I first met Brad Gould when I worked at Tottenham Hotspur. We were trying to establish a golf day at The Grove for Premium Members of the new stadium. Sadly, it never came to fruition, mainly due to the delay in the building programme, but I was impressed by Brad’s professional and commercial approach.
I had been to The Grove several times but only played the course in a society day. As I drove through the gates on a beautiful sunny morning, with the mist just clearing, I felt excited by the energy the venue created.
The hotel car park was full and the golf bag drop was filling up rapidly at 7.30 am with golf bags. It reminded me of Wentworth back in the 90s when every day was busy, and there was a great buzz of excitement to play a championship course.
Having been at The Grove for 15 years, Brad was promoted to Director of Golf in April having successfully fulfilled a number of golf and sales roles. He made it clear he was not a professional golfer as he agreed to ‘The Round with Niall Challenge’. As an 8 handicapper, we agreed to play off scratch, which I had a feeling might have been a mistake on my part.
Small in stature but big in personality, I remembered Brad was from Calgary in Canada so I made sure not to call him an American, but I had also forgotten that he supported Arsenal – it was going so well up to this point!
Brad came over to England after he met his now-wife in a gap year in Australia. It was clear she was not keen on the cold Canadian winters, so he made the choice to come to England.
The Grove was a new venue at the time and the golf operation was managed by Troon International with an American Director of Golf (Spencer Schaub) who Brad immediately had a connection and took him under his wing.
Brad soon found the hotel and the golf operation ticked all his boxes and he thrived in the busy operation, learning as much as he could about the business of golf operations and sales.
The whole arrival and first tee experience at The Grove has a North American ‘resort feel’. It is so professional and fits perfectly with the ethos of the luxury hotel in being welcoming, relaxed and very efficient.
The Grove has no golf membership, it is all pay-and-play, so when the country first went into lockdown it was a scary time for the golf operation.
However, when golf resumed, and members’ clubs enjoyed filling their capacity, The Grove was also perfectly placed, welcoming a growing number of golfers who were not members of a club.
Interestingly, they saw a lot of club members playing there too, simply because they could not take their own friends or guests to their home clubs.
One of the subjects that now seems to become more and more important in any golf operation is sustainability and the protection of the environment.
With The Grove having such a high profile, and Brad being responsible for the courses and the estate grounds, he is one of the leaders within the leadership team, focused on reducing The Grove’s carbon footprint and upscaling the use of recycled products where possible.
When we reached the 5th, Brad showed me Europe’s first hydroponic tee which in short retains water under the playing service and drives it upwards to provide moisture for the turf above. The whole system is powered by energy collected from sunlight with the net result of saving water and electricity.
As you can imagine, the game was feisty like any North London derby. At the turn, I was 2 up. When playing the 9th Brad showed me the three plaques on the fairway where Tiger Woods had driven his ball and went on to make three successive eagles on each of the first three rounds when winning The American Express Championship in 2006.
This Championship, along with Tiger’s win, fast-tracked the Kyle Philips-designed course into the spotlight proving that with the right winner and a great product you can create a lot of history very quickly.
I enjoyed walking the course this time. I had previously used a buggy and was now able to better reflect on the design. Although there are some longish walks between greens and tees, nothing felt too onerous.
Brad works closely with Phill Chiverton, the Golf Course and Estate Manager, for who he has the utmost respect for what he has been able to achieve since helping grow the course at The Grove.
Anyone reading this who is considering a career in greenkeeping should consider The Grove. They have a great record of promoting within. Brad is a perfect example, and the training and work practices have allowed many staff to go on to take prestigious jobs within the industry.
Sorry Spurs fans, I let the side down as my putter went cold with six holes to play and Brad managed to win four holes on the spin with the final score of 2 up to the Arsenal fan.
I loved Brad’s enthusiasm and it is clear to see his personal brand alignment with the venue. As we came back into the clubhouse he introduced me to Anna Darnell, The Grove’s Resort Leisure Director, who I had heard so much about but never had the pleasure of meeting.
Anna, who worked at Loch Lomond prior to me, has the nice job of developing Brad’s continuous quest for knowledge and willingness to please.
My visit was very enjoyable and it might not be every golfer’s dream venue, but it certainly has a place in the market.
Any potential owner who would like to know how to make a golf business not just run, but really deliver on all fronts, should take the time to seek out Brad and listen to his knowledge of every single part of this very large and commercially successful establishment.
Until next time