Meet the golf resort director: James Macbeth Stewart

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 8, 2020 08:33

In an interview conducted shortly before the November 2020 lockdown was announced, the resort director at The Belfry talks about the effect the pandemic has had on the resort in 2020, from the health and safety measures that have been introduced to the venue hosting a major golf event this August.

Almost all of our readers will know The Belfry very well, but could you give us an introduction to the venue anyway?

The Belfry Hotel & Resort is an award-winning hotel situated in the heart of the country in Royal Sutton Coldfield, north Warwickshire. Our resort offers 319 luxurious bedrooms and suites, several restaurants and bars including Ryder Grill and The Brabazon Bar, events and meetings spaces, a leisure club, and The Belfry Spa.

Our three golf courses, including The Brabazon and The PGA National, are recognised as world-class, having previously hosted The Ryder Cup four times – more than any other venue in the world – and 17 European Tour events, producing some of the most dramatic moments in the history of golf. In August, The Belfry played host to the ISPS HANDA UK Championship, the conclusion of the European Tour’s ‘UK Swing’, from the 27th until the 30th August 2020.

What were your, and The Belfry’s, experience of the lockdown like from March to the resort reopening a couple of months later?

During lockdown, me and 12 members of The Belfry team locked down at the resort to prepare for a safe reopening in July. Each of us offered a different specialism albeit each and every one of us learnt different skills from each other, from plumbing and cooking to greenkeeping, cleaning and maintenance to motivating each other throughout that period. We also had 27 team members working from home across sales, revenue, finance and marketing, all working hard on a daily basis to keep the business running. We set up an internal comms app to allow us to stay in close touch with our teams at home to keep morale going, and to regularly check up on everyone to see how they and their families were doing and if we could do anything to support them.

It felt fantastic to be able to welcome our guests back to the resort (July 4). We launched ‘Our Pledge To You’ initiative which showcases the resort’s commitment to meeting the highest standards of cleanliness procedures and protocols across all areas of the resort. We have developed new enhanced cleaning programmes that go above and beyond government guidelines to ensure our guests and our teams remain safe.

We have always been committed to providing our guests with an experience that will stay with them, long after they leave. We may have adapted for the future, but our guests can be confident that the same warm and welcoming Belfry experience awaits. We want everyone to continue to enjoy our many facilities, our extensive outdoor space and our rural location. All we ask is that our guests take joy in a memorable stay with family, friends and loved ones and we’ll take care of the rest.

The resort was set to host over 30 charity golf days in 2020, and due to the pandemic, donations and many fundraising activities have been cancelled or postponed, so we made the decision to donate The Belfry’s entire green fees on July 11 to show our support during these challenging times. Donations went to a variety of causes, including the two nominated Belfry charities for 2020: Matt Hampson Foundation and LoveBrum.

Since reopening, what has it been like? Has the resort experienced the surge in demand that’s been seen elsewhere?

Once the golf courses were able to reopen (June 1, 2020), we saw an incredible influx of guests wanting to get back out on the courses. The high demand has continued, with tee times selling out almost as quickly as they became available, with people appreciating the chance to spend time outdoors more than ever.

Spa and leisure have also been very busy, especially at the weekends. The pandemic has had a huge effect on the travel industry and has redefined the way we travel. Our guests are looking for a sense of escape, especially after lockdown, and as travelling and dining out has become more of a luxury, rather than a regular treat, we are finding that our guests want to indulge in longer, more luxurious breaks closer to home which include everything they could need for a truly relaxing trip.

As a result, we have launched a number of new packages, which have been very popular with our guests, including The Ultimate Staycation package so our guests can experience every part of the resort, from golf and the spa to our impressive selection of restaurants, guaranteeing a relaxing yet exciting staycation. We are very fortunate to be able to offer our guests a safe and peaceful escape surrounded by extensive outdoor space.

We are receiving exceptional levels of new enquiries for meetings and events. The world of business events is looking very different for the time being at least, and we’ve had to rethink and redefine our options for delegates. We have launched a number of new hybrid event options for meetings and events which allow delegates to meet in person, whilst also communicating virtually with those who cannot attend, through video, voice and virtual content sharing.

