By Michael Darby, Managing Director, Quantum Golf Solutions
As Chief Executive of the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England, Julian Small ( Photo) oversees one of golf’s most storied facilities as well a thriving social scene with some 4,300 members. Wentworth’s West Course hosted the thrilling BMW PGA Championship in May – when Luke Donald overtook Lee Westwood for the world No. 1 ranking – after which Small spoke at length to Michael Darby of the Quantum Group.
Small detailed Wentworth’s illustrious history and touched on numerous topics significant to today’s club managers.
Could you explain your role and how long you’ve been at the Wentworth Club?
I’ve been the Chief Executive here at Wentworth since 1996 and in my role I look after all the responsibility of the golf and country club, which is proprietary owned and always has been, so it has no ownership relationship with any of the property owners on the estate.
When the original developer developed the estate in the time-honored fashion, he was somewhat of a visionary back then. (He) developed the golfing elements of the club and then sold the real estate plots off around it. Some he built out and some he asked them to sell, but I look after that. I also take on the responsibility on the board of the estate management company, the homeowner’s association and such which is a non-profit organization.
Tell us a bit about the clubhouse facilities.
The clubhouse was initially built in about 1804 for Lady Anne Fitzroy, who was related to the Duke of Wellington, and it was a home and there was a farmland around it. Eventually George Tarrant acquired it in the 1920’s and developed it into what it is today. So it was really one of the visionary real estate developments.
The clubhouse today is 58,000 square feet in size. If you were here at the BMW PGA Championship (in May), we were a very vibrant clubhouse where we served over 300 people at lunch in our ballroom on Friday, and 350 people in our restaurants on Friday, plus another 50 people in the private room and a vibrant bar, so it’s quite a large clubhouse, but a very dynamic and vibrant place.
Can you give a brief overview of the staff structure and the golf facilities?
We have a total staff head count of permanent employees of 230. We do employ temporary staff at tournament time to boost the head counts to meet the volume of business, but we have 230 staff overall and it’s 60 working our greenskeeping department, who cover the three 18 (hole courses), the nine and all the general landscape areas around the clubhouse, which itself is very, very important.
How many members do you have, and what is the breakdown of membership types?
Wentworth is a very large club, a very diverse club and although it’s 85 years old, it’s got a certain template that has sort of grown with it. We have some 4,300 members and what people sometimes are surprised by is of that 4,300 members, over 850 of them are under the age of 19, so 20 percent of our membership are young people.
We have about 1,600 members who can play golf. Of those 1,600 members, 400 of them wouldn’t live in the UK, so a quarter of them, of our golfing memberships, is overseas based. In terms of people who would be seven-day members, who could play here regularly, i.e. not overseas, let’s say that our number is around 800.
So financially the club may not need corporate days, but do you accept corporate days and actively seek those out?
Yes, we have a limited number of corporate days available, but it’s a vibrant part of our business. Over the golf courses we would play each year circa 75,000 rounds of golf and we would expect about 7,000 would come from company golf days, so just under 10 percent.
How much guest play do you receive on the West Course (host to the BMW PGA Championship), and what is the fee?
We don’t have a huge amount of space for them, they represent less than 4 percent of our volume, but a visitor playing our West Course would pay 360 pounds per person and you would get a caddie from the club. We don’t really say that we offer you 18 holes of golf here, we say that we offer you the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of champions.
Ernie Els has made a number of changes to the West Course recently. How did they go over with the pros?
Well, golf is an incredible game because one thing it never struggles to do is create opinions. The overwhelming opinion from the professionals is very positive.
I think it’s interesting because, if you’re a professional golfer, do you want to work hard to earn your living or do you want to work easy to earn your living? And what we’ve created now is a golf course where they have to go out there and work very hard to craft their score. It’s a course now (where) you need to be able to play a variety of shots to score well and you also need to have a certain mental strength.
Lee Westwood said, when you go onto the golf course now, you have to think like you’re in a major because you’ve got to show patience, you’ve got to pick your opportunities, you’ve got to keep getting the ball in the right place and you’ve got to deal with the punishments that come when you get it slightly out of place.
All of that appeals to a certain type of golfer, as we saw (at the BMW) — the world No. 1 and the world No. 2 were the best people playing it.
I understand this year’s pro-am raised funds for the Seve Ballesteros Foundation?
Yes, Seve Ballesteros won seven times here. He won here at Wentworth more than anywhere else in the world and we were very close to Seve, we were very close to the family, so he was a very close friend of the club, we loved him and he loved us.
We sold 25 pro-am teams for 10,000 pounds sterling a team and we then held an auction that evening and overall on that evening, that day we raised 625,000 pounds. Then over the rest of the tournament week we raised a further 85,000 pounds, so we’ve been able to donate to the Seve Ballesteros Foundation, which is working with Cancer Research UK, 710,000 pounds to help support their battle against brain cancer and there’s a real practical legacy for Seve.
Anything else that you’d like to add about the club?
People may or may not realize Greg Norman won here five times. Greg Norman won his first tournament here in 1979 in the Martini International. He won it again in 1981 and then he also won the Suntory World Match Play here in 1980, 1983 and 1986.
Our tournament history is interwoven with golf. We were the place where an international challenge match was played in 1926 between the golfers of Great Britain and Ireland and the golfers of the United States of America. We as a club put up a trophy to be called the Wentworth Challenge Cup, but our offer to the PGA was declined because they accepted an offer from a private individual. That individual was Samuel Ryder and that became the Ryder Cup, so we were the place where the Ryder Cup was developed and thought of and created.
One of the great things I’ve always been respectful of here is that long before the word “marketing” was invented and PR was invented, we developed a thing called the Curtis Cup here, which is for Great Britain and Ireland amateur ladies to play against amateur ladies from the United States of America, and that was an event that was created here in the 1930’s.
Another interesting story that people don’t realize is that during the second World War, the clubhouse was requisitioned by the Army so the actual army moved into Wentworth in the clubhouse in 1939. We have a series of underground tunnels that were built in the 1940’s to create a bomb-proof control center for the second World War effort that run underneath the clubhouse and surrounding areas, so we really did have a part to play in that, in the whole second World War effort. Until recently the US naval attaché house was on the estate, but they put in a change and stopped that. There’s huge history here, it’s a magnificent place with great heritage.
I understand that Windsor Castle is just down the road from the club. Is there ever a visit from royalty for a game of golf or perhaps a cup of tea?
Last week I had a cup of tea with the Duke of York, Prince Andrew. He came by and he gave me five minutes’ notice and he popped in because he wanted to see what we were doing with the tournament preparation.
We also had at the time here a group of young men and women who had been fighting in Afghanistan and sadly had lost their limbs, so we’re doing a lot of work with them at the moment, because they were all people who played golf and we are giving them access to play golf here. We’re using golf as a vehicle for them to get back to some new form of normality, and we’re also doing work with trying to find jobs for those people in the golf industry, so that when they’re unfortunately leaving their time in the armed forces that they can then earn a living to help get their life back on track.
Michael Darby is head of the Quantum Group of companies. Quantum Golf Solutions, the most recent addition to the Group, specialize in the management of golf operations within golf resorts and clubs throughout Australia. Michael is also Managing Director of Quantum United Management, specialists in owners corporation management within large-scale residential communities such as 13th Beach, Springthorpe and Forest Resort.
Michael was recently voted Owners Corporation Manager of the Year 2010, and also Specialist Manager of 2008 & 2009 by fellow managers, the OCV Committee members and industry specialists.
To contact Michael: (+61) 408 770 083 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was featured in the Winter 2011 edition of Golf Industry Central. Click here to see further stories.