‘It’s finally looking very positive’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 6, 2021 10:19

Last March – and after the original cut-off date for when the furlough scheme could be applied to employees – Aaron Galbraith started his dream job as director of golf at Canterbury Golf Club, the facility he had been a junior member at. But just a few days later the venue, like all others in England, entered its first of, to date, three full lockdowns, lasting nearly half a year in total. Here, he takes us through the last, incredible, 15 months of his career.

Aaron Galbraith arrived at Canterbury Golf Club in early March last year to embark on his first day as director of golf at Canterbury Golf Club in Kent, one of Harry Colt’s finest designs.

Just days later the UK was plunged into its first lockdown. Here, Aaron looks back on his unexpected roller coaster of a ride in 2020 and up until the recent easing of lockdown and return of golf.

Prior to his six years at Sene Valley Golf Club also in Kent as the head pro, Aaron was the head pro at another of Kent’s iconic courses, North Foreland, for five years, also as head pro after starting his golfing career at nearby Manston Golf Centre.

Canterbury Golf Club. Image by Andy Hiseman

Born and bred in the cathedral city, his new role at Canterbury was something of a homecoming; he had also been a member of the club as a junior. Hardly the homecoming he had envisaged however.

Roger Hyder, general manager at Canterbury, had lured Aaron from Sene Valley as important changes were in the pipeline at the club; it was about to embark on a major renovation of the pro shop whilst at the same time bringing the operation in-house so that the profits from members’ spend in the shop would be put back into the running of the club and investment in the course.

On arrival at Canterbury, the brand new shop was not quite ready so in the meantime Aaron set about running a temporary shop out of the club office. Shortly afterwards the club closed with the lockdown announcement on March 23 and work on the new shop was immediately halted.

Canterbury Golf Club. Image by Andy Hiseman

For Aaron, there was no furlough support as he had not been with the club for long enough (initially the government only provided furlough support for employees who had been employed at their place of work since the latest date of February 28, 2020) so instead he remained on site, being paid, doing everything and anything from painting parts of the clubhouse to undertaking general maintenance, repairing outdoor furniture and patrolling the fairways to protect the tee boxes and greens from the stream of walkers taking their daily exercise out on the course.

“Under the circumstances we were more than happy to have people on the course but I did have to have a few polite words with some of them who had decided to have a picnic or walk their dog on the greens!” said Aaron.

Canterbury Golf Club. Image by Andy Hiseman

With lockdown came zero income overnight for the club with the collapse of social and corporate functions. As a result, Aaron’s budget was immediately slashed by around half from the original £60,000 he had been promised. He wasted no time in contacting his suppliers about the stock that he had pre-booked, stripped back on all orders and asked them to spread deliveries out over several months so that he wasn’t faced with a big bill at any point.

When golf finally returned, the shop was not quite ready with tools downed for three months so Aaron spent the next few weeks as the club starter working out of the new starter’s hut.

Canterbury Golf Club. Image by Andy Hiseman

“This turned out to be a brilliant exercise for me as it meant that I met most of the members for the first time in a relaxed fashion and also caught up with some of the older members that I had met at the club as a junior.”

With Covid rules now in place for golf, members merely signed themselves in and then went straight out on the course, leaving little time for browsing or spending money in the shop even if they could.

“What with all the red tape and new rules, no one could buy anything so in hindsight, my decision to cut my original order was a great move and extremely lucky!”

Canterbury Golf Club. Image by Andy Hiseman

The refurbished shop finally opened on June 1 (with no grand opening as planned which he says was disappointing) with its new entrance, double the space and plate glass windows with a view of the first tee.

“We then went on to have a really successful summer in the new shop,” explains Aaron. “With holidays cancelled and money refunded, lots of people suddenly had a bit of money to spend so sales in the shop really took off. Moreover many were happy to spend a bit more and splash out on all the high-end products. In the end, we actually ran out of a lot of stuff – such as electric trolleys – as the supply chain from manufacturers had broken down over Covid and suppliers ran out of almost everything. That was the next frustration!

“With the constricted budget thanks to the spring lockdown, we only had a couple of choices in our product ranges but at least it meant that we didn’t end up overstocked. In fact, we washed our face last year which was pretty good all things considered.”

Canterbury Golf Club. Image by Andy Hiseman

As the year progressed, there were a plethora of new rules, rule changes, different protocols for every area of the club and huge amounts of red tape which had to be managed.

This left very little time for my ethos of ‘engage, educate, entertain’ and even less room for customer service which was hugely disappointing given I had just arrived at Canterbury and wanted to make a really good impression both on the board and with the members.

Moreover with our operations team severely curtailed, there were several periods when those of us who were at the club felt isolated and disengaged.

On top of this, more and more events were cancelled including the Open Championship at nearby Royal St George’s which would have been a hugely busy time for the club. We were also forced to postpone our Winter Alliance competition that we launched in September in conjunction with The PGA later.

Canterbury Golf Club. Image by Andy Hiseman

“At least we were able to host a ‘Festival of Golf Week’ at the start of August, organised back in 2019 by the club committee, which was very successful. I was pleased to utilise my experience of such weeks from my two previous clubs and ensured the week ran smoothly. I also provided important feedback in the wash up meetings so that we can further improve on the event this year.”

Despite those long, hard months, Aaron is optimistic about the rest of 2021 due to the vaccination programme and more people able to spend time outside whilst continuing to social distance and follow the Covid rules.

“For next year, we have ordered new supply which is due in March, but again we have asked the suppliers to hold off full delivery until we have more certainty about the future and stagger the product to avoid any large bills.

“We’ve a lot to look forward to this year with the Open Championship at Royal St George’s, the hosting of the Kent PGA Championship (until 2023) and our Festival of Golf planned for July.

“The club has agreed to pour more investment into course improvements so members and visitors can look forward to a course in even better condition in 2021.

”As soon as I can I’II also be arranging regular demo days, offering more coaching and club custom fittings and I even hope to take some of the members off on an international coaching holiday somewhere abroad (if we can of course!) so as far as I am concerned, it’s finally looking very positive and there’s a lot to look forward to after my rather crazy start here at Canterbury.”

 

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 6, 2021 10:19
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