Meet the director of golf: Joel Westwell

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick June 20, 2024 11:22

The new director of golf at The Grove talks about his career trajectory, the innovations at the resort, how it has dealt with the participation boom of the last four years and how the venue helps promote women’s golf.

Can you start by telling us about The Grove?

The Grove is a five-star luxury resort set in 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside, just 18 miles from central London. It is home to 214 bedrooms and suites, an award-winning spa, four restaurants, a huge range of exciting activities and of course, a championship golf course.

The magic of The Grove is its diversity, and we really have something that appeals to everyone. As a result, the hotel is buzzing and vibrant with a dynamic mix of guests who each come to us for a unique and exceptional experience. Last year was our 20th year, which was celebrated with the re-opening of our mansion suites after an extensive refurbishment. Nothing ever stands still at The Grove, as we are always striving to make sure our guests leave with unforgettable memories.

You’ve recently been named the new director of golf at The Grove. Can you tell us about your career trajectory and how you’ve worked your way up at the resort?

I started my golf career at Trump Aberdeen in 2012 as a caddy and did this for a couple of seasons before starting in the golf operations team in 2014. I had stints working in the hotel in the guest services team, before taking on the role of golf coordinator, which involved delivering and managing events. In January 2017, I joined the sales and marketing team to support the launch of a new membership programme at Trump Aberdeen.

Later that year, I sought slightly warmer climates down south and made the decision to join The Grove as golf events manager. I quickly fell in love with The Grove and all that it has to offer and was often, and still am, found in awe of the property and what we achieve day in, day out.

In 2018 I took on the role of golf sales manager and took responsibility for the group golf business which was a great step for me and provided greater exposure to the wider business, hotel and the impact the team and I could have on our departmental business.

Covid was clearly a very challenging time for everyone and, having gained momentum from hosting NATO in 2019, and 2020 shaping up to our best year yet in golf, the rug was pulled from beneath us. During the pandemic, I spent 50 consecutive nights in the hotel and, as guidelines changed and society opened up, we were able to manage the business effectively as the golfing industry started its boom.

In 2021 I took on the role of head of golf sales and took on responsibility for the golf revenue which again further expanded my exposure to the business and allowed me to work with our director of golf to strategise and continue to capitalise on the boom that the industry was experiencing. Despite this increase in demand, we were always conscious of delivering the most welcoming, world-class experience in golf – a mission in our department we live by every day.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic mentor in Brad Gould, helping me along the way, and an amazing team who are a true asset to The Grove.

The Grove has invested in modern technology from high-spec buggies with music to a grass tee modern driving range, can you take us through some of these investments and, what if any, is in the pipeline?

As a venue we are always striving to challenge the norm of golf and be industry-leading in the services and experiences we provide. We are incredibly fortunate to have an ownership group that supports us incredibly well to allow us to be creative and put forward ideas and proposals that we believe will enhance our guest journey and experience.

We were proud to be the first facility in the UK to have the TrackMan Range Grass Tee solution and have recently added speakers on our driving range to elevate the driving range experience. Our fleet of Club Car buggies that we took delivery of last year were the first to have in-built Bluetooth speakers, enabling our guests to create a bespoke experience for themselves.

We are always considering new ways in which we can enhance our guest journey and also grow our brand profile globally. We are always working on future enhancements to our offering and our continued progress showcases our commitment to our guests and their experience.

How does The Grove try to attract women and juniors to golf?

The Grove strives to create a truly inclusive culture within golf. We have no members, no dress code and welcome all abilities. We are committed to enabling more women and girls to maximise their potential at all levels of golf and value women’s involvement in every aspect of the sport. We also recognise the importance of getting young people into the game and seek to break down the perceived barriers to entry.

We hosted the final event of the 2023 Rose Ladies’ Series, and have successfully run a ladies’ open every year that is a sell-out event, as well as an annual juniors’ open. We run dedicated ladies’ clinics every week and junior clinics in school holidays. We also permit complimentary juniors after 3pm with fee-paying adults.

The Grove is also part of The R&A Women in Golf Charter and Fenella Buss, one of our PGA assistant professionals, continues to work on two game-growing initiatives for women’s golf: The R&A Women in Golf Leadership Development Programme, and England Golf’s Girls’ Golf Rocks.

Having previously been head of golf sales, how has The Grove responded to the last four years? Has it seen a participation boom as a result of the pandemic?

The Covid pandemic saw an industry-wide boom in golf, and we have been able to capitalise on this whilst amplifying our reputation as a premium, five-star golfing experience, open to all, seven days a week. Golf participation continues to show positive signs and we are confident that our offering will remain favoured by our trusted guests and clients, whilst also attracting new audiences who may or may not be new to golf.

Not resting our laurels, we are always looking at ways in which we can enhance the experience for our guests across the property. Over the last four years, the hotel has undergone extensive renovations including all 189 West Wing bedrooms, Sequoia Spa, The Glasshouse restaurant, the mansion suites and rooms, and our Golf Locker Room, Players’ Lounge and The Stables bar.

We endeavour to create unforgettable experiences for all our guests, with an exciting calendar of events and activations throughout the year, including our Everyman cinema pop-up in the summer and Feast on Cloud 9 – a captivating hot-air balloon dining experience.

And is the cost-of-living crisis having an impact on the running of the resort?

The cost of living crisis is something we monitor very closely, and we are conscious that any decision we make does not impact our guest experience or our team members negatively. We understand the importance of delivering value for our guests, and we are grateful that they continue to choose us in the current climate, which is why the quality of their experience is so vital.

We are constantly looking at ways in which we can use technology to our advantage to not only reduce costs where possible, but to improve our environmental impact and also become more efficient in our processes.

How do you market the venue and attract more people to stay and play at the resort?

Having celebrated our 20th anniversary year in 2023, and completed our resort-wide refurbishment programme, we communicate with our audiences through a combination of our own media channels as well as earned media.

We have recently been named as the number one golf resort in England by the Golf World Rankings, and always look at ways in which we can partner with other venues and brands to create experiences that are unique to The Grove, such as our Arsenal getaway package which has an Emirates matchday included.

We actively engage with our golf email subscribers and have a golf-specific Instagram channel @GolfattheGrove which has seen a 35 percent increase in followers over the last year as further resources are invested to create engaging content.

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

Ever the optimist, I think the golf industry will continue to go from strength to strength. At a professional level, there is huge investment in the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, and I think the exposure the sport has received as a result of that will trickle down to the wider sport and increase appetite for people to engage with golf.

Following a huge level of investment recently, I am confident The Grove will continue to go from strength to strength, as we continue to offer our unforgettable experiences to everyone who visits our 300 acres.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick June 20, 2024 11:22
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