Meet the golf club CEO: Wentworth’s Stephen Gibson

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 18, 2018 06:20

The head of the host of the BMW PGA Championship talks about how he ended up in such a sought after position in golf, and how being both a chef and a professional golfer helps in the daily running of the club.

Can you take us through your career?

I started my career as a chef where I gained experience in the world of hospitality and management. This has proven valuable, even in my role as chief executive of Wentworth. First class dining and service is integral to the member experience at the club.

Things changed when I fell in love with the game of golf and became a pro. I became director of golf at Wentworth 11 years ago. During this time, I learned how proud members and staff are of this club’s unique heritage.

When the new owners offered me the role of chief executive, it was an easy decision and I have relished leading this club through a period of exciting change. My position was extended last year to CEO of Reignwood Investments UK, which has allowed me to enhance our members’ experience, through the ownership of our private club at Ten Trinity Square in the City of London.

Has your experience of being a chef helped with ensuring profitability from Wentworth’s food and beverage offering?

My experience working as a chef has certainly given me a good understanding of food and what people enjoy. From a business perspective, I also know how to run a successful food and beverage operation. However, we have an incredibly talented team at Wentworth, taken from a range of world class venues and restaurants. I have every faith in those individuals to deliver a level of quality and service befitting this fantastic club.

What did being a pro teach you about Wentworth’s pro shop set up? What do your PGA pros offer members and do they work with the local community?

Golf pros are at the heart of every club and you learn so much about the membership in that role. It taught me how high the expectations are at somewhere with Wentworth’s calibre. I enjoyed the challenge and have taken those standards forward into my position as chief executive.

We run a scholarship scheme in both tennis and golf, where we give promising young players in the local area the opportunity to use our outstanding facilities and learn from the very best coaches and professionals. Success stories include Ross Fisher, who has five individual career wins to his name and competed at the 2010 Ryder Cup victory at Celtic Manor.


What are your main challenges at Wentworth?

With the club’s immense heritage and global reputation, standards at Wentworth are high. With the recent investment from Reignwood Group, we are raising the bar even further. We challenge ourselves to improve every day and offer our members the very best golf and country club experience. It’s all worth it when you hear from members and the world’s golfing elite on how well the West Course at Wentworth is playing and looking.

Reignwood has announced significant investment in the club – how is that currently going?

Reignwood Group has committed to well over £20 million investment in the club, ranging from the three championship golf courses to the fitness and dining facilities. It is a hugely exciting time for Wentworth.

The responses from members, professionals and commentators to last year’s renovated West Course, particularly at this year’s BMW PGA Championship, has been tremendous. Much of this is thanks to the unrelenting commitment of Kenny Mackay and his grounds team, who worked with Ernie Els and European Golf Design to transform the course.

May saw us open the doors to our newly refurbished clubhouse, the result of a £15 million investment. Retaining the iconic castellated exterior and many other heritage features, it embraces our history while setting a new standard for the golf and country club experience.

This is an ongoing project however and we are continuing to identify areas for improvement. From a golfing perspective, there are plans to invest in the Edinburgh and East Courses, with Gary Player signed up to lead on the renovation of the former.

You referred to the West Course renovation. There was previously criticism from professionals about the quality of the greens. What improvements have been made to these?

A course is always judged first and foremost by its greens and we knew that investment into this aspect was a priority for the West. Kenny Mackay and his team trialled ten blends of grass over a 12-month period before choosing 007 creeping bent, which performs most effectively in the conditions here.

VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND – MAY 26: Ernie Els of South Africa plays his third shot on the par 5, 18th hole during the second round of the 2017 BMW PGA Championship on the West Course at Wentworth on May 26, 2017 in Virginia Water, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

In addition, Wentworth became the first golf club in England to install a sub-air system on all 18 greens (plus the practice green). This allows the grounds team to control moisture levels across the surfaces, regardless of weather conditions.

The results have been stunning and the reaction of every golfer, from amateur to professional, has been incredibly positive. The West Course has always been the jewel in Wentworth’s crown and we now have 18 greens to fully reflect that.

Part of the investment is for non-golf offerings such as tennis and your health and fitness suite. How important do you think these types of facilities will be for golf clubs in the future?

Family is at the heart of Wentworth Club and the facilities at our tennis and health club are central to that. We are committed to offering a world class experience to the whole family and see this as a vital element of the club’s future success.

I want members to see Wentworth as somewhere they can escape to at the weekend with their family. Three fabulous championship golf courses, while vital, are only one component, which is why we have invested significantly in the modernisation and refurbishment of the tennis, fitness and spa facilities. Our nine hole executive course is also a hidden gem for families to enjoy.

Unusually for high end golf clubs, Wentworth has a relaxed approach to dress codes. Has this been a help or hindrance to your business model?

We do not try to complicate this particular matter. We simply ask our members to dress appropriately for the sport they are playing.


How would you get more women and children playing the game?

We firmly believe in the importance of family at Wentworth and our membership model encourages the involvement of everyone in the game. Our ladies’ captain is a huge advocate for the women’s game and the scholarship scheme has produced some fantastic young players. Our coaches and staff are passionate and dedicated to attracting a wider demographic to play golf.

A number of very famous people reportedly live on the Wentworth Estate, including golfing legends like Ernie Els and Thomas Bjørn. Have you ever been star struck?

The Wentworth Estate is a beautiful part of the world and has attracted a number of successful and famous people from sport and entertainment.

I am often asked this question and, to be honest, many of them have been Wentworth members and become great friends.

Ernie Els, for example, is a tremendous ambassador for the club and, along with European Golf Design and Kenny Mackay’s team, led the West Course renovation last year.

Can you take us through what 24 hours are like for you when the PGA BMA Championship is being held?

The BMW PGA Championship is the highlight of Wentworth Club’s calendar. The thrill of welcoming the very best players from world golf to test their game on our famous West Course never gets old.

As you can imagine, it is a very busy week and sadly it is rare that I find the time to watch any golf! This year was particularly special though, as I welcomed guests to the newly refurbished clubhouse – their response was something I will never forget.

The teams work incredibly hard to make it all possible and it is an immense pleasure to hear the players, European Tour and fans praise them for their efforts on the 18th green at the end of the week.


Could you tell us a bit about the Ten Trinity Square offering available to members at Wentworth?

Along with Wentworth, Reignwood Group are the proud owners of Ten Trinity Square private members’ club, set in the Grade 2 listed building that was previously home to the London Port Authority in Tower Bridge. Featuring a Latour discovery room, cigar lounge and Michelin star dining, it’s a very special perk for Wentworth members, that no other clubs can offer. With Wentworth less than an hour from the centre of London, many of our members spend their working week in the city, and their long weekends with us.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 18, 2018 06:20
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