• Interview with General Manager Graham Glenister PGA

    • From West London to Worcestershire (Interview by John Ashman)

      JA- Graham, I believe you have been at Ombersley from Day 1: how has your role developed and as your title has changed over the years, how did the job change?

      GG- Yes that's correct. I was interviewed for the role of Head Professional by Rob Dowty and his late father Bob in June 1991. Having received the good news, Sue and I moved up to Lineholt in the August with our two boys Robert & Stuart. I started work just before we opened on 1st September 1991. Initially, my role was to bring a similar day to day golf operation to the one I had been involved in at my previous club. Pay & Play was basically a concept between a public course and a private members' club.

      Overall, the job priority hasn't changed. The objective has always been to provide a friendly relaxed environment to introduce and then enhance our customers' experience of the fantastic game of golf. As we progressed and membership became very strong so the role naturally brought about more responsibility and therefore the General Manager title.

      JA- How much golf do you get to play these days, other than coaching? How does the handicap system work for Golf Professionals?

      GG- I try to play nine holes every week. Over the years I have established some great friendships and in particular a group of fellas from Hartlebury. We have a small society so play a casual roll up nine holes on a Friday afternoon and then play a competitive society day each month through the summer. I play off a 3 handicap in the society which is about where my standard is these days. As a pro I would have to play off scratch in PGA events. These days I would describe my golf as boringly respectable but not good enough to compete at a decent level. I rarely have a terrible day but I don't beat any course records either.

      JA- Where did you play golf prior to coming to Ombersley in the 90s, and how did you come to find Ombersley as your golfing home?

      GG- After my parents moved our family from London to Aylesbury, I began as junior member at Buckingham Golf Club. As my handicap lowered to the required level there, I was then taken on as assistant Pro. I trained and became a fully qualified P.G.A. Professional over the next four years before moving back down south to Addington Court Golf Club in Croydon where I was the head teaching professional in a team of five other pro's. We had four golf courses there and it was extremely busy so I pretty much gave up playing for the four and a half years I was working there.

      From Croydon I moved (with Sue and the two boys by now) to Wexham Park Golf Club near Slough where I was Head Assistant Professional for a year before the move up to Ombersley. The Professional I worked for at Wexham Park was also a golf course architect. We had a great working relationship. He was away from the the golf club quite a lot working on his course design projects. One day we were discussing the latest one in Ombersley. He said he thought I would fit the profile and he would introduce me for interview but I would be competing with plenty of other candidates. And the rest as they say is history.

      JA- I know you still enjoy coaching - is that still the best part of the job?

      GG- It's certainly what I believe I'm best at. I love it. Being a good player is good. But ultimately, that only makes the player happy. Being a teacher and watching someone really enjoy getting better makes me and my pupil/s happy. I was self-taught as a youngster. I was a poor beginner. My course was a long way from home and I could only get there when my dad took me at the weekend. So I spent many many hours hitting balls in a field and learning. Not always technically orthodox. But I did get better and managed to get to a decent level. After turning Pro, I then had to learn how to teach to the PGA coaching manual. I strongly believe this enforced and chance combination of learning, enabled me to understand the game and required techniques for every type of player.

      I passed my teaching exam with a distinction for my knowledge of the swing and my P.G.A. tutor advised me to pursue this as my career path. I have also studied and continue to develop my knowledge of NLP which has been one of my very best decisions. Understanding how an individual thinks and learns best is a vital advantage. We all learn best in a slightly different way. Listening to a pupil is extremely important and gives me insight as to how they will learn both fastest and most effectively. Some people may like to be taught in a deeply technical way whilst others prefer to keep things simple. I'm a great believer in little and often but sometimes I will have a pupil who needs and wants great detail. I could go on and on but the buzz I get from it is outstanding and I feel very very lucky to be able to call it part of the job. I also think my personal struggles when I first tried to play, help me appreciate how it feels when it doesn't come to you straight away.

      JA- You must be proud the way your family's golf talents have blossomed, is it in the genes, as well as them practicing a lot?

