Meet the managing director: Alistair Robertson

Meet the managing director: Alistair Robertson

On the subject of golf, Aberdeen is uncommon in its property and in addition in its strategy to their administration. Alistair Robertson, managing director of Sport Aberdeen, explains how Golf Aberdeen, the company that manages town’s golf services on behalf of Aberdeen Metropolis Council, is constructing a vibrant future for municipal golf on the foundations of an illustrious previous.

Alistair Robertson

Municipal golf is a time period that comes with some baggage. Even in Scotland, the place the traditions of regionally owned and managed programs is extra firmly embedded than in many of the remainder of the UK, municipal golf carries some adverse connotations.

Nevertheless, in Aberdeen, the place town owns and manages 4 18-hole programs and a number of other different golf services throughout three separate venues, the concept of public programs being among the many best programs out there has held its personal and, with a brand new technique for the sport being carried out by Golf Aberdeen, municipal golf is combating again.

Alistair considers that public golf performs an important position on a golfer’s journey; “Most golfers begin to study the sport on these programs, and they’re accessible for all, particularly the place value is worried. Whereas the Previous Course in St Andrews is the best-known public course on the planet, and the truth that PGA Tour additionally makes use of municipal programs, public programs will not be all the time appreciated.”

Aberdeen’s golf programs will not be an anomaly. Town has an extended custom of taking and demonstrating nice satisfaction in its parks and horticulture. Beneath the watchful eye of the park’s superintendent, town’s golf programs had been constructed and maintained to the very highest requirements as a matter of civic satisfaction. That its 4 publicly owned 18-hole golf programs included a few of the oldest and most traditionally important programs to be discovered anyplace, dwelling or overseas, was accurately, a mirrored image of Aberdeen as one in all Nice Britain’s nice cities.

Though a lot has modified inside native authorities in latest instances, this legacy of golf as a part of town of Aberdeen’s heritage stays intact. The problem for Golf Aberdeen, the organisation charged with duty for town’s golf services on behalf of Aberdeen Metropolis Council, has been to determine how this legacy is greatest managed and maintained to make it sustainable. Alistair confirms; “Now we have labored very onerous in recent times to improve the programs we function, and I consider what we provide to the golfers of Aberdeen can and does compete with that of native non-public golf equipment.”

It might appear outlandish now however within the early Nineteen Twenties town had been in a position to fee one of many world’s most celebrated golf course designers in Dr Alister MacKenzie, to construct a course on town’s personal land. It was the costliest course in-built Britain on the time. Virtually a century later, such large-scale capital investments are uncommon in native authorities and the presence of a number of celebrated golf programs within the metropolis council’s portfolio creates one thing of a dilemma. In instances of native authority retrenchment do such property symbolize a menace or a possibility? Is town of Aberdeen’s affinity with the sport of golf now a bounty or a burden?

There are not any simple solutions however, having rigorously thought-about the questions, Golf Aberdeen has embraced the alternatives this legacy presents. With the help of town council and its varied stakeholders, Golf Aberdeen devised a five-year technique based mostly on funding, engagement and promotion. The purpose was to get the absolute best use of those distinctive property and develop a long-term future for golf within the metropolis. Though nonetheless within the preliminary phases of implementation, it’s a technique that’s starting to attain outcomes.

The technique’s place to begin was the programs themselves. Even in Scotland it’s uncommon, maybe distinctive, to search out 4 programs of such high quality, selection and historical past in such proximity. A couple of minutes from town centre is Balnagask, which is located in a conservation space with gorgeous coastal surroundings. Extensively recognised as among the best municipal 18-hole programs in Scotland, Balnagask consists of the names of Archie Simpson, James Braid and Hawtree and Son amongst these concerned with the structure and subsequent redesigns since its basis in 1905.

Hazlehead has two programs set inside its parkland, the Pines course and the MacKenzie Championship course. The Pines was prolonged within the early Seventies by a design crew led by Brian Huggett, Neil Coles and Roger Dyer, then among the many very greatest names in European golf.

Its sister course, the MacKenzie, is moderately more difficult. Specified by the Nineteen Twenties by Alister MacKenzie, whose portfolio included Augusta Nationwide, Cypress Level and Royal Melbourne, it stays a championship course in each identify and character.

Down by the beachfront, within the coronary heart of town, is the Kings Hyperlinks, first developed right into a course in 1872 and with a historical past that stretches again to 1780 when it was a part of one of many first correct programs laid out for play; there may be additionally proof to counsel that golf was performed right here a century and a half earlier than that.

Whereas these programs comprise a exceptional and vital asset for town, Golf Aberdeen was all too conscious that if this historical past was to have a future it needed to meet the wants and expectations of the trendy golf surroundings.

Alister MacKenzie

One of many first strands of Golf Aberdeen’s technique was a recognition that attaining and sustaining the very best attainable requirements in course upkeep was important to any future success. Funding in elevating the requirements of the programs, with a deal with the greens, golf’s equal of the acid take a look at, was due to this fact one of many first levels of implementation.

