Meet the PGA professional: Royal St George’s Justen Fiddler

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 22, 2020 07:06

While this year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s will now take place in 2021, the work of head professional, Justen Fiddler, continues. Here he talks about ensuring the shop is profitable, preparing for The Open and introducing the game to local youngsters.

What daily challenges do you face in running a pro shop and teaching?

The main challenges we face on a daily basis are to make sure that all the needs of the members and visitors are catered for. We make sure that we give a warm welcome to all, checking visitors in and giving them advice on the golf course and the club.

The aim is to ensure that everyone golfing – or not – has a first class experience within the pro shop. In addition to lessons, I am lucky enough to play quite a lot of golf at the request of members which can either be tuition based, with a bit of advice here and there, or simply a social game of golf with members where they like to try and beat the pro! I also go out with some of the senior members in a buggy for a quick nine hole of purely social golf. Overall probably the biggest challenge however is time management, as in every role.

There is a constant flow of new golf products – how do you manage your stock to serve the needs of your members and visitors?

New product changes yearly especially on hardware so we make sure that the current models are all available to demo and use the company in stock service on most hardware orders. Club fitting is key for both the customer and retailer so itvs something that we really try and keep on top of. In addition, the club ‘brand’ so to speak is immensely popular, as you can imagine. We have club crested items ranging from waterproofs to wine goblets, the majority of which sell rather fast, ensuring that the shop is completely on top of ordering and stock levels and so on.

How do you manage your day?

My days are quite varied and not one is ever the same. I look after the shop on behalf of the club, running both the retail and teaching operations and oversee two assistant professionals. During peak season we can be host to hundreds of golfers per day, as a result of this we have to be vigilant where we spend our shop time. The high volume of custom can impact on shop stock levels quite quickly, so having a full complement of staff with me helps ensure we stay on top of stock levels and re-ordering.

As I said, the main part of my day is often golfing with members or guests, be it tuition or on a social side so I certainly cannot complain.

What are you doing to support junior golf and introduce kids to the sport?

As a club we go to a local school that we have had an association with for many years, I believe since the 60s, where we provide tuition one afternoon per week in term time. I am delighted to say several pupils have become members over the years!

Every August the club holds a ‘Junior Week’ with competitions, clinics and matches running throughout.  We have around 40 to 60 youngsters – both girls and boys – out on the course every day. Our youngest competitor last year was just six years old!

The club also hosts a number of Kent Golf Union events; for example the KGU Junior Final is staged here annually, so we do quite a lot for juniors.

A lot of PGA pros are having to be a step ahead of their competitors in their offerings and technology – what additional added value services do you provide?

We have an indoor teaching room at the back of the shop with a GC2 launch monitor for club fitting and we are in the final stages of completing a number of outdoor covered practice bays that will also house a teaching bay which will add a new dimension to the teaching service that we can provide.

How has the advent of social media helped you raise the awareness of the pro shop and what it has to offer?

The pro shop has its own Twitter and Instagram presence on social media, these social media outlets have only recently been introduced but already we can see the traction in guiding customers to our online shop, this has been a huge addition as the club brand is now available to a much bigger audience that has become truly global.

What year did you turn professional and what have been your career highlights, both playing and employment?

1995 was the year that I turned professional and I spent two years at Longniddry Golf Club in East Lothian. Then in 1997, I started here at Sandwich which means that I have been here 23 years now.  Time flies when you are enjoying yourself! I am very lucky to be in a role that I thoroughly enjoy so there seems little point in moving. My career highlight came on January 1st 2012 when I started here as club professional. A great honour.

From the point of view of the pro shop, how are you preparing for The Open Championship?

The week of The Open will be extremely busy in the shop with members, their guests, players, press and officials. Our priority will be to look after them all as usual. We have been preparing for Open week ever since the club was announced as the venue for The 149th Open which was around three years ago [this interview was conducted before The R&A announced the event would be moved to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic]. From a merchandising point of view, we have been introducing a few more items every year so we now have a fairly extensive Open Championship range which of course is very popular and has already sold well in advance of the tournament.

Has the product range changed to suit The Open audience?

The companies I work with are official suppliers to The Open which has made the range work well for all. There are dual items available that feature The 149th Open crest and the club crest giving the customer more of a choice. The 149th Open range in the shop complements our club crested range, rather than replacing it.

Royal St George’s has added a range of new products recently; were these specially developed with The Open in mind?

Well in fact much of our new range of products was happy coincidence that it will be available for 2020 / and beyond!

The addition of several new items also developed into a fantastic community project as we specifically sourced small, local artisan companies for the products.

For example, we commissioned a special club tweed using Kent wool that was created in conjunction with Romney Tweed CIC, which has the twin aims of encouraging local industry and of helping young people acquire skills and jobs. To this end, Rosie Green and Hanna Vinlöf Nylén, textile designers and graduates of Central St Martin’s, University of the Arts, in London came down to the club and from there designed a tweed that they felt reflected the elements of the club and course. It has a traditional look but a modern feel and so has translated well into a variety of very different items.

A local interior designer, for example, has used it for her soft furnishings including cushions and throws which sell very well in the shop.

At the same time, Romney Tweed and the club have collaborated in Romney Tweed Fashion Challenge at the Sandwich Technical School and encouraged them to produce their own designs and weaves. An award ceremony will take place at the Houses of Parliament for the finalists.

In addition, we have a few items – also locally made – that you might not expect to find in a pro shop such as handmade Kentish fudge with bespoke Royal St Georgevs packing that is made in nearby Lyminge and P&V moisturising cream produced by a Sandwich company that is ideal to deal with the elements of wind and rain associated with links.

Who are your best customers? And where are they from?

We see visitors from all over the world whilst we also have a number of members who are based overseas. They all have very different spending habits so it is impossible to say who our best customers are.

Our American friends for example tend to buy hats and shirts whilst our customers from the Far East tend to favour accessories such as ball markers, which they buy in high volumes. As mentioned previously, we have an immensely strong brand logo that definitely helps our sales.

We do find that almost every visitor who comes to the club generally buys something. We even get  walk-ins (walking to the beach or driving past the club) who will generally pick up something, maybe not for themselves but for a friend or family who plays golf.

Most of our customers are from England, France, Belgium, Holland and few from Scandinavia but we also get visitors from places like New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – you never really know who is going to walk in the door!

Can you describe what The Open experience / the week of the tournament is like for the club pros at Royal St George’s?

The week of The Open will be a great event. My week will range from managing the pro shop to the odd radio interview for the likes of BBC Five Live wanting to fill some airtime! Members of the press will also come in and ask how the pros should be playing the course depending on the conditions whilst we’ll also be helping out with all sorts of enquiries regarding the club from the hundreds of people that will cross the threshold.

We’ll be here from first light until last light around 8/9pm at night. We’re the only place where you will be able to buy products with the George & Dragon club crest so we’ll certainly have a very busy week, but it’s one to relish.

What does The Open mean to you personally?

Again I see it as a great honour; it will be my first as the club professional as for the 2003 and 2011 Opens I was an assistant pro. Each one that has come to the club has grown at a very rapid rate commercially. Even since the last one, the size and magnitude of the operation is very different to 2011 but luckily Royal St George’s has the surrounding acreage to house all the extra stands, marquees etc. For me personally it is an event to savour; it’ll be hard work but I’ll enjoy every minute of it and hopefully I will have a bit of time to go out and watch a bit of the action at some point if I’m lucky!

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 22, 2020 07:06
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1 Comment

  1. Akis May 24, 17:56

    Great course! I was there back on 1983 during 5th boys European championship with my national team.

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