Meet the head of golf: Ashley Pheasant

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 12, 2022 12:41

The head of golf for Darwin Escapes, which owns and operates Dundonald Links, The Springs Resort & Golf Club and Kilnwick Percy Resort & Golf Club, as well as The Trilby Tour, talks about working at three very different venues that have been investing heavily in improvements and winning ‘Marquee Pro Shop of the Year’ earlier this year.

Can you detail what your life was like from the first lockdown in March 2020 until the present day?

Like many in the industry, the first lockdown in March 2020 brought huge challenges.

However, for us as a company we were kept very busy as two of our venues were very much into a development stage, which presented a very different type of challenge.

The Springs Resort & Golf Club in Oxfordshire was embarking on a circa £20 million investment and we were well into investing around £25 million at Dundonald Links in North Ayrshire. During this time, we were very much focused on the new GC Quad Swing Studio installation at The Springs and the design and feel of the new shop at Dundonald Links.

This was also alongside pre-books and orders arriving at our Yorkshire site, Kilnwick Percy. It has been a very busy time.

What daily challenges do you face in running a pro shop and teaching?

Each of our golf shops are very different and have to be managed uniquely, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to our retail operations.

One is very busy with indoor tuition and fitting, as well as having a very healthy membership to service, one is busy with a very active membership and lots of accommodation guests staying and playing. While Dundonald Links is very busy with visitor golf and the obvious hype of a brand new clubhouse, five-star accommodation, an attractive food and beverage offering as well as a very well stocked boutique-style shop. Ultimately, it’s about our teams delivering the very best service for every single customer that comes into our venues.

There is a constant flow of new golf products – how do you manage your stock to serve the needs of your members and visitors?

We try to keep on-trend in each of our stores as much as possible, but ensure that each shop is stocked correctly for the customers we know will shop with us.

We do our best to keep on top of what the ‘hot products’ are within the industry, but also try very hard to bring in some stock which can’t always be found in your regular golf shop.

How do you manage your day?

I oversee all golf activity across our three very different venues, so sometimes it can be tricky going from one piece of work at one club to a totally different piece of work at another.

I try to speak to each of the clubs’ golf managers and professionals on a daily basis and also have regular calls and meetings with our group on-course superintendent.

This is alongside daily calls to our golf marketing manager and also reporting into the board. The day is often finished with a nice cold lager or glass of wine and an attempt to put the phone down and not check emails.

The clubhouse at Dundonald Links

What are you doing to support junior golf and introduce kids to the sport?

As we all know, getting more juniors to take up the game is super important for the future of golf and we all need to play our part.

Two of our venues are actively coaching in the local schools, as well as offering junior academies, which are really growing. The junior membership is very appealing with lots of added benefits and we are trying to integrate the junior golfers into ‘club life’, so their relationship with the game grows as they do. We also support several junior tours and events across our venues.

Are you trying to attract more women to golf?

Absolutely! Two of our venues have a membership and the female participation at the clubs has grown significantly over the past few years.

We have a successful ladies’ academy at The Springs and this has had a great return in the ladies carrying on into full membership.

Kilnwick Percy has a strong female membership which is growing year on year and we regularly offer ladies’ beginner sessions, and Get into golf sessions for junior girls.

The pro shop at Dundonald Links

Do you have any programmes in place such as academy membership to make it easier to introduce beginners to the game?

Yes, as mentioned above, we have a junior academy at each club which creates a pathway to junior membership. We also have a ladies’ academy in place, again with the same goal of creating a pathway to membership. Both are proving to be incredibly successful in getting more people playing golf.

A lot of PGA pros are having to be a step ahead of their competitors in their offerings and technology – what additional added value services do you provide?

We opened our new three-room indoor swing studio at The Springs last year, which has two GC Quad booths as well as an indoor putting studio. This has seen a major increase in tuition and fittings, resulting in additional sales.

Likewise, at Kilnwick Percy we have introduced TrackMan for our outdoor coaching offering and are currently looking at new investment into that facility with a new golf shop and an indoor swing studio.

When did you join the TGI Golf Partnership and what was it about it that attracted you?

We have been with TGI now for approximately two years. My brother (Aaron, Hull Golf Club) is a partner of TGI and after speaking to many friends who are professionals, I believed that TGI Golf was the best group to join.

Since joining, I have really been impressed with the communications and the ease of dealing with all the different people involved within the group.

It really does feel like one big family. I have recently attended my first TGI Golf Business Conference and awards. I was lucky enough to win ‘Marquee Pro Shop of the Year’ for Dundonald Links, but the conference as a whole was excellent, the speakers were fantastic and the après conference free time was well spent meeting new contacts and catching up with industry friends.

Has TGI Golf been of benefit to you as a PGA professional?

Absolutely, for the three of our stores each with their own PGA professional, TGI has been a great benefit and the tools the group provides such as the email marketing and constant industry updates really do help to deliver the end result for the business.

What year did you turn professional and what have been your career highlights, both playing and employment?

My career highlight has easily been the involvement from the beginning of the Dundonald Links development as well as The Springs. To be so at the front end of the development and seeing the golf course develop working with people like Kyle Philips and Tim Lobb has been eye opening and invaluable.

Also seeing how our board of directors work in such large scale developments and the detail that goes into every aspect has been priceless.

Finally in terms of the retail side, designing and opening two retail spaces along with implementing new systems and training up new staff has been really exciting and now, looking forward to a Covid-free year, I am really excited to see all our venues prosper!

The pro shop at Dundonald Links

To be part of the team at Dundonald Links hosting the 2022 Women’s Scottish Open is exciting as well as another one of our companies now owning and operating the Trilby Tour will also mean 2022 and beyond will keep me busy!

All the above would not be possible though without a very strong team around us and a board of directors who give you the backing and freedom to deliver the end result.


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 12, 2022 12:41
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