      GG- Many more recent members' and therefore readers of this may not know that I have four children in total. Robert 36 & Stuart 34 are stepsons' from Sue's first marriage. They both dabbled at it and are capable. I am proud of Gemma and Ryan as golfers' in single figures but far more importantly, I'm very proud of all of them as good human beings. Only the children know but I would like to think they've all been treated the same and offered the same opportunities in life as well as golf? Gemma probably has the most natural ability but right now Ryan is probably the better player. They may beg to differ???

      JA- You obviously work with the Dowty family closely, and get on well - how do the dynamics of that relationship work?

      GG- Extremely well in my opinion......what else can I say??? whilst trying to still be here after this interview. Seriously though I would say we have a very good understanding of what each party brings to the table. I see my job as giving them feedback from the sharp end so as to help them make decisions on how we progress and continue to offer a product, service and atmosphere which people enjoy and continue to want to use and be a part of. For me personally, I have learned a great deal from their business attention to detail and thorough processes which have seen us stabilised whilst similar ventures have suffered and fallen by the wayside. In my role I try to think and advise as if I were the customer. I think relationships are extremely important and value everyone coming through the gates to use the facilities. I think if we create an enjoyable environment for the customer it has to do the same for the staff. The day to day atmosphere is fantastic. Long may that continue.

      JA- Do you have much contact with other Golf Professionals in the area?

      GG- Not really. I get on with all of them though when paths cross but it doesn't happen very often. I used to go out socially with Chris Knowles at Sapey Golf Club but he's no longer there. Pat Smith at Kidderminster is probably the Pro I talk with the most these days. He's a good Pro but in a totally different role to me. And he supports West Brom so I try to avoid him at the moment!

      JA- What frustrates you most about our beloved game?

      GG- Not a lot really. I think we all get frustrated with players leaving pitch marks but clearly it's not all of us because somebody still chooses to ignore their responsibility.

      JA- Membership continues to develop and grow, when many clubs around the country have falling membership, Ombersley is not cheap, so why is it enjoying this success?

      GG- I think there are many reasons. The golf course is tough enough for a better player but not too demanding for a new player or higher handicapper so it really does offer something for everyone. The fantastic soil structure and hard work of the green keepers provides a good playing surface all year round. You can always use a trolley and or a buggy. For many, golf is not just a means of competition but also exercise and social interaction. Because we are open more than most, it offers consistency as well as value for money. The directors are very much "hands on" day to day and along with the staff are passionate about providing a good product, atmosphere and service. We also value your business and like to reward loyalty and membership. The discount card and our golf shop member only offers hopefully show recognition of this. And I have already mentioned the clubhouse buzz. Another factor is that we have been established for almost thirty years now. Some of us since the beginning! Consistency and sustainability whilst both the industry and many other similar ventures have changed and not always for the better. Sometimes because they may have sold themselves short by trying to price their product a little bit too low or compete in a race to the bottom. The owners here invest a great deal in order to provide the staff with the best tools run a good course and clubhouse. The recent investment in a new buggy fleet is just one example. Course machinery, IT services and equipment, bar and catering, the list goes on. So, it isn't really anything specifically but much more the collective offering which makes Ombersley attractive and enjoyable. I have a friend who until last week hadn't played golf on his own course since 15th September last year!! In terms of membership, offering a varied structure of fees to suit the customer and lifestyle has been a success. Historically, golf clubs charged a set fee regardless of when you were able to play. We believe this offers best value for money.

      JA- Who is your favourite golfer, and why? If you want a modern-day golfer, and one from the past, no problem!

      ​GG- Favourite ever.... Seve by a mile. Totally inspiring box office golfer. Charisma in abundance. After Seve I could list many others who I have loved to watch over the years. Today I like to watch Poulter in the Ryder Cup. And then with my coaches hat on, I like to watch the varied methods of people like Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Bryson DeChambeau. But I really could go on and on. I was lucky enough to play with Ian Woosnam once. That was quite incredible.

      JA- So - a bit about you personally: How the hell did you become a QPR fan??

      GG- That's simple. I was born about a good par five away from the stadium in West London. It's in my blood.

      JA- Where did you hail from and go to school?

      ​GG- About another good par five away from the same stadium. Thomas Jones was my school in West London. I lived just off of Ladbroke Grove which is a fairly well-known area of London. It's full of wealth and celebrity these days but wasn't quite like that in my day. After a while we moved to a home at the top of Portobello Road which has a famous Street Market and scene of the film Notting Hill.

