The 2017 Golf Managers Association of New Zealand (GMANZ) Manager of the Year was Chris Davies from Remuera Golf Club.
It’s a well-deserved accolade for someone who works over 50 hours-a-week, who is passionate about his club and his people and who is also at the forefront of changing the golf club environment for the betterment of the game. The only negative is that he still supports Welsh Rugby and oh yeah – Liverpool!
When I sat down to talk to Chris, we covered everything from how the driving range was going to be expanded and the incredible changes they were making to make it the best range in NZ (you have to read further to find out what’s happening!), how the media and Council can be off-base and the importance of golf clubs being recognised as community assets!
Remuera Golf Club must feel like they are being repeatedly struck by lightening as the local politicians trumpet the golf club as an example of what is wrong with land use in the city. But looking over Chris’s shoulder, I see the jars of honey being sold from the counter and I wonder how many parks or other green spaces are doing that? Remuera, like all other golf clubs, has a vital place in the community, especially with the flora and fauna and as a sanctuary for bird life. The honey tastes great and comes from the beehives on the golf course, which also shows how eco-friendly the golf course is in the local environment.
Chris talks about how he spent two-and-a-half years negotiating with the Council on the rent review. It was a very thorough process and a win-win for both parties, with the lease agreement expiring on 2091! So, from this process, it was very much about how will the golf club could be the best tenant possible of the land and be a great neighbour to the community. Today, the club hosts over 30 corporate and community events a month for various groups and organisation, as well as hosting the occasional wedding. New Zealand Golf and the New Zealand Professional Golfers Association have set up home downstairs and have created a great hub for the game in NZ.
It was wonderful for the club to host the 2015 and 2016 NZPGA Championships (New Zealand’s second biggest Men’s professional golf event). As Chris acknowledged, “As much as we love hosting marquee golf events, we know that we also have to cater for and create an environment where new golfers are welcome and can come and try the game”.
As a youngster, Chris wanted to be an Olympic swimmer and spent many hours swimming up and down his home town pool. This led him to pursue a career in sport. After leaving school, he headed to the Thames Valley University in London and completed a four year Leisure Degree. This then led Chris into a 12-month trainee programme, where he was hired by the local Council in his home town in North Wales. From some great mentors, he learned all about the ins and outs of running public leisure facilities such as pools and gyms.
Chris had loved his golf since he was 11-years old so when the Council took on two local golf facilities, he was asked to manage them. Hence, at 24-years of age, Chris’s career took off in golf course management. Moss Valley Golf Course was a 9-hole golf course and the other facility was a short game Par 3 golf course with a 15-bay driving range. Over the next five years, there were many challenges around maintenance and moving from a ‘fee to play’ model to a more traditional ‘club model’. The local golf association was very conservative but Chris gradually persuaded them that Moss Valley should be recognised as a formal golf club. This led to introducing a membership model and a club structure at the golf course, plus affiliation with the golf association leading to pennant and competition play. It wasn’t long before the members were winning pennant competitions and being recognised across North Wales.
In 1999, Chris was appointed as Club Secretary to Sheringham Golf Club in Norfolk, England. “I was 29-years of age and running a traditional golf club, where everyday I wore a jacket and tie to work in the office. It was an amazing experience. The course runs across the cliffs of the North Sea and had a very active membership. The highlight over this time, was introducing the golf club to change and a tee time booking system. This was a major challenge as members were fearful of what they could lose. However, after three special general meetings, it was fully accepted by the membership, resulting in a 30% increase in greenfee revenue and a growth in membership”. Hosting millennium celebrations, where a week of celebrations saw over 550 people at two dinners and one of the regions major Pro-Ams was a highlight. But in 2002, Chris was invited to apply for a job where he was successful over 85 other applicants.
