Meet the golf club manager: James Glover

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 17, 2021 12:47

The general manager of Hallamshire Golf Club in Yorkshire talks about the history of the club – and its future – and some of the challenges he’s had to overcome as manager, including the pandemic.

What can you tell us about Hallamshire Golf Club and your background?

Hallamshire is arguably the premier golf course in the Sheffield city region. Formed in 1897, it is renowned as a Harry Colt design, however recent work we have been doing has pointed to significant contributions prior to Colt’s involvement from Alister Mackenzie and Herbert Fowler, so there is a significant design heritage to the course.

Alex and Matt Fitzpatrick

I grew up just 15 miles away and played my golf at Rotherham Golf Club, another with a strong pedigree for developing golfing talent. I wanted to make a living from playing but I realised early that my game was not of the required standard so I committed to gaining the best experience I could to build a career. I took a seasonal assistant professional’s position at Royal Portrush in 2008, which was the best thing I ever did. It gave me a real insight into what is required to work at the top level and undoubtedly helped me gain my next position as an assistant professional at Queenwood Golf Club in Surrey, a club renowned as one of the world’s finest high-end service level golf clubs. To work in that sphere for nine years providing such a high standard of customer care and service for customers who absolutely demand the best was hugely important for me. I was head professional when I left at the end of 2017 to come to Hallamshire as general manager in the new year.

The 3rd hole

We understand there have been some famous names connected with the club over the years in golf and otherwise. Can you name a few?

Nowadays the most talked about is Matthew Fitzpatrick who is obviously building a fantastic golfing career. He was a junior member at the club before being made an honorary member on winning the US Amateur in 2013. Other connections go back a long way. Peter Alliss’ father, Percy, was a professional and John Jacobs worked here too. Later Peter Cowen was an assistant professional before going on to play on tour prior to his amazing coaching career. Another junior, Alison Nicholas, who won the Women’s US Open in 1997 is also an honorary member, as is Mary Everard, who was a tremendously successful amateur in the ladies’ game. Matt’s brother, Alex, has been selected for the last two Walker Cup teams and was joined this year in the team by Barclay Brown, who is another exciting talent.

Peter Cowen

How does Hallamshire manage to attract and develop such an elite collection of sports people?

The standing of the club and quality of the course make it an obvious choice for people from Sheffield who are serious about their golf. The challenge of the course – small greens and an elevation of 1,000 feet which leaves us exposed to the elements, seems to bring on the skills of the people who play here.

The 5th hole

You are a PGA professional. What lessons can golf professionals bring into club management?

For a club to be successful, I believe all elements of it should function to the same standard; there is no doubt that the focus of golf club members is the golf itself – PGA professionals spend their entire career in that area of the club and around the members, this gives them an acute insight into what is important at a golf club.

What changes have you implemented since your appointment at Hallamshire?

We brought the pro shop in-house and directly employed all the professional staff, so they are now integral to the delivery of a great service to the members and there are no disputes as to where responsibilities lie within the operation. We undertook a renovation of our teeing areas at the end of 2019 and 2020 and are just about to complete a refurbishment of nearly the entire ground floor of the clubhouse, providing a top quality platform to support our new catering team. We have a new course manager arriving this summer. Ben Burrill has worked at Merion and Chambers Bay Golf Clubs in the USA and we are excited about what he will bring to our team.

The 6th hole

Are additional changes in the pipeline?

Yes, definitely! 2022 sees the 125th anniversary of the club and we would like to address the locker rooms and implement an indoor swing studio. However, we will not commit to this until we are sure that we can make it the very best. We are also working on an exciting plan in terms of the long-term development of the course itself.

If you could change anything else, what would it be?

More space – our entire facility is enclosed within 99 acres which presents many challenges, not least car parking and practice facilities.

The 8th hole

What have been the major challenges and how have you overcome them?

It has all been a major challenge. Coming into a new role in 2018, obviously there was a period of integration, then in early 2019 my assistant retired, which resulted in me undertaking virtually two roles for the latter part of my second year. I now have a fantastic colleague who works with me in the office.

What is the long-term ambition of the club?

To emphasise its position in the city and to achieve broader recognition beyond by ensuring that the three key tenets of the club (the golf course, the clubhouse and the member experience) work at the same level as each other and then keep pushing that level higher and higher to protect its future.

The 13th hole

Lockdown created many challenges. How did you manage course maintenance to ensure it was playable for reopening?

It was tricky, obviously there were rules implemented around essential maintenance and we were keen to adhere to those out of moral responsibility and a commitment that the health of our staff. Luckily, our retiring course manager, Gordon Brammah has been here for 37 years and knows the facility inside out. He knew exactly what to prioritise in order to be able to get us back up to speed quickly although there are still some small issues to deal with that we weren’t able to address during that period.

How did you approach the issue of members of the public wanting to use the course for leisure pursuits during lockdown?

We felt that the best strategy was to embrace the situation rather than to fight it, so we allowed the public to take exercise on the course but tried to communicate with them through social media to help them understand to keep to the perimeter of the course and to be wary that work was still going on. We felt that the club did have a role to play in what was a difficult time for the whole community and we received a lot of positive feedback from people following our communications. We suffered very few issues in terms of damage or wear which might not have been the case had we been more combative on that front.

The 8th hole

Is membership buoyant or do you need a recruitment plan to attract new faces especially beginners, women and juniors?

We currently have a strong waiting list but are mindful of a need to attract more younger women into the game. As such we have developed a coaching strategy and pathway to membership which is helped greatly by having a fantastic female assistant professional, Holly Morgan, who is an excellent player, is developing into a strong coach, and is a great role model.

The 17th hole

The club runs junior and ladies’ development groups through our professional staff which over the past two to three years have been tremendously successful. One of our biggest challenges is in addressing our ability to cater for the demand, and, unfortunately, due to space limitations on the practice ground, we currently have a waiting list for junior membership.

How do you see members’ clubs changing over the next 25 years?

I think there is very much a demand for value across modern society, which results in clubs pushing harder to improve their facilities and some of the ideas we see in publications such as this one and across social media are great.

However, costs are going up all the time and achieving this progress is not easy. I believe the biggest challenge clubs will face in the next five to ten years will be labour supply and costs – there is a serious supply and demand issue in terms of greens staff and professionals. To combat this I think there will be a need for the ‘bigger’ clubs to increase levels of pay.

The 13th hole

This may lead to an increased polarisation of golf clubs, with the higher profile clubs becoming more expensive out of necessity. The more money members need to pay to keep the standards of the course high, the less they want to see the course filled with visitors and therefore the higher proportion of income needs to come from members – it is a continual upward spiral.

Members’ clubs in the middle ground will be the ones that feel the squeeze the most – if they don’t have the quality of course or facilities to be able to demand the higher fees in order to underwrite the costs, they may struggle to retain members.

If I am right, this might lead to an increase in the number of higher standard ‘public’ courses, and this may be the model some of those middle ground clubs might have to adopt. This would give golfers options to rival public facilities which may have been historically neglected financially, perhaps council-run and only used by golfers who are not primarily driven by the quality of the course. Schemes such as the independent golfer initiative currently being pushed by England Golf may encourage this type of landscape as the requirement to be an actual member of a golf club becomes less.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 17, 2021 12:47
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