      JA- How did you capture the lovely Sue?

      GG- Sue enrolled onto one of my golf beginner classes when I was in Croydon. She showed promise on and off the course!!! Quite simply the best decision I ever made in my life. We celebrate 30 years married this year.

      JA- What is the best place in the world you have visited?

      GG- I can't answer this one too quickly. I love London because it's where I was born. Also, the history is unbeatable. I love Portugal for holiday, food and golf. America for service and hospitality. Sue and I are off to Santorini in May and I am really looking forward to that. But I would have to say that overall, I really love Great Britain and in particular Worcestershire. I feel very lucky to live and work here. In fact, I sometimes feel the natives take it for granted. I have relations who pop up each year and they love it too.

      JA- Back to business - What improvements would you like to see at our club? What are your goals?

      GG- I think more than anything else I want to continue to see the development of everything we have to offer. It's difficult to pinpoint something specific because we are so dependent on things like the weather for example. My goal is to offer the very best level of service and enjoyment opportunity for every single person who walks through the door.

      JA- A lot of water has gone under the bridge (and on to the course!) over the last 30 years - what is the best achievement and are there any regrets?

      GG- I think the best achievement has been to open, operate and sustain a business change from farming to golf through two recessionary periods whilst adapting to significant industry and lifestyle changes. As I have already mentioned, many similar ventures have seen change of ownership and or complete closure during the period. It's important to stress that I am only a "cog in the wheel" of that achievement and it is very much the team attitude that sees us where we are.

      I'm not one to focus on negatives so I don't have regrets as such. Personally. I would like to have been blessed with a "smiley face". I sometimes look very serious when I'm concentrating. I can't say I'm misunderstood because it's the impression I give. But underneath, I am actually a very happy person who feels lucky, loves his job and the working environment. I have many things to thank my parents for but growing up in a very big family in competitive London meant a "poker face" protected you. I try to let my inside out and smile more these days. But I am not always great at it so don't hold it against me.

      JA- One last one for now, sorry if this is a bit controversial. We can rephrase however you want and you reply as you see fit. Or not if you prefer. Our course rightly gets so much praise about it's excellent condition. I know you will give the guys in the green staff team your full backing, and again, quite rightly so, BUT… do you not think we have pushed our luck by playing on it right through the bad weather this winter? The greens have taken a hell of a pounding with lazy golfers not repairing pitch marks etc., should we have closed a few more times, or certainly been on temporary greens more often. Buggies have clearly not helped, but the tractors to are taking their toll too. What are your thoughts?

      GG- If I were trying to be clever here John, I would suggest you may have put some of your own thoughts in here and should be better employed on BBC Question Time!!! The first thing we can all agree on is that the green staff do a fantastic job as you quite rightly point out. They are very well supported by​ owners who invest a great deal of time and money along with the best tools and machinery available. I suppose the play off or question will always be how good or bad would the course be if different decisions were made? Everyone has their own opinion and ultimately the golf course is maintained by Andrew Halfpenny and his team. To date they have done a fantastic job keeping the course open and playable. I hear regular horror stories from players elsewhere and can only say I have complete trust in what we do. At the end of the day, people vote with their feet and although it may be a little messy at times, it offers a game of golf and a bit of light entertainment during the winter months. I am delighted to say I have played every Friday so far this year and am very grateful as well as proud to be able to do it.  

      JA- I vary my time of playing, and it has certainly been the subject of conversation in more or less every round I have played with a lot of different members.

      GG- I think this is completely understandable. It's also part of our British culture isn't it? We love to talk about the weather. Because it's so unpredictable. But the truth is nobody really knows what it's going to be like tomorrow, this week or even this year?? Some really difficult decisions have to made and it's very easy to look back afterwards and say I told you so. So, here are a few questions of my own. Is the really wet winter the start of climate change?? If so, what happens if it's even worse next year?? Or is it all a myth and simply a wet winter???

      Either way, it is my belief that maintaining a fully open and operational golf course and business which can provide enjoyment to as many people as possible in fantastic surroundings and with a great atmosphere, has to be the number one objective going forwards. Finally, thank you for your questions.