Ferndown Golf Club, in Dorset, was to be his home for the next five years. Ferndown is often rated as one of the top private golf clubs in the UK. Its is probably one of the most often talked about golf courses, thanks to its favourite son, legendary golf commentator and golf professional, Peter Alliss, who will frequently tell stories about playing his home club. Ferndown is a very traditional 27-hole private golf club with a membership of 400 men and 100 women. Chris increased the club’s stature and importance to the UK golf scene by hosting a successful Pro-Am with many leading UK celebrities and top professionals playing each year. The course is now the southwest regional qualifying course for the British Open.
In 2007, looking for a better life and environment for him and his family, Chris and his wife Danielle immigrated to New Zealand. They had no jobs and only their then two year old son in tow (today they have one boy and one girl now aged 14 and 8). Having a couple of friends living here and with only two weeks of accommodation booked, it really was a new adventure. After settling in the Orewa area, working at a golf club was the last thing on Chris’s mind. He was feeling burnt out from the last few years in the golf industry, however as everyone knows, timing is everything!
After spending the first nine months in New Zealand consulting to an event management company, Chris spotted the advertisement for a new GM at Remuera Golf Club. As Chris says, “the break away from golf had energised me” and a new challenge in a new country was something that really excited him. Three interviews later, he was hired and the last ten years have flown by at Remuera.
After working in the formal club environment in the UK, Remuera was a breath of fresh air for Chris. There were no real traditions, no leather seats and oak lockers but it had a more down-to-earth and relaxed vibe that he appreciated. The club had a progressive outlook and they wanted to evolve from just being a local golf club to being an integral part of the community. For Chris, having a series of very good boards over the successive years with a strong business outlook has assisted in him and the club to be more successful. According to Chris, “Many golf clubs actually don’t realise they are really a business and not a sports club. It is very much about looking after staff, building a strong culture and insuring revenue exceeds expenditure. It just happens that the main business is golf and the customers are golfers”!
Chris is quick to say how fortunate he is that no day is the same. The role is really a “jack of all trades” as it truly is multi-faceted with things for ever-changing. “I love the engagement with the members, staff and public that come to our course and use our facilities. I have also been fortunate to work with many talented people and it is really hard to describe what skill set is most important. In the UK, I was heavily involved with the committee structure, course set-up and agronomy, especially when I was overseeing a complete drainage upgrade at Ferndown. At Remuera, I have learned a lot about golf shop services and merchandising, as we brought the shop and golf services ‘in-house’ and we invested in the upgrade of the driving range. Again, it has also been around the quality of people that I have worked with at Remuera and they share with me the growth and success that the golf club has gone through”.
My goal would be to see the golf club evolve into more than a golf club but a lifestyle experience with further sporting facilities but next is the driving range! We will be extending the driving range, adding twenty bays and installing lights. Being the home of golf for NZ Golf we are fortunate to have many of the country’s top golfers using our facilities so in one way we had to Ryan Fox proof it! We loved the idea of TopGolf so the club will be a creating slimmed down version as we will be incorporating top tracer technology. It is going to be a great way to practice and enjoy the game for the serious golfers and the recreational player.
At times, Chris misses being close to the action in the UK. “I was fortunate to be able to play many of the famous old links courses, and attended nine British Opens and two Ryder Cups and numerous other great golf events. My most memorable experiences were probably in 1993, when I saw Seve Ballesteros win three of the major events in UK golf: the British PGA at Wentworth, British Masters at Woburn and a magical 36-hole final at the World Matchplay also at Wentworth when he and Nick Price shot “lights out” in a birdie feast! Oh yeah, I was also right there in 1994 when Nick Price holed a 50-foot eagle putt on the 17th Hole at Turnberry to beat Jesper Parnevik! Being there to see Greg Norman shoot 63 at Royal St. George was another highlight”. Chris is quietly pleased with what he has achieved since arriving at Remuera ten years ago and is excited about the next ten. “I’m enjoying my role here and the people I work with, plus my role as the President of GMANZ. Maybe the only thing I would change is going from playing golf three or four times a year and occasionally breaking 80, to playing at least once a month with a little more consistently! Oh yeah, Liverpool winning the Champions League and Wales beating The All Blacks would also be pretty awesome”! Nice try, Chris.