Meet the golf club manager: Anders Mankert

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 9, 2020 15:30

Last year PGA Advanced Fellow Mankert opened The Leicester Golf Centre – a nine-hole venue located where an 18-hole course had permanently closed eight years earlier. Here he talks about what happened next – both in 2019 and amid this year’s pandemic.

The first birthday celebrations for Anders Mankert’s new nine-hole Gallops course at Oadby, near Leicester, were more muted than originally planned because of the coronavirus lockdown.

But nothing could undermine the sheer delight that Mankert, an award-winning PGA Advanced Fellow, could feel in its success.

The course was the second phase of his redevelopment plans at the former Oadby council-run course, which closed nine years ago.

In the first phase two years ago, he created a 16-bay covered driving range. Each bay was fitted with a television screen and the latest high-tech Toptracer technology, which enables visitors to try their skills on some of the world’s top courses.

This has proved extremely popular and soon after that – in 2019 – he opened the rebuilt course, including three totally new holes. There are three different tees with a championship course of 3,000 yards and a par of 35.

Since the reopening on part of the site (he did not acquire the lease of the remaining nine holes within the boundary of the Leicester racecourse) he has gained many plaudits for what he describes as “my dream come true” to control and run his own course.

He has no rules and the relaxed, friendly, welcoming attitude has won great acclaim. The lockdown has given him good opportunities too to work on new plans, including short game practice areas, although he admits the new putting green needs a little longer to reach his own high standards.

Under Mankert’s enthusiastic leadership youngsters too are well provided for at his club, with his assistant Tom James running a junior academy on a regular basis. The juniors can progress through the award of different coloured caps to the black cap stage, when they are judged proficient to go out on to the Gallops course to develop further.

Mankert said: “I look forward to the lockdown restrictions being lifted fully as soon as it is judged safe to do so, so golf can move forward fully and hopefully we can all enjoy a busy end to the current difficult season.”

What were your experiences as we entered the lockdown? How fearful for the future were you?

Very! My immediate reaction was to work out how long we could survive without any income. Overheads don’t disappear so the only pragmatic thing to do was to work on a ‘worst case scenario’ and assume nothing. I worked out exactly how long I could keep my staff employed and pay the bills but without any income at all. As it happens, the government’s business grant and furlough scheme really lessened the blow considerably.

How was the course maintained during the lockdown?

All my staff were furloughed but I was there every single day mowing the greens, fairways and rough. My 76 year old dad also helped out a great deal by mowing the fairways and tees most days. I even trained my nine-year-old son Oskar to mow the greens so it was truly a family affair! It also meant that I was ready to reopen at a moment’s notice, which was hugely beneficial as some of our competitors didn’t open until two weeks later.

Not having to rely on a committee to make decisions or having to wait for authorisation from golf’s governing bodies meant that we were able to move very quickly with all policies and risk assessments in place for a safe reopening.

How busy has the course been since it reopened? Have you had an increase in members?

The reaction since reopening has been phenomenal!

It is staggering just how busy both the course and driving range have been. The range has been pretty well at capacity every day since we reopened.

Balls hit are up by 100 percent from an average of 10,000 per day to 20,000. I’ve even had the ball dispenser modified to hold more balls!

However, the biggest change was in the quality of the Gallops course. The two-month rest has totally transformed the greens from decent to really good. The feedback from our customers has been fantastic and they are rebooking to play again and again.

Most members’ clubs have closed their doors to visitors in order to give their members the chance to play with restricted availability. This has really done us a big favour with so many golfers looking for somewhere to play. The result has been that a vast amount of people have tried us for the first time, or sometimes the first time since the course reopened after being closed for eight years, and have been pleasantly surprised with just how good the course is and therefore are rebooking to play.

Everyone has benefitted in this scenario as members’ clubs have been showing value to being a member and we have offered an alternative to the majority of golfers who choose not to join a club. (Approximately 500,000 members of golf clubs out of three million regular golfers).

It was also an opportunity to look at the business as a whole and improve on things such as signage, website and marketing. I have some very big and exciting plans for the future which I have also been able to move forward.

What are the practice facilities at the club like?

These practice facilities are among the very best available anywhere in the county with visitors able to hit approach and chip, pitch and bunker shots, which are, of course, vital to the improvement of any golfer trying to achieve his or her full potential in the game.

The response throughout the time since I have taken over here has been truly fantastic and the course itself has never looked better in the 50 years since it was originally built, so I am thrilled. In fact a former captain of the old Oadby course said it is now better than it has ever been!

But I have been working extremely hard myself on all the mowing, although fortunately the weather these last few weeks has been good – fine and warm – which has helped.

A few months ago you received unsolicited praise from Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews chairman Ian Pattinson, who sent a warm, handwritten letter that described your efforts as ‘absolutely brilliant’ and added: ‘I think what you are doing is just great. Very many congratulations and keep up the good work you are doing to get new people into our game.’ Can you tell us about this?

I was thrilled to receive such a letter, but more delighted really, of course, that the facilities here have been so well received since we opened.

Since the lockdown restrictions were eased recently, we have been busier than ever, so it is great to see visitors, new and old, here enjoying themselves again.

 

How have you adapted to the new social distancing guidelines?

We have taken this very seriously with hand sanitisers, floor markings to ensure social distancing, rigorous cleaning of surfaces and range baskets and so on.

We have even put sanitiser in the range ball washer.

The biggest change is that I’ve hired a security guard to manage the sheer volume of traffic to the driving range.

We were the first to open the range and course in our area so we’ve had to be very open in showing that we are a safe place to visit.

There is of course an added cost to all of this but I feel that it has been a good investment to ensure that our customers feel safe. We are open until 10pm and on most evenings we still have customers keenly hitting balls on our Toptracer range even as we turn the lights off at 10pm! We have invested in a new ball collector and upped our range ball stock to 45,000 to keep up with the demand!

Slow play seemed to disappear when golf courses reopened – are you seeing a different type of golfer at your venue given that it’s nine holes?

Not really. We have placed ourselves from the beginning as a place which is open for golfers of all abilities.

The Gallops is a quality and challenging course so we get very accomplished golfers right through to complete beginners, which has remained the case since reopening.

We welcome everyone the same.

Since reopening the course after an eight-year closure, this has seen the biggest boost for us in golfers revisiting us who may have played it years ago. The feedback has been wonderful and my original worries of having a golf course with really no rules to speak of, have been proved wrong, as golfers are generally speaking decent folk who respect the course.

I do have an option to extend the course to 18 holes but currently have no plans to do so as I see the nine-hole market growing and don’t see that slowing down any time soon.

Eighty percent of our custom is now for nine holes.

People after lockdown has lifted will go back to busy lives and therefore have a premium on available time.

Do you think the golf industry will permanently be changed as a result of what’s happened and, if so, in what way?

Absolutely. I think both members’ clubs and pay and play facilities like ours are both happy at the current time. Clubs have seen a significant upturn in people joining and pay and play facilities have seen a big rise in nomadic golf.

During lockdown, people have lots of time on their hands so joining a club definitely offers value in the current climate. It will be interesting to see how much of this business is retained in the long run when lockdown is lifted and people no longer have the same time to play golf.

Will a membership still hold value for someone who can only play once a week and who has family commitments, holidays and so on, and where the course is maybe closed for six or seven weeks in the winter?

Time will tell if people who realistically only play 35 to 40 times per year will still pay an annual subscription. I’m not so sure.

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 9, 2020 15:30
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