I first met Chris Lomas when he was the course manager at The Berkshire some 15 years ago and was impressed by his ambition to become one of the few course managers to cross over to Club Management.
Luckily for me, Surrey has some great courses all in England’s top100 with West Hill, Woking and Worplesdon on my list to review, it is a hard job, but someone had to do it! Chris has now been at Worplesdon for 11 years as Secretary of the club with our paths crossing many times over that period of time and was delighted when he agreed to take up the “Round with Niall Challenge”.
Chris had been a top-level rugby player turning out for a number of clubs including Richmond just as the professional era started. As a competitive sportsman with a handicap of 5 I grabbed the 4 shots I thought I was owed before we got to the first tee!
Tim Lobb has redesigned all the bunkers and from the very first tee shot you could see how much they had improved the course along with the deforestation programme that allows the heather to regenerate bringing the woodlands to life. Unusually for me, I made a fast start and was 2 up after 2 thanks to a net eagle on the second.
The pandemic has brought different types of pressure to clubs and managers some of whom are finding the workload and the lack of governance to be stressful. Whenever I have been to Worplesdon, Chris always looks very calm and in control making his job look very easy but as we all know the best professionals do make their job look easy by working hard at the fundamentals.
Worplesdon has traditionally had a small membership of 400 allowing members to get a tee time despite the increase in demand and providing capacity delivering additional revenue from corporate and society days ensuring the club is in a very good financial state. The average age of the membership is just 49 and significantly 21% of the members have a category 1 handicap highlighting the excellent design and presentation of the course attracting good players to join.
There have been a few changes off the course as well as on it since the last time I played with the administrative offices being built into the pro shop. Chris has his office up front and centre so he can see everyone coming to the club which I found most refreshing. The Pro shop now comes under the ownership of the club allowing the professional staff to concentrate on teaching and club fitting and has a very good reputation.
Moving the offices outside of the clubhouses freed up room for a meeting space which is well used by members bringing more revenue from business meetings and dinners. The day I was at the club, Brendon Taylor one of the most well-known golf agents on the European Tour and a long-time member of the club had hired the room. Interestingly Brendon was instrumental in appointing Chris all those years ago.
One of Chris’s qualities is his networking ability and has become a well-known figure in the club world attending CMAE education adding to his knowledge gained when he was a course manager. With this in mind and a reflection on his excellent relationship with the club’s board, Chris has become a founding partner of a new company called Legacy Golf Advisors providing help and advice to clubs around the world. Chris explained that this fulfils his ambitions of using his knowledge and experience to guide boards and owners who are either new to golf or have been stuck in time.
For those of you who read my review of West Hill, you know that I was so impressed by the presentation and definition. Worplesdon is in great condition but its presentation is different not at clean-cut as West Hill which does not mean it is any less impressive. The course is presented for members, West Hill has a feeling of being presented for tournament golf. I think this gives each course its own character and can’t wait to play Woking in a couple of weeks’ time to see what subtle touches have been provided in their presentation.
Both Chris and Patrick who runs the Worplesdon and West Hill respectively told me that the three courses have a great relationship and compare and contrast notes on many subjects. For those of you from North America if you are travelling to London before heading to play Links Golf in Scotland you will find the three W’s to be a great test and a charming contrast and could be compared to Merion or Pine Valley in some respects.
The Challenge match was competitive with some good shots being played by both of us. The course was a treat to play and I was one up standing on the 18th tee. We both missed the green with our second shots, but Chris produced an excellent up and down to square the match which on reflection was a fair result.
As we returned to the clubhouse for a sandwich overlooking the 4th hole, I once again found the atmosphere to be relaxed but attentive with a nice bustle of members around the club. As with any rugby player Chris enjoys a drink and the next time, we meet it will be my turn to host at Tattam’s, my son’s cocktail bar when the atmosphere might not be as relaxed but any less enjoyable.
Until next time