Meet the golf operations manager: Nigel Sweet

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 26, 2019 04:02

Nigel talks about how Leeds Golf Centre has a reputation for being inclusive, the facility’s major plans for growth and what it’s like being a golf club manager while competing to play on the European Senior Tour.

Nigel Sweet

Leeds Golf Centre was named ‘Club of the Year’ at the 2018 England Golf awards. Congratulations! Can you tell us what you did to win this?

This was always our aspiration and we were realistic about our timelines and what we needed to do to make this happen. It was a two-year process and we worked closely with England Golf to ensure we were improving the way we worked, our systems and processes and that we were hitting all their sweet spots. We invested a great deal of time and effort into strengthening and enhancing our outreach programme into the community and local schools as well as investing in our ladies’ and girls’ programmes. We took a step back to review the overall facility and we were critical of ourselves but this ultimately helped and guided us on our journey to the top. We positioned ourselves as an open and inclusive golf club and we ripped up the rule book when it came to traditional rules and approaches to the game. Everyone is welcome here and we will never judge or turn people away – that’s not what golf is about!

We also established an amazing partnership with the Prince’s Trust, which saw 12 young people introduced to the club on their ‘World of Work Day’, part of a 12-week course – we plan four of these days on an annual basis. This gave them some respite away from their everyday lives and gave them a new outlook and potential career opportunities. This was a great initiative and really injected a great deal of positivity into the team at the club. After the 12-week course we were able to offer apprenticeship opportunities to some of the young people, which was amazing.

What was your experience of the awards ceremony like?

Nerve wracking! I attended the awards with Joe Feather, our academy manager.

We didn’t know we had won so just being there and being shortlisted was honour enough. The event was brilliantly organised and a true celebration of all the golf accolades within the UK. Dan Walker, from the BBC, was presenting the evening and when they announced Leeds Golf Centre had won – I was speechless! It was an incredible feeling and one I won’t forget but what made it special was that it was a team award – it wasn’t about me, it was the combined effort of the whole team. I was incredibly proud collecting the award and I still am to this day.

The club has multi-million pound plans including a two-tier driving range and lodges. What are you doing and where did you get the funding from?

Yes, the future is very exciting and we have some incredible plans in place. We have gained our funding from our parent company, The Parklane Group. We will be working with the community to create and launch a new par three golf course and a new golf academy with top of the range teaching facilities.

This will be a first for Leeds, the proposals will deliver an international golfing destination and centre of excellence, providing facilities for communities across the city as well as attracting seasoned golfers from around the world.

By satisfying an increasing demand for courses where golfers can both play and stay, the plans will create a major new destination for golf tourism in the north of England. The improved facilities will not only benefit the club’s existing community activities, which include regular lessons in local schools, but enable further work to be undertaken at a grassroots level across Leeds, all while creating 30 new jobs.

The new plans will include a new clubhouse, a double-height driving range and state-of-the-art interactive facilities. The managing director of The Parklane Group, Naveen Ahmed, is an enthusiastic golfer and he recognises the importance of Yorkshire having a golf venue which can compete on an international stage – attracting visitors from across the world to our city. I believe these plans will help the region achieve that aim.

Parklane has a number of investments but only one golf club. How closely do they work with you to run the club, and what are the pros and cons of being owned by an organisation like this?

It’s great being part of The Parklane Group and the management team and board are incredibly committed to what we are doing here at Leeds Golf Centre and where we want to go in the future.

The club is heavily linked with David Leadbetter. How does this association work?

David Leadbetter, who is a world-renowned coach, opened an academy at the club in 1994.

He is a great teacher, and has taught many major winners with his approach to the swing. The partnership dissolved with the club in 1997 but was re-launched after a meet up in the USA in 2011 when Parklane took over the club. We currently have a team of four certified Leadbetter coaches that teach his methods and visions of the swing.

The club has also got a reputation for being proactive when it comes to teaching the game to local children. What do you do?

We are incredibly proud of our junior section and it’s grown from strength to strength. We have almost 100 juniors training and playing at the club on a weekly basis.

