The investment saw the complete reconstruction of all 18 greens complexes on the JH Taylor course to USGA specifications, plus work to revert to the original design with Taylor’s famous humps and hollows. The reason for this investment was to make the course playable all year-round to a high standard for the benefit of our members, and to attract more prestigious national and regional tournaments once again.

The reaction from the members to these changes has been universally positive, and we have been given the opportunity to stage notable golfing events this year that have received much praise from players and officials alike.

You mentioned the 125th anniversary – what golf and social events are you planning for this year?

This year is an exciting one for Royal Mid-Surrey.

We have introduced a series of events across the year, including the Surrey Amateur Championships and the English Women’s Open Match Play Championship, whilst also playing host to Luke Donald, Chris Woods and more recently Bernard Gallagher – providing our members with a rare opportunity to get close-up and personal with some truly wonderful golfing names.

The highlight of the year was our ‘Festival Week’ made up of four days of events where, with the use of an extensive marquee, we catered for 450 members and invited guests with 240 playing a variety of golf formats. We also welcomed members from other royal clubs around the world where we enjoy reciprocity – in total 28 were represented.

The Festival Week culminated in our ‘Captain’s Prize’, an event where members invited their families to the club to enjoy paella, barbecue, live music, an ice cream van, a water-based obstacle course and a surfing experience.

All of this sits alongside the other events that the club organises / hosts every year – whether it be alfresco dining out on the terrace, bridge seminars with the world number one ranked bridge player offering coaching, rugby orientated lunches hosted by ex-England coaches and former British and Irish Lions players.

Then we have ‘business as usual’ with our members enjoying the clubhouse facilities every day of the year (except Christmas and Boxing Day) – two bars, a formal dining facility with a truly memorable vista across our courses and a Buttery snack-bar – all providing an opportunity to sample a varied menu using the best of local suppliers and only the freshest of ingredients.

What skill sets from your 15 years of hotel management have you used to benefit Royal Mid-Surrey?

Royal Mid-Surrey remains a very private members’ club so the main stay of our commercial activity is focused in and around the membership. And as many of my peers will appreciate, it is our members that are our very best selling tool / advert for the club. So, establishing an appropriate balance between providing our members with a premium product and the need to exercise commercial enterprise is forever a challenge, something that comes with age and experience…

I’m acutely aware that members’ time and money are precious commodities, more so now than ever before. And through my experiences within the hotel industry, I appreciate that customers / members will rationalise in their own minds as to how they justify and make the best of both. I have learnt that tradition / refinement / innovation can and do sit side-by-side, and to ensure the club provides value for money (financial and time orientated) we need to deliver an incredibly varied offering – reaching out to all walks of life that makes up the membership profile.

The over-arching influence in all of this is the recruitment and retention of the very best teams and staff. We can train someone on the basic elements of their job, and we can educate them to enhance their knowledge and skill base but ‘attitude’ is inherent. Our focus on recruitment is therefore seeking out the very best candidates; in that almost every hourly paid frontline team member has the means to determine the club’s success or otherwise.

What training support does the club offer to staff and what have you found to be the best and most beneficial programmes in the market currently?

At present, Royal Mid-Surrey has four managers undertaking the Club Managers Association of Europe (CMAE) management development programme. This requires individuals to attend five week-long courses together with their peers and colleagues, including a golf management course. On part completion, successful candidates are awarded a diploma, and then having completed all courses, attended the world conference and successfully completed a seven-hour examination, candidates will earn the much-converted Certified Club Manager (CCM) award.

The club also offers front line staff on job training – both here at the club but also off-site at other clubs in the local vicinity with whom we have a strong working relationship. We also hold training sessions involving industry suppliers, who pass on their experience and convey important information about their products.

The benefits of these training regimes can be seen in terms of career development and a wider education and understanding to their roles; while the club’s members see a very engaged and committed team of people who are confident in what they do and therefore are able to deliver the best levels of service.

What would you say are the biggest challenges you currently face and how does this impact on the daily business of running the club?

For Royal Mid-Surrey, the biggest challenge is not so much maintaining a healthy pipeline of membership enquiries, but more a case of ensuring that the club experience is appropriate, relevant and exceeding of expectations for our existing membership – quite a challenge when the membership profile is dynamic, cosmopolitan and eclectic.

We are all familiar with the challenges that the golf industry is facing and Royal Mid-Surrey is not exempt from those. So, ensuring that the club meets our members’ expectations at each touch point, and retaining a very personal relationship with all our members is becoming ever more the daily challenge.

Like most clubs, a huge amount of valuable work is undertaken by the many committees. However, establishing a balance that enables the management team to take and bring into effect appropriate strategic and every day business decisions remains challenging. But, doing so successfully brings about harmonious relationships between the inextricably linked elements of the club.

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

The club currently employs more than 60 people, with 60 per cent being regular / contracted staff and the remainder casuals / part-time.

Royal Mid-Surrey provides an extensive clubhouse – open until late evening, 363 days of the year. Our in-house food and beverage operation generates a yearly income in the region of £850,000, and we have a team to maintain two quality golf courses and practice facilities spread across a 290-acre site.

The team structure itself is simple. I work alongside a management team of seven and they in turn have teams reporting to them.

The challenges previously mentioned mean that we continue to work at full capacity almost every day of the week in our endeavours to exceed our members’ expectations.

Royal Mid-Surrey remains very much a traditional club, with a strong international membership profile. Yet, we endeavour to retain the family and emotional investment that historically exists within the culture associated with a private members’ club. Our desire to retain such a culture means that we spend considerable face-to-face time with the membership at large – a time consuming process. Our retention rate at the time of subscriptions renewals is a very clear barometer as to our success and I am delighted to report that in 2017 the club will be benefiting from an excellent retention level not enjoyed before.

What is the current membership of the club in terms of number, age and gender profile? Who do you look to target for future membership?

The club currently has a total of more than 1,350 members across all categories and age groups. It has a ladies’ section of 309, which we believe to be the largest in the country, plus more than 110 juniors. The longest serving member, Harold Fagan (81), has been a member for 67 years. We are presently embarking on a membership drive to boost numbers over the next three years wherein our desire is to be full across all sections of the club. As part of this inclusive approach, Matthew Paget, head professional, and his team, play a vital role in the success of the club; and in order to meet the growing membership demands, he will have two lady golf professionals as part of his expanding team.

What are you doing to attract the younger generation to Royal Mid-Surrey?

The club supports a junior academy programme run by the head professional and his team that takes newcomers to golf and introduces them to the etiquette of the game as well as the necessary skills. As well as junior competitions, it also offers young players a dedicated lounge area, with Wi-Fi access, a pool table and Sky television.

You say coffee is the last experience people have following a meal and that you are currently trialling four coffees to ensure total satisfaction. How important do you think it is to pay attention to such detail?

In my experience, the quality and taste of coffee can be very indifferent and can leave the customer with a poor impression of the overall catering offering irrespective of the quality of the meal they have just enjoyed.

So, in an effort to ensure that the meal experience is an entirely positive one, we decided to work with various suppliers and engage our membership to review the options. The club has arranged for differing coffees to be sampled by members each week for a month, and they are submitting their approval ratings; we can therefore clearly identify the members’ choice.

Getting this kind of detailed feedback from the membership is beneficial on several counts – we are engaging with our membership and acting directly on their preference and ensuring, where possible, that our members remain satisfied. This attention to detail, across the club, leads to very strong retention rates come subscription renewal time, and therefore positively impacts revenue generation.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 18, 2017 12:37 Updated
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