British Open: The lowdown on KingsbarnsAugust 2, 2017 News & Tour
There's nowhere like this Fife links paradise, as Chief Executive Alan Higg tells Steve Carroll.
They do things a little differently at Kingsbarns. You won’t find any members holding court in the clubhouse. Dress codes don’t apply on this spectacular stretch of Scottish coastline. Every November, the course shuts – and the doors don’t open again for the best part of six months.
Kingsbarns is not your conventional golf course, and everyone involved in its success is very happy it is that way. So what’s behind this unorthodox approach, and what can players – and spectators – expect when the Women’s British Open arrives?
We find out from chief executive Alan Hogg…
What was the process of getting a major?
When I took over, six years ago, my remit was to take Kingsbarns to the next level. That was looking at all areas – and one of those was tournament hosting. Was there anything we could add to already hosting the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship? What could we do to take that tournament spectacle to the next level?
I sat down and looked at what tournament we could attract to Kingsbarns – that would be Kingsbarns-centric. We love being a host of the Dunhill and appreciate our role in that three-course context. But this was the opportunity to have our own event. We looked at the Walker Cup, the Scottish Open, the Amateur Championship.
We work closely with the guys from IMG at the Dunhill and we asked ‘what is available?’ One of the things we wanted
to promote was equality of genders. St Andrews is stereotypically a male-dominated environment. So we asked if there was a women’s event.
We had a conversation in my first year and, by 2012, IMG approached us and said there might be an opportunity, if we were really interested, for the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Our ears pricked up – the opportunity to hold a major tournament would be fantastic. Could we accommodate it?
In 2013, we had something of a trial as we held final qualifying. Fortunately, all the checklist boxes were ticked. The LGU and the LET were of the opinion Kingsbarns would be a great host for the event. We have been preparing for the best part of three years and our infrastructure will hopefully stand the test.
It doesn’t really get much better than hosting a major. We appreciate our position within the St Andrews gol ng hierarchy and never in a million years would we be offered the men’s Open.
For a facility that’s only 17 years old, we are very humbled to be in this company.
How and why was the decision taken to play the 1st as the 18th?
IMG know our facility better than anyone else and it (the back of 18) is absolutely fantastic for spectators watching the golf coming down.
But when you get into how you put 600 or 700 into main hospitality in that area, it would have been very difficult to get the venues in.
Correctly, IMG identified that it’s great to have that as a natural spectator area without spoiling it with hospitality.
If you look at the first, and down the left hand side, with both the simplicity of construction and the views of the coastline, it makes it a special finishing area. So our usual 18th is the 17th and the 1st is the 18th.
We will start the tournament on a par 3 and it’s pretty iconic. That start of a par 3 and a par 5 will be fantastic – just from what nature is giving us.
Going back to the Dunhill, with the pros and amateurs playing, we make the pin positions relatively generous.
This is the rst time where Kingsbarns can actually challenge the golfers with some tricky pin positions.
These guys are good so it means Branden Grace has had a putt for a 59. It means 66 and 67 is almost the average score.
Last year at the Dunhill, for the rst time, we had 15-mile-an-hour winds on one of the days.
From 66, the average score was 69.5. It was the first time it was a little bit of a challenge. We hope the wind blows a little bit for the women and that pins will move to undulating parts of the greens.
Ultimately, though, this is a fun golf course. It was never built as a ‘championship’ facility. The whole idea was to make a fun course. If you are playing a tournament here, we can stretch it but it’s a golf course built for the golfer to have fun on – whether you’re a pro or 12 handicapper.
We don’t want level par to be the score. If the ladies shoot 64 or 65 in a 15mph wind then good luck to them.
Can you explain how membership works?
We don’t have any. It’s a public golf course.
The owners are American and they brought some of their ideas across. They looked at St Andrews – the pinnacle of which is the Old Course – and they saw the supply and demand, with more demand than supply.
It was giving those who couldn’t get onto the Old Course another place to play in St Andrews.
It’s been about accessibility from day one and no restrictions.
It’s not a private members’ club that might only allow 20 or 30 visitors.
We say ‘let’s make everyone a member for the day’.
Part of our concept and marketing is ‘let’s do something slightly different’.
That was a very risky call back in the day but, 17 years down the line, it’s proved successful.
Our daily mantra is, purely and simply, what does the customer expect and can we meet and exceed this? If they come for a once-in- a-lifetime visit, you think of the excitement that some adults and children have going to Disneyland.
Golfers who come to St Andrews have the same mentality. They are going to play the Old Course. They are going to Kingsbarns and it’s about what we can do to make that golfer feel welcome – from the meet-and- greet areas to the 1st-tee giveaways.
How forward thinking was the club?
When I started, we used to be fantastic at getting people off the first tee but we did not have a post-play concierge. I felt we were missing part of the circle.
When you came off the course there was no one there to welcome you. Now, someone will ask you if you enjoyed your day, if you need a taxi back. There is always someone there when you finish a round.
When you go into the clubhouse and have a beer or a burger, our food and beverage team take it on from there. Are you looking for a table downtown? Can we reserve you a table?
You are trying to complete the journey. We are continually looking at ways to say ‘we can do this better’ and ‘what can we try?’ Not being a members’ club, no one is criticising you for trying. If it doesn’t work, it gets shelved pretty quickly. We can try something new every day. If we get feedback that people enjoy that, let’s keep it in. At members’ clubs, you get criticism.
They say ‘you haven’t got a clue because it’s something new every day’.
You have no dress codes either…
We have no dress codes, on or off the course.
We draw the line at bathing suits. We have had no one playing in vests, and no one in hot pants. That’s without having a dress code.
There are no signs that say no jeans, no training shoes. At the end of the day, maybe a handful have walked on in a pair of jeans. If that’s how they feel comfortable, we are fine with that.
If someone wants to wear their cap in the clubhouse, let them wear their cap. We want what the customers want. If they come in wearing flip- flops, if that’s what they put on after a shower, great.
If you walk into the clubhouse, it’s a nice, relaxed environment. We have got free wifi – there are no passwords or codes. If you want to make a call and the mobile is down – we will give you a landline. If their phone isn’t charged up, we give them a charger. We try to get into the mindset of how to make them feel special.
They then walk away and say ‘Kingsbarns was fantastic’.