After a few years of concentrated consideration on upkeep points, together with some main funding within the drainage programs at Hazlehead, all the metropolis’s programs are actually noticeably improved after £500,000 of added funding. This was a big dedication by the charity, some extent not misplaced on European Tour golfer, David Legislation, who performed the MacKenzie Championship after golf returned from lockdown.

He mentioned “The course was in nice form, the greenest and driest I’ve ever seen it! The protocols put in place by Golf Aberdeen had been very easy to observe and it was unbelievable to see so many individuals out and having fun with golf once more safely. Enormous credit score to Golf Aberdeen for getting us all on the market at this time. I’ve obtained just a few weeks left at dwelling earlier than the European Tour begins up once more and having Hazlehead on my doorstep will actually assist get my recreation sharp for the restart.” Paul Lawrie has additionally performed not too long ago, one other nice endorsement.

Nevertheless, simply when issues had been going so nicely, the Kings Hyperlinks Course was pressured to shut following the misguided chemical utility to the greens, coupled with flood injury attributable to a burst sewage pipe following torrential rainfall within the metropolis.

Alistair defined what occurred; “Sadly, there was a mixture up in chemical compounds which led to greens being sprayed inappropriately. It reveals how shortly issues can flip and as all within the trade know, a course is judged by its greens, so this was a catastrophe and we needed to shut the course mid-August.

“I met with the managing director of the golf course upkeep firm, idverde, to think about choices. He accepted full duty and confirmed that the course can be totally reinstated no matter value and instantly appointed an STRI specialist to supervise the work.

“Further greens workers have been introduced in together with an additional head greenkeeper to deal with this work. This has allowed us to reopen the course with the primary greenkeeping crew making ready enhanced non permanent greens, so the golf equipment can get some golf. Medals and membership competitions have been relocated to one in all our different programs, which has been appreciated by golf equipment.

“idverde’s response couldn’t have been higher, and I’m grateful for that which emphasises the good thing about our partnership strategy, which is taken into account distinctive throughout the trade. The ‘specification’ and ‘shopper / contractor’ mentality has lengthy been deserted, changed by a strategic strategy that ensures the required greenkeeping experience and expertise is utilized in any respect programs. They’ve additionally dedicated to enterprise extra enchancment works to reinforce the course partly compensation for the incident. I’m assured that it will likely be again higher than ever within the spring.”

Q&A with Alistair Robertson

Are you able to inform us a bit about Sport Aberdeen / Golf Aberdeen – how did it come into existence and what does it do?

Sport Aberdeen is an award-winning registered charity created ten years in the past to handle, develop and function all the game and leisure services and programmes within the metropolis. Known as a leisure belief, now we have an in depth portfolio of 30 services, a broad vary of sport and bodily exercise growth programmes which employs over 600 individuals. We even have duty for the strategic planning framework for sport and leisure, together with its infrastructure. Our turnover in 2019/20 was £14 million.

What makes Sport Aberdeen completely different from many different sport and leisure suppliers is the truth that each pound generated is reinvested again into the communities we serve.

Our golf division, Golf Aberdeen, was rebranded in 2014 as a part of a five-year growth plan, centered on two key aims; enhance the standard of the programs and the enjoying expertise, and develop the membership. It manages 4 of probably the most gorgeous public 18-hole golf programs within the UK; the MacKenzie Championship Course, Hazlehead Pines, Balnagask and Kings Hyperlinks, plus a unbelievable nine-hole course at Hazlehead.

What does your position contain? Has it modified over the previous couple of years?

I’m liable for main the corporate and report back to the board of trustee administrators. With such a broad vary of services providers, no day is similar and I actually benefit from the selection; someday might be centered on main capital tasks, the subsequent workforce growth or strategic planning and naturally proper now, it’s the reactivation of the providers which might be in part 4 for reopening.

I’m lucky to have a fantastic administration crew and it retains the varied areas of enterprise working easily. That enables me to take care of an in depth community of companions and enterprise stakeholders, together with traders / funders, so key areas for me are enterprise growth and relationship administration. Aberdeen is a thriving metropolis so I’m additionally concerned in supporting different businesses throughout the metropolis, together with the council and serve on a number of boards and enterprise boards.

Firm governance is one other key space, managing and making ready for a busy schedule of board and committee conferences, all of which have complete efficiency reporting necessities.

As we obtain round 35 p.c of funding immediately from town council [fee for services provided] now we have confronted further stress as public finance turns into extra stretched and that can proceed. We’re always reviewing our work and strategy, to try to discover efficiencies and financial savings as we wish to maintain as many providers as attainable. We proceed to be progressive and inventive and take a industrial strategy to all we do, however with a really clear emphasis on assembly our social and charitable obligations. It’s a troublesome balancing act that’s getting tougher.

What had been your experiences like as we entered the lockdown? How fearful for the long run had been you?

The quick fear was sustaining the workforce and jobs. We had been initially ineligible for the Job Retention Scheme and with out it we had solely months to outlive. These had been darkish days as I actually couldn’t see how we may keep away from important redundancies and the everlasting closure of services, which may have included golf programs.

