I first went to The Wisley when it opened in 1991 whilst working for the PGA and was excited to see this American style course that was one of the many debentures funded clubs that were being built at that time.
Since then, many of those debenture clubs have fallen by the wayside and are not even golf clubs any longer but The Wisley has continued to be successful and has a very strong playing membership.
Working with the board members and Wayne during I came to realise how much the three 9 nines and the practice facilities meant to the members. They want to have the very best playing surfaces available 12 months a year along with the very best practice facilities and are prepared to pay for it.
The club due to its location being so close to Heathrow and Gatwick has attracted Many Tour players over the years including Francesco Molinari the 2018 Open Champion as a full paying member. They demand high standards and enjoy the fact that they can putt on greens similar to Tour conditions for most of the year.
The thing I was most proud about when I owned Club Inc. was our Executive Search record with one of the standout appointments being John Lockyer who The Wisley Board chose to become their Course Superintendent and has proved to be an inspirational choice. The green staff have one of the best mission statements “To be tournament ready every day.”
When Wayne phoned to say that he was leaving to head up Isleworth in Florida he asked me to find his successor again a great search but not easy although we would have a great list of candidates to choose from. The only person that Wayne did not know on my initial shortlist was John Glendinning.
I had met John at Close House and had invited him to our European Summit. I had been really impressed how John had worked closely with the owner and delivered one of the best modern venues in the North of England. He was invited for an interview which he later told me was his first ever and was most impressive despite taking 6 hours on a Friday afternoon due to traffic to drive from Newcastle and then jumped straight back in the car to go back home. The board loved John and he was appointed at the end of 2015.
Fast forward to a November afternoon in 2021 where I caught up with him for nine holes and to chat through how the club had progressed through the pandemic. I was lucky enough to be a member of the club for two years and saw first-hand how competitive the membership is and how often the members play and practice. I also really enjoyed the practise facilities with the ability to then play nine holes followed by the fabulous food & Beverage served up by Sam & Kat and their respective team.
John told me that like most clubs during the pandemic the club was really busy. The membership had been full since the mid-’90s with each member owning a share of the club. Some of those members had been members from the beginning and were now finding the course tough to play and with an international membership, there are always members circumstances changing. The pandemic allowed a number of members to sell their shares as the demand to become a member was and still is huge. This brought down the average age of the membership down and increased the share value to £50,000.
John is one of the best Club CEO’s I know and works extremely hard which he has to as The Wisley members expectations are very demanding. They are at the club a lot and have the disposable income to travel and see other top clubs around the world so as to benchmark and suggest ideas and share practices they have seen, and want the club to keep moving forward.
John’s first main task was the complete refurbishment of the clubhouse which started in March 2018 and was completed to a very high speck 3 months later. He has also been busy since arriving working on enhancing the course conditions and playing experience with Robert Trent Jones on the Garden nine which is planned to go ahead in 2023.
The club now in its 30th year had also been ready for a governance review to ensure it was effective in its strategic planning, John and the Board went through an 18-month review before getting member approval of bringing the governance all up to date. The latest new project is to redesign and enhance the Practice facilities over the next few years providing planning consents are approved. The use of the practice facilities is ever Increasing, so plans are to expand the short game areas and re-locate the putting green, enhanced range outfield and build a new range building encompassing café area; performance centre; putting lab; coaching suites. The aim is to offer everything required for members to have no excuse not to improve their golf and have a great experience in the process. The challenge is to make one of the best practice facilities even better.
We played the Church Nine which is known as the hardest, but I think is my favourite and again more subtle changes are happening with a new tee on the 4th (pictured above) which provides a much better alignment to the hole.
John rightly enjoys his job and has a team that he loves working with and believes are some of the best individuals in the business. The course was in great shape for the time of year and it was nice to see a club that is always pushing for perfection and continuing to drive the management team to new heights.
I for one will continue to watch with interest how the new projects turn out and look forward to playing a couple of times a year as I am lucky enough to know a couple of people who can get me out on one of the nines.
Until next time