Roger Hyder turned professional at Seaford Golf Club and after competing professionally for a few years became the senior assistant pro at Beauport Park GC, one of the busiest municipal courses in South East England at the time.
In 1990 he was headhunted by East Sussex National as its first PGA Head Professional where he worked for a north American management company whose approach to service levels, selling and marketing presented him with a huge learning curve. After working on the first European Open at East Sussex, Roger’s next role was at the brand new Nick Faldo-designed Chart Hills as Director of Golf, later as General Manager.
He then moved to work for Kosaido at Old Thorns, again as Director of Golf, turning the club and hotel around whilst working with the club president, Peter Alliss. Foxhills Golf Club then approached Roger about the position of Golf Operations Manager, which involved working for a private operator at the top end of the golf, hotel and leisure industry.
After seven years, he left to set up his own golf management company. Soon afterwards one of his clients, Canterbury Golf Club, home to a Harry Colt classic, offered him full time employment in the newly-created position of general manager in recognition of his expertise and enthusiasm for the club. Roger took up the role around four years ago and continues to push the club forward as a viable enterprise.
How has the situation been for you and those at your club during the pandemic?
Like all walks of life it has been very interesting period to say the least!
We extended the clubhouse to cater for our expanding conference and events business, brought in house and refitted the Golf Shop and appointed some key staff members just before the pandemic hit and we experienced the 1st lockdown. Having to make some hard decisions such as making some staff redundant, recalibrating the business model and constantly updating and appraising the membership and staff of the day to day situation was particularly draining. Both members and staff were very concerned, obviously, about job security, their health and the viability of a golf club closed for play due to lockdowns.
The other issue that was very frustrating was managing golfers expectations when they returned to play following that 1st Lockdown. Having experienced a very wet winter and an incredibly dry spring and then furloughing all bar 3 of the greenkeeping team for nearly 2 months it was always going to be a challenge. The pressure on General Managers and Course Managers has been exceptional in the last 14 months and is something I have never experienced in my career before.
What key lessons have been learned thus far?
Three words, communication, communication and communication! We were sending out emails to our membership 2 or 3 times a week initially and we phoned all our members over a certain age during those first few weeks of lockdown although much of this was forgotten once golf returned. I was very surprised to hear that several clubs made little effort outside of the initial closures to keep their members constantly updated. I do think people have really struggled mentally with the pandemic and will continue to for some time.
Several clubs panicked as the initial lockdown coincided with their annual renewals and they made commitments which they later regretted as they weren’t financially possible. Giving 3 months discount or a dues holiday only “kicked the can down the road” and several clubs alienated sections of the membership by withdrawing those offers once they had worked out they could end up being ruinous for the club.
How do you see things faring for the rest of '21?
We are reasonably confident that financially we’ll do well this year. The golf “boom” that was experienced last summer has still, to some extent, kept going despite people returning to work following their furloughing. Our concerns for this year are the continued challenges faced on the course which is how to deal with the worm casting and leatherkacket issues created by the banning of certain insecticides.
Given all that has happened - do you think the steps followed by the government have been effective?
It is very easy to criticise when not dealing with all the facts which is a daily issue faced by most Club General Managers. However, overall I think the government has done pretty well when it comes to supporting the golf business and clubs in particular. Once you get over the nonsense about banning the playing of golf which is and outdoor pursuit (and by its nature exemplifies the social distancing rules), the furloughing scheme and business grants was a game changer for so many clubs.
To receive substantial funds at a time of year when most clubs will struggle to break even anyway was a life saver for many. Having said that if the bulk of the lockdowns had been in the main playing season then the impact, regardless of the funding available, would have been catastrophic.
How much interaction do you have with other General Managers in the greater Canterbury region and has there been a desire to work even more closely given the pandemic?
There are several of us that communicate a reasonable amount anyway but with all the challenges that we have faced in the past 14 months that communication has definitely increased. There have been too many occasions where you are left thinking “this can’t be just me/us can it?” so to hear from some of your peers that they are facing similar challenges has been a huge boost mentally.
Has the pandemic spawned a clear surge in golf participation - or do you see this as being simply temporary given the travel restraints imposed?
When everything reopened last year there was a huge spike which I hadn’t witnessed since golf’s boom in the 1980’s. Although it has calmed down somewhat the interest is still there and with our floodlit driving range we have seen so many new to golf returning time after time. Membership enquiries are still flying in so on that score I think golf will benefit in the long term as long as it has learnt its lessons from the past and not get too elitist again.
What issues have impacted your staff and how are you preparing to deal with the season ahead with that in mind?
The negative of the furloughing scheme has been recruitment especially in the hospitality side. With many clubs and pubs intending to make use of the furlough scheme until the end of September, a lot of potential recruits are sitting where they are knowing they have a guaranteed income for the summer without having to actually do anything. A major concern for me is the amount of Course Managers leaving the profession due to stress, and not enough good quality people coming into the greenkeeping industry.
We recently advertised for a Deputy Course Manager and the amount of applications and their quality was disappointing. Fortunately, amongst the applications we did have 3 very good candidates apply and we have appointed the pick of them.
Do you envision a return to normal - pre pandemic - or is the impact from the situation - a clear game changer?
On the golf side I think things will pretty much return to “normal” but I do have concerns with regards to the hospitality sector. I think it will take time for people to feel comfortable again being sat indoors with strangers and in a large group such as a club function, wedding etc. This of course raises questions with regards to your budgeting and staffing levels going forward and any General manager worth his/her salt will build contingencies into any budget that they put forward to their directors.