Meet the St Andrews manager: Ayden Roberts-Jones

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 10, 2022 08:01

Starting as a senior PGA assistant in 2002, Ayden Roberts-Jones is now the manager of The Duke’s, St Andrews, the home of the 2014 European Amateur Championship. While owned by the Old Course Hotel, the heathland venue is located two miles away from the Old Course.

We speak to Ayden about the facility and what this year’s Open Championship will mean for both him and the club.

One of the most prestigious golf courses in St Andrews is preparing to mark a significant milestone. The recognition surrounds a key member of staff at The Duke’s who has spent the last two decades providing a world-class experience at the only heathland course at the Home of Golf. It also accompanies a tranche of investments at the well-regarded venue.

A lot can happen in 20 years, as anyone visiting the five-star Old Course Hotel Golf Resort & Spa will confirm. The Duke’s, for instance, has matured gracefully since opening 26 years ago, undergoing a detailed revamp in 2006 that included upgraded drainage and bunker changes alongside the unveiling of three stunning closing holes.

Overseeing that evolution has been Ayden Roberts-Jones, who started at the resort as senior PGA assistant in 2002. Now manager of The Duke’s, he has been integral to the continued development of the golf operations and more recently supervising the introduction of a new fleet of buggies.

“The Duke’s was my introduction to Scottish heathland golf and I was captivated by it,” he said, recalling his debut at the resort. “We went through a lot of changes during those early days which were dramatic but certainly enhanced the course and its playability. We’ve now engaged in a programme of improvements that will take The Duke’s, once again, to another level in terms of delivering a world-class golfing experience.”

Roberts-Jones confirmed the completion of a detailed winter maintenance schedule by The Duke’s greenkeeping team, whose numbers have increased by 50 percent in less than a year. The programme of works, he explained, also included changes to the stunning par four 10th. This, along with a new portfolio of photography, means the carefully maintained course, which is also part of the prestigious collection of Kohler championship courses, is set for a summer to remember.

“As well as completing an extensive winter programme of upgrades, the greenkeeping team has also finished tweaking the right-hand side of the fairway of the 10th hole creating a new landing area which provides different options off the tee. It’s exciting – we’re pushing forward with our service delivery and marketing initiatives which include new imagery of the course. It highlights the ambition of the team at The Duke’s to deliver the most manicured golf experience in St Andrews.”

He continued: “The expansion of the greenkeeping team means the consistency and playability of the course has gone up a notch. It means we can maintain each hole more frequently and provide the attention to detail that our guests expect from a five-star resort.”
In the latest round of golf course ratings, The Duke’s has been ranked number 15 in Golf World’s ‘Top 100 Best Golf Resorts in Great Britain and Ireland (May 2021)’. Also, at the annual Scottish Golf Tourism Awards, the team at the Old Course Hotel were winners of the ‘Best Large Hotel’ category.

The 9th hole at The Duke’s, St Andrews. Image by Mark Alexander Golf Photography

The Duke’s will play a central role in the recently announced Old Course Hotel pro sm which will bring together championship courses at The Home of Golf in an exciting format for both amateurs and professionals. The inaugural Old Course Hotel Pro Am will take place this September.

“The changes we’ve brought in recently are part of a much wider plan to deliver continued improvements across all departments at The Duke’s,” said Roberts-Jones. “Being part of a team with such a dedicated approach to securing enhanced service levels year on year makes me extremely proud.”

We speak to Roberts-Jones about managing the venue against the backdrop of the 150th Open Championship.

No two days are the same, but could you describe your average day as manager of The Duke’s?

Never a truer word has been spoken, and that’s why I love what I do. Every day is different. I am very close to my teams, so most days I’ll have one-to-ones with managers and supervisors, carry out course inspections and react to whatever is happening. The beauty about The Duke’s is we enjoy welcoming members and corporate guests, and we have many familiar faces dropping in every day. We also welcome guests from all around the globe. Golf is the common language so spending some of your day talking to guests about their experiences at The Duke’s and other courses in the area… what’s not to like?

How has the venue, particularly participation, changed in the last two years?

We have seen a boost in membership and domestic golf. During 2021 we saw a huge increase in the number of Scottish guests and, as a result, Scottish golf is in a very healthy position right now. What was even more valuable was the feedback we received from these guests who told us the course was in better shape than they had ever seen it. Playability is very important to us, as is creating the best possible golfing experience. The golf course will never stop evolving but in the 20 years I’ve been here, it’s never looked as good.

In your time at The Duke’s there’s been three Opens at the Old Course. What is the experience like for you?

My first was in 2005. The week before the Open, I went for a walk with friends down to the beach. The Old Course was being enjoyed by the public; lots of walkers plus a five-a-side football match was being played on the first fairway. I remember thinking that this is more than a golf course. It still brings a smile to my face. It’s land to be enjoyed and the locals certainly do that!

In 2010, I had the honour of being asked to be a playing marker but sadly didn’t get out. It was, however, a fantastic experience because I was in the middle of summer school so a lot of the kids had come down and created a lot of buzz around the practice putting green when they saw me. One shouted over for my autograph which turned into me signing programmes – I felt like a rock star! Then a few hours later, I was back at The Duke’s cleaning 20 hire sets that had just come off the course!

In 2015, I had just taken over golf operations at the Old Course Hotel. It was my first Open running the pro shop. It was a great thrill and I very much enjoyed that time with the team. I can’t describe how busy it was, but the wonderful people you meet and the general vibe with crowds cheering in the background; it was a great time.

Ayden Roberts-Jones. Image by Mark Alexander Golf Photography

Any tips on who you think might do well at this year’s championship?

It’s an Open, so anyone can win it. The standard of golf at the professional level is so good. I’m glad I’m not a betting man!

Have you any plans for future works at The Duke’s?

We are constantly looking at conditioning and the playability of the course. We listen closely to the feedback we receive from our members and guests either verbally or through our post-golf letter. The course has hosted Scottish and European Amateur events in its time … and I’m sure it will host another great event in the not too distant future. We will, of course, keep you posted!

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 10, 2022 08:01
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  1. Gibson July 13, 10:16

    Great golf course. Tough hike but wonderful in a buggie

    Reply to this comment
  2. Aimers July 12, 10:10

    Great article, course in great condition

    Reply to this comment
  3. Lesley July 11, 18:43

    Excellent article Ayden….also need to arrange another lesson after the Open has finished :))

    Reply to this comment
  4. RM July 11, 11:33

    Great read Ayden Roberts – Jones . Wishing you and all of the Team the very best for a very special Open Championship week ahead!

    Reply to this comment
  5. David J July 10, 21:52

    Superb golf course and facility. Well done Ayden ️‍♂️

    Reply to this comment
  6. DBrown PGA July 10, 10:30

    Great article Ayden.
    I hope you enjoy a great Open Championship.

    Reply to this comment
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