To maintain the current high standard of golf at Goswick for members and visitors alike over the next decade, the club’s board created a new position of general manager to better focus the efforts of Goswick’s staff to achieve this goal. After a broad search, Keith Martin was hired to fill this role. Keith’s full impact won’t become known until well after he takes on the day-to-day responsibility for the club’s operations — from greenkeeping to competitions to catering to facilities to staffing and more — at the end of September.
However, member Dan Miller had an opportunity for a face-to-face chat beforehand to begin get to know him.
DAN: During the lockdowns and the more extensive COVID-19 restrictions, I conducted these interviews by phone. It’s a breath of fresh air, quite literally, to have the opportunity to converse with you in person. Thanks for this.
KEITH: Not a problem. I much prefer to do things face-to-face if possible. When all is said and done, the golf business is really a hospitality business. And in a hospitality business there is no substitute for connecting with people directly. So hopefully this will help to get my time at Goswick off to a good start. I’m really looking forward to it.
DAN: Interesting that you use the word ‘hospitality.’ That’s certainly something that jumps out when I scan your CV — in particular your six years at Machrihanish Dunes.
KEITH: Yes, Machrihanish Dunes is a privately-run resort course that includes two hotels, five restaurants and managing a staff of 120 people. I started there as the grow in manager in 2006, was promoted to director of golf in 2019 and then to general manager in 2012 for all of their operations. There was a lot to learn but it was a great opportunity for me to broaden my experience and develop my management skills. Hopefully there will opportunities to put some of what I learned there to use at Goswick.
DAN: So you have hands-on hospitality experience. But you got your start in golf as a greenkeeper. I doubt there are many people out there who can say the same thing.
KEITH: You could be right. I would certainly say that greenkeeping is my first love. That started when I got an internship at Turnberry in Ayrshire as part of my degree in golf club management at Harper Adams College. I really enjoyed the work. But I was born and raised on the east coast. So, after I graduated, I jumped at the opportunity to take a full-time job as a greenkeeper on the Old Course with the St Andrews Links Trust starting in 1997.
DAN: I’d like to ask you more about that. But perhaps we should restart this conversation at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
KEITH: In Eyemouth. My mom is from Berwick and my dad, who has since passed away, was from Coldstream. I played golf as a junior and was off a 5 handicap by the time I was 12. My dream was to make a career as a player. I had two uncles who were pros. But I never got better than a 5 and soon realized that I just wasn’t good enough to do that. So that’s when I started to look at the management side of golf.
DAN: Which led to the degree, the internship, St Andrews and Machrihanish Dunes. If the latter was such a great opportunity, why did you choose to leave it in 2016?
KEITH: In part it had to do with hotel side of the business there. It was a good experience, but I wanted to focus more on the golf. Also, Machrihanish is a very remote location and I really wanted to get back closer to my roots. So the general manager’s job at Kilspindie, in East Lothian, came along at just the right time. That, too, has been a great experience — but in a different way as a private members club. I’ve learned a lot over the past five years about seeing a golf club from the members’ point of view. I think that’s going to help me as I get to know the members at Goswick.
DAN: No doubt. Do you have a plan for how you’re going to go about that? Change, even if it’s for the better, can make people anxious. And the club hiring a general manager is definitely a new way to go.
KEITH: Yes, I’m sensitive to that. What I will say at the outset is that I am committed to being as open and transparent as possible. I want to know what the members think. And I will listen to them. One of the ways we did that at Kilspindie was to conduct frequent member surveys. We try to send them out with each issue of our newsletter, rotating the topic from the course to competitions to catering, etc. It’s about delivering a consistent standard across the whole operation. They were anonymous to encourage members to be honest about their opinions. One survey isn’t going to tell you very much. But if you keep asking questions and stay open to the answers, you will eventually get a pretty accurate read on what people think and feel. I hope to do something similar at Goswick.
DAN: Another area of uncertainty is staffing. How do you foresee yourself meshing with the people already on board?
KEITH: It’s a good question but one that I really can’t fully answer until I’ve had some time to get to know everyone and see how things are working. But what I do know today is that Goswick already has a very good team. I mean, (Head Pro) Paul (Terras) has been there 30 years. That says a lot. And (Club Secretary) Rory (Davidson) has extensive firsthand experience in the day-to-day operations of the club as well as relationships with the members. That’s invaluable. My focus will be on making sure we’re making the most of everyone’s skills and strengths and that we’re all headed in the same direction.
So, for example, (Head Greenkeeper) Ryan (McCulloch) is a first-rate greenkeeper. He doesn’t need me to tell him what to do. But greenkeeping is still my passion so I will keep an eye on it and be of any help to him that I can. The head greenkeeper’s role can be lonely and high pressure. I know because I’ve been there. So I will be there to support him.
That being said, I appreciate that I will need to balance the needs of the course with the overall needs of the club. The course is our main product and our main selling point. As a former greenkeeper, my first instinct is to always be cautious and protect the course. But as the general manger, I have to balance that with other priorities. You have to understand that there are two sides to it. The key is to find the middle ground.
DAN: What do you mean by ‘overall needs of the club?’
KEITH: Well, there’s the experience of playing the course. And then there’s all of the other experiences from the minute you pull into the carpark to the minute you head for home. In this day and age, golfers are looking for the whole package. Everything about your day at the club should be enjoyable. I really learned what that was all about at Machrihanish Dunes. It was owned by an American developer that brought a customer-centered approach to the business. That’s part of what I hope to bring to Goswick.
DAN: Were you able to bring that to Kilspindie?
KEITH: Yes, but it took some time to get there. To be honest, I was very happy at Kilspindie and I believe the club was very happy with me. But I Goswick is a big step up. You’re talking about an Open qualifier. I’ve always seen it as the best course in the area. It just has this mystique about it. And I see so much potential. The opportunity to be a part of Goswick and play a role in making a great course even greater is very exciting.
DAN: Thanks, Keith. On behalf of all of the members, let me just say that we look forward to joining you in writing this new chapter at Goswick.
KEITH: I appreciate that. I can’t wait to get started.