The first day of June and finally the shorts came out of wardrobe for my visit to West Surrey, which sits in the Surrey Hills overlooking some wonderful countryside. I have played the course a number of times over the last four years, as my wife’s nephew is a member and a keen advocate of the club.
On this occasion, I was playing with Neil Gray, the retired Co-Founder of Golf Marketing Services. GMS are one of the leading PR and Marketing agencies in the golf industry and have a great portfolio of brands, clubs and travel clients.
Neil and I first met in 1990, on an infamous Fam trip to Myrtle Beach and we’ve remained close friends ever since, sadly we also share a passion for the mighty, but not overly successful Tottenham Hotspur. We did however share a great day at Wembley in 2008, the last time Spurs won a trophy!
Neil helped me with the PR for Loch Lomond, when I was the CEO, which had its own unique challenges. Neil commented that normally his clients wanted to get the most media coverage possible, but in our case, as the club was going through a change of ownership during the recession, his job was to keep us out of the news, apart from when we hosted the Barclays Scottish Open.
Neil, from Hertfordshire, is a member of Centurion Club and a fellow Top 100 golf course panellist for National Club Golfer. We always have a competitive game, with no quarter or shots given and I could tell he was right up for “The Round with Niall Challenge”. Very kindly James Newman, the club’s General Manager, took the trouble to meet us both, before we went out for our 8.00am tee time and provided us with a much needed cup of coffee.
Having been in the golf industry for 34 years, it’s really nice to meet old and new acquaintances who are running the top clubs and to hear their enthusiasm for the NCG Top 100. All the clubs I have been to so far, have greeted me warmly and I have enjoyed hearing about the work that is going on and how they are all enjoying the golfing boom.
West Surrey is no different, James explained that in his three years there the clubhouse has had a £1million refurbishment, a number of new bunkers have been introduced by Ken Moody (an architect I am not familiar with, but his work is impressive) and the club now has a large waiting list for membership.
Beautiful Summer’s Morning
It had been a while since we had seen each other due to Covid and lockdowns, so it was good to catch up on the gossip and to share news on what was going on in and around the golf industry. One of Neil’s long-term clients, whilst he was at GMS was PING, who very kindly help me with clubs, bag, hats and a lovely umbrella which came in very useful for the wet May we have had. Neil told me that the demand for golf equipment has been huge, so much so even John K Solheim has been helping out on the factory floor in Arizona, just to help keep up with demand. A nice problem to have, but customers might have to be a little more patient than usual when waiting for their clubs.
All square at the turn, we were both impressed by the condition of the course and with the changes that had been made. West Surrey has no allusions of hosting large events, although like many of the Top 100 courses I have visited this year, they have hosted a Clutch Tour event, a series which seems to have really taken off. The club have also worked very closely with the Surrey County Golf Union and supported them by hosting inter-county matches and some of their various championships over the years.
I remember when I worked for the South Region PGA, the club always hosted a PRO Am about this time of year and the one hole that always came up for debate was the 17th , a real marmite hole. Stood on the tee I was 1up and confident of winning the hole, as Neil had put his drive way right into the trees. Following a good drive I hit what I thought was a perfect 6 iron, only to find out that it had flown the green and disappeared into the heavy rough beyond. That left us all square with one to play and as you can imagine, I was not a fan of the 17th, despite the excellent work Alec the course superintendent and his team had done to make it more playable.
Standing on the 18th tee, which I believe has one of the best views for a finishing hole in the country, I wasn’t confident of winning the hole and despite a good drive a wayward second shot did for me. Neil managed to win our game 1 up and now lies second in “The Round with Niall Challenge”. Not only that, as the winner of the match he enjoyed a nice lunch at my expense. As we sat on the very impressive club terrace, which was full of members at 11.30 on a Tuesday morning, we reflected that West Surrey is a perfect members club course, which has made the most of the terrain it resides on and the surrounding beauty of the Surrey hills. The club is financially sound, has cut the number of visiting parties, which are now only allowed on certain days and has a solid management and governance model.
Any society organiser or corporate event company could do a lot worse than choosing West Surrey for their day. I for one will always look forward to my next visit.
Until next time.