We run and host a range of activities for young people and our junior players from special competitions, weekend events and school holiday activity camps. We also work with four local schools and Joe Feather, our academy lead, maintains excellent relationships with them. The team regularly go out to visit schools to promote the benefits of playing golf. It’s our way of building the game from the grassroots level and inspiring and encouraging more young people to adopt the game.

The young people bring so much energy to the club – we are incredibly proud of this side of the business.

Leeds GC has also been praised for its environmental work, what has been achieved?

We do indeed have a rich tapestry of wildlife which frequent our course. We have a gorgeous lake which has a family of geese who call it home. We have a borehole, which draws natural water from the ground and many more birds and other wildlife who all pay us a visit from time to time.

We also have electric buggies and a state-of-the-art, innovative water recycling system.

What do you think are your biggest challenges at Leeds GC?

I think the lack of new golfers entering the sector. Being a seasoned golfer myself I have seen the number of new people, especially young people, take up the sport decline. However, having said that, we face these challenges head on and look to turn a negative into a positive, which I believe is why we are doing well within the market and growing our member and player base.

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

The marketing team is excellent. We are supported by The Parklane Group head office marketing team and they are proactive, responsive and do a great job of bringing our course and services to life.

We work together to create new player packages or initiatives which take someone who is brand new to golf from zero to hero in six weeks. They support us with community outreach and media relations. We work as a team and that’s why the formula works so well.

Is Leeds trying to attract more women as well as juniors to the facility?

We absolutely want more young people and more women playing golf and we are proactive about this. We are proud to promote the fact we employ Ellie Robinson, one of only a few female professional golfers in Yorkshire. We have a strong female membership (17 of whom are under 14) and work closely with England Golf on ladies’ programmes to do what we can to increase this number and engage more females.

We have a growing and active programme for young people but we also try and attract a wide variety of people into our club. For example, we offer footgolf, which has been great at bringing a brand new audience to the club.  We also offer a great 12-hole par three course that has its own membership offering. Thursday mornings brings together up to 60 players together for fun and social golf.

What is the club doing to enhance profitability of its food and beverage operation?

We outsource the food and beverage operation to a third party and they are responsible for this area but it’s one which is doing well and it’s very successful.

You’ve been the operations manager at Leeds GC for eight years, how has your role changed in that time?

I first joined the team as operations manager and I was tasked with setting up the retail division of the business but as time went on I became more involved in the wider strategy. It’s been a rollercoaster of a time but one thing hasn’t faltered – it’s a great club which puts members at the heart of the operation.

I will be honest, golfers aren’t the easiest people to satisfy all the time but we seem to be doing a good job at the moment.

We really invest in talking and listening to our players and reacting accordingly. We have invested a great deal into the club on improvements across the board from drainage to design. We pride ourselves on being a responsive and proactive club.

You won four Leeds Amateur Championships and became Yorkshire champion at the age of 42, then turned professional aged 50. How are you finding being a professional golfer, have you got any stories from being on the Senior Tour and how do you balance the role at Leeds with the playing commitments? Do you miss your amateur playing days?

I love it!! As I turned 50 I needed a new challenge so I went for it.

My goal is to gain my European Tour card. I have been extremely lucky to have picked a golf club up and play at this level for a number of years.

Mixing work and golf benefits both myself and the business as I get to play on the best courses throughout the world and implement some of my best experiences back into the club.

You had two heart attacks – one in late 2017 and one in early 2018 – how are you now and what has the reaction been from your fellow golf club managers?

I did indeed have two heart attacks last year – in fact one was at the club itself but I have the team here and the team at the NHS to thank for acting so quickly.

My second heart attack happened on January 2 and I was back on the golf course on January 16, attempting to get my European Tour card.

With hindsight, it was far too early as my fitness level was nowhere near where it needs to be. Fortunately, my fitness improved during May / June last year as I started to play more events and was soon back to my winning ways!

I’ve had a huge amount of support from my fellow golf club managers and I am thankful to still be here today.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 26, 2019 04:02
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1 Comment

  1. Samantha February 22, 12:11

    A great read Nigel Sweet and great plans for the club and area ! Lovely venue to play and visit.

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