Although there have been restrictions due to Covid, the team here at The Belfry have taken on a ‘can do’ attitude in respect to the regulations, and we have embraced what we can do safely to make sure we put everyone’s health and wellbeing first. I’m very proud of The Belfry team who have delivered excellent hospitality while maintaining a safe and secure environment for our guests and colleagues.

What social distancing measures have been put in place? Have you utilised technology to ensure less face-to-face contact for example?

The ‘Our Pledge To You’ initiative showcases the resort’s commitment to meeting the highest standards of cleanliness procedures and protocols across all areas of the resort. We have invested in state of the art, new cleaning equipment that uses electrostatic technology. This revolutionary cleaning system provides even distribution of cleaning products and total disinfection of every surface it coats.

Other new measures include an online check-in system where guests can view menus, order food and drinks to their room, and pay for their stay without any need for face-to-face contact, and a new door seal, so that guests can be confident no-one else has been in their room once it’s been cleaned.

The Belfry has been awarded AIM secure accreditation, the UK’s only recognised quality standard for the meeting industry, and the ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry standard which recognises that they have followed government and industry Covid-19 guidelines.

We may have adapted for the future, but you can be confident that the same warm and welcoming Belfry experience awaits.

The Belfry hosted its first European Tour event in 12 years this summer (the ISPS HANDA UK Championship). How much notice did you get for that, how strange was it given than no spectators were allowed, and will there be more events as big as this in the next few years?

We were first approached by the European Tour in May about hosting the ISPS HANDA UK Championship. We had a series of meetings with the European Tour to ensure the resort exceeded UK government Covid-19 safety guidance throughout the championship. The Belfry’s ‘Our Pledge To You’ initiative already went above and beyond Covid-19 safety guidelines. This ensured everything ran smoothly and we received great feedback from the European Tour and the players. The Belfry team delivered brilliantly.

Nothing beats the atmosphere of a spectator event. I look forward to getting back to normality!

The ISPS HANDA UK Championship was the first European Tour event we have hosted in 12 years on the iconic Brabazon course, having previously hosted The Ryder Cup four times. We would be absolutely delighted to host another world-class event.

The resort is one of England’s most desirable golf locations for foreign visitors, which has also been a huge challenge this year. Have you increased marketing to ‘staycation’ golfers?

As a result of the success of playing host to the ISPS HANDA UK Championship, we recently announced a number of new offers to give golfers a chance to tee off on our award-winning Brabazon and PGA National courses.

The Belfry’s new golf offers include no single supplement on golf breaks between Monday to Thursday until the end of November and for golf groups, one in 12 goes free and everyone will receive 20 percent off all food and drink in Sam’s Club House, where guests can enjoy the stunning views across the PGA National Course. We are also offering golf getaways from £119 per person including an overnight stay and two rounds of golf, followed by breakfast the next morning, with our ‘1 night, 2 rounds’ package, but it’s our ‘2 nights 3 rounds’ longer golfing breaks that are proving most popular.

You’ve been managing golf resorts for nearly 20 years; how do you think the industry and the role of manager has changed in that time?

The key element to me is hospitality. As long as you have a hospitable business that is planned, organised and provides a good service, you will continue to succeed. With a great team alongside you, you can achieve anything – that’s my motto. This is why The Belfry is consistently an award-winning business.

What are your predictions for the next few years for the UK golf industry?

Due to Covid-19, golf will be one of the only sports that the public can continue to play safely, so the demand will continue to grow. Due to this, a whole new audience are playing the sport as golf is a game for everyone and there’s no better place to learn or play than the ‘Ultimate Golf Resort – The Belfry’.


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 8, 2020 08:33
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  1. MHarris November 10, 12:08

    James is a inspirational guy …and a true leader ..with a fantastic team ..

    Reply to this comment
  2. Kathrin November 8, 20:54

    Read the article…. Unbelievable that James Macbeth Stewart and some employees have locked themselves down at the resort to keep everything up and running behind the scenes! Such a determination, lots of respect for this! Chapeau!

    Reply to this comment
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