Fortunately that modified once we had been in a position to furlough workers, some 511 in whole, so now we have had that lifeline. Nevertheless, regardless of that now we have projected a £6.5 million lack of revenue for the yr so we nonetheless have a significant problem forward and a way off being sure about the long run. The leisure sector has all the time been resilient and in a position to reinvent itself, however this can be a problem like no different.


How had been the programs maintained through the lockdown?

We’re fortunate that some elements after all upkeep had been attainable, so we mentioned early on with our companion contractor, idverde, what can be possible. Protecting greens so as was the precedence, and regardless of restricted sources, they’ve accomplished a fantastic job.

How busy have the programs been since they reopened? Have you ever had a rise in members?

The response was unimaginable. Our on-line reserving system crashed on account of demand and throughout the first month of reopening we had welcomed over 10,000 golfers again to our programs, which was the busiest the programs have been within the 40 years. Some stats embody:

  • 16,000 rounds performed in June
  • Course capability at 98 p.c occupancy by way of June and July
  • Round 700 new memberships had been bought in June and July
  • Demand was so excessive that pay and play was not attainable, with all instances pre-booked by members
  • Roughly £200,000 in extra revenue was generated in June and July alone.

How have the venues tailored to the brand new social distancing tips? What was it like reopening the clubhouses?

We spent a big period of time on reopening preparations, following all related golf NGB protocols, with signage, further workers and hand cleansing stations. Identical to most golf equipment I’m certain.

Full briefings had been issued to golf equipment and members in addition to throughout the Golf Aberdeen e-newsletter and on our web site. We determined to have on the right track marshals on buggies to watch and help gamers in adhering to the rules and that has been appreciated by the golf equipment and gamers. It ensured that gamers saved to the fitting tempo of play, once more a constructive as three hours was the common spherical pace.

Two golf equipment have reported a constructive expertise with members being very compliant with restrictions. Three golf equipment haven’t reopened as their workers stay on furlough and indications are that they may keep closed till all of the restrictions are lifted, reopening subsequent spring.

Are you seeing a special kind of golfer at your venue now?

With golf initially being one of many few sports activities again in full operation, it rekindled curiosity in lots of former or very rare gamers. We survey our customers repeatedly and the outcomes inform us that the sport is valued greater than earlier than for train and well being advantages. Now we have additionally seen a larger degree of household golf, maybe a by-product of family restrictions and being launched from lockdown.

How have the non-golfing income streams on the venues, such because the bars and eating places, been impacted in the previous couple of months?

The golf equipment which might be open are providing a restricted provide with lowered opening hours. They’re making an attempt to handle expectations and work inside a revised monetary plan.

Do you assume the golf trade will completely be modified because of what’s occurred and, if that’s the case, in what means?

As a membership member myself [Royal Aberdeen], I can see some variations that can in all probability be round for a while; some good, some unhealthy. A giant constructive is that the membership now provides full seven day on-line reserving through BRS. This has enabled higher time administration and improved the planning for video games.

At Golf Aberdeen we’re pushing the pre-payment and our on-line reserving possibility, though we’re nonetheless taking bookings by cellphone and fee on the day, as some desire that – it is crucial that we provide that to the older gamers who’re much less assured with digital life.

The restrictions have additionally led, by necessity, to extra automobile park golfers and I do fear that members will drift from the routine of a pre and put up golf go to to the clubhouse, significantly as most now arrive able to play. That aligned with three to 3 and a half hour rounds has knocked a good period of time off a typical day’s golf and lots of will wish to proceed with that format.

There’s been a latest development within the trade for golf golf equipment to promote a few of the land they personal to housing builders. As Aberdeen is a sought-after metropolis, is that this one thing you’ll take into account?

Luckily, town has a fantastic golf heritage and the standard of our public golf programs and the numbers enjoying, bucks the UK development. The programs are in public palms, so not prone to a members’ sell-off. The places and programs are iconic, particularly when designed by celebrated golf architects like Braid and MacKenzie, so for a wide range of causes it could be very troublesome to see planning consent for any type of growth.

Do the venues provide different variations of golf, reminiscent of footgolf or speedgolf?

Now we have a footgolf course that has been extremely popular and is a good household and group exercise that has made good use of a redundant 18-hole pitch and putt course.

The golf equipment run their very own competitions, open days and occasions and these are deliberate on the golf discussion board and organised with our golf supervisor. The golf equipment have accomplished speedgolf, nine-hole variations and night time golf as a means of making an attempt one thing completely different.

What do they do to draw girls and youngsters?

All programs are totally accessible each from an equality and pricing perspective. Now we have labored with golf equipment to encourage linkages with colleges and junior growth, by way of Tri-Golf and Scottish Golf’s Get into Golf programme. We additionally provide free golf for youths that full a training programme and two golf equipment additionally play their half with free membership. This has had some success.


Just one membership has accomplished nicely with recruiting feminine gamers, which is historic. We’re happy to see the women’ part thriving at Hazlehead and we’ll proceed to work with the golf equipment to draw extra girls to the game.


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