Meet the golf club manager: Shahin Bani-Sadr

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 20, 2021 12:26

Appointed as one of the youngest private members’ golf club managers – at Hampshire’s Rowlands Castle GC – in the UK, aged 28, less than two years ago, Shahin takes us through the last 15 months.

Could you tell us a bit about Rowlands Castle Golf Club?

Rowlands was founded in 1902 so has a steep history. We have a great membership here of around 1,000 members which includes playing members and social members. We boast a fantastic 6,600-yard parkland course and a large clubhouse. The course is known for being an enjoyable but tough test of golf.

What were your, and Rowlands Castle Golf Club’s, experience of lockdown like from March 2020 to the venue reopening a couple of months later?

The initial lockdown was of course a strange time for us all. We quickly realised we were going to need to make some tough and quick decisions, therefore we created a small sub-committee which was meeting online two to three times a week. Never have I used video calls so much in my life! But I am thankful for having a positive committee in place as it made the entire situation a lot easier. Then when we finally reopened it was one of the greatest feelings I have had since working in golf. All the hard work and meetings paying off and seeing our members on the course again. Pretty sure a lot of our members had been practicing in their gardens, as I stood out on the first tee all morning and didn’t see one bad shot!

Between reopening and the next lockdown in November, what was it like? Did you experience the surge in demand for golf?

Yes we absolutely did. We had more membership applications coming through then I had ever experienced while working in golf and our phones were ringing off the hooks with people looking for tee times. Like many other private members’ clubs, we didn’t allow visitors initially on opening to ensure our members had the course to themselves and I think this happening across the country increased the need for golf membership which can only benefit private member golf clubs.

What are your thoughts about closing golf courses generally due to coronavirus?

Initially it was one of frustration as we knew golf could be played safely and social distancing in the open air is doable. However, once you saw everything that was happening in the world you had to put it in perspective. If the golf courses closing helped get us through the pandemic, then we had to get on board and support it.

Has the venue’s approach to marketing changed as a result of the pandemic?

I wouldn’t say so. The boom in golf helped us like it did most golf clubs. We use social media to keep members and visitors informed of what is going on at the club but we have never felt the need to market that aggressively. Long may that continue! However we have just got into the top 10 for GolfShake reviews for clubs in Hampshire which we are proud of!

What social distancing measures have been put in place?

Lots! We have taken it very seriously and have everything in place that you can imagine. One-way systems, signs, new table plans and so on. We are fortunate that we have a very large bar area so we can space members out safely. We now have a booking system in place for the first time in 117 years! Which has helped ensure we do not get groups on the tee boxes and so on.

How have you adapted to the new World Handicap System?

It’s difficult to say if I am honest. I think well, from what I can see we have all of our members now with a handicap index and will be ready for competitions. It was launched at a time where we don’t run any qualifying competitions so the picture will be clearer once these begin again [this interview was conducted before competition golf resumed].

You took over the management of the club aged just 28 – and you’d already managed two golf clubs prior to that! Did you always want to be a golf club manager, how easy / difficult did you find getting to this level and why do you think so many younger people have become golf club managers in the last few years?

If I said I always wanted to be a golf club manager, I would be lying. However I have always had a passion for both golf and management, so maybe it was written in the stars! I started as a sales manager at Wickham Park Golf Club and was fortunate enough to have people above me who saw something and gave me a chance. Due to a last minute position change, I found myself with the opportunity to become a general manager at 25 years old and I was never letting that pass. Since then I have proved myself and managed to get the move into a private members’ club. It was not easy and took a lot of hard work, but it is so refreshing to see many committees now taking the chance on younger managers. It’s like a snowball effect… People like myself saw younger managers getting big roles and thought to themselves ‘I can do that!’ I must say the Golf Club Managers’ Association has been a massive support to get to this stage and I can’t recommend them enough. During lockdown a WhatsApp group was made for the southern region and to say it has been a life saver would be an understatement!

You started your role at Rowlands Castle only in July 2019, and by March you were dealing with a worldwide pandemic. How difficult was that experience?

It’s funny as so many members said the same line to me… ‘Well this is a baptism of fire isn’t it?!’ But it certainly made me grow as a manager and a person. I quickly found myself chairing meetings two or three times a week trying to steer a committee through something none of us had experienced. I was very fortunate that I had a fantastic committee and staff team around me. It also allowed me to get closer with the membership. They pretty much couldn’t avoid me! I was sending multiple communications to keep them in the picture of the constant changes but I think this only benefitted my relationship with them. It also allowed me to prove my skills as a manager to them.

You’ve now managed two proprietary clubs run by Crown Golf, and Rowlands Castle, a private members’ venue, what differences have you found between the two models?

They are extremely different but I enjoyed both aspects of club management. With the proprietary clubs it was trying to balance the satisfaction of the members, while still delivering targets. Whereas the private sector you are solely focused on the membership, which is why it always appealed to me as it is my favourite part of the job! Probably why the past year or so has been so difficult, as there is nothing better in golf club management than being around your members and seeing them enjoy the service you are providing!

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

I have kept positive throughout the pandemic so nothing will be stoppin that now! I think if anything good can come from it, it will be the rise of golf again. We saw a glimpse of it in the summer of 2020 and I feel we will push on from here. Golf clubs have a responsibility to use this pandemic to change how we operate. I think it would be great if we saw a move away from offers on memberships and green fees and have many more golfers become members of clubs and remain with them for long periods.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 20, 2021 12:26
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1 Comment

  1. Tandy May 23, 20:00

    Great guy and great to see him getting recognition

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