Selley on a mission to make Castle’s course the king of clubs

Selley on a mission to make Castle’s course the king of clubs


Rob Selley's mission to re-establish Bovey Castle's championship golf course after pandemic setbacks.

The Bovey Castle Hotel and its estate occupies close on 300 acres of Devonshire countryside. The views across Dartmoor are stunning, the guest facilities sumptuous and the nearest town of any note is 15 miles distant. In which case, it’s not unreasonable to describe this exclusive five-star bolt hole as being in the middle of nowhere. Rob Selley, however, has wasted little time in starting to put its championship golf course back on the map after Covid had taken its toll on custom.

Three months into his role as golf operations manager, Selley has already concluded negotiations to stage next year’s PGA Open Series South-West Open and a couple of county tournaments.

“Half the players in the PGA event will be from the West region, the remainder will come from the rest of the UK,” he said. “That’s key as it gives us national exposure.

“This venue and the course are great selling points and there’s already been some positive feedback and a lot of interest.

“I’ve also agreed to stage the Devon Mixed Championship as well as the Devon Ladies against Devon Girls match.”

Encouraged by his grandfather, a scratch golfer and professional boxer, to take up the game when he was in his teens, Selley, was the archetypal one-club man until he moved to Bovey Castle. Having joined Teignmouth Golf Club in Devon as a junior and started part-time work there when he was 14, Selley rose through the ranks and spent 20 years as head pro, the last eight of which included the role of golf manager. Consequently, he is no stranger to hosting and arranging prestigious tournaments; the similarities between his present and past workplaces end there, however.

In describing his new role and surroundings, the 44-year-old is seated in Smith’s Brasserie, one of the hotel’s two award-winning restaurants that looks down on the golf course and generous portion of moorland where hotel guests can indulge in a variety of activities including falconry, clay pigeon shooting or just walk their dogs. Factor in the challenging course that, designed by J F Abercromby in 1926 and tweaked by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie in the early noughties, meanders alongside the River Bovey, and Bovey Castle is Devon's equivalent of Gleneagles, albeit on a smaller scale.

In short, as at Gleneagles, golf is an important ingredient in the Bovey Castle experience whereas the game and its social spin offs are the be-all and end-all at Teignmouth.

“Teignmouth is a typical members’ club,” Selley reflected. “There are 750 playing members there and 300 social ones compared to a total of just 160 here.”

Despite that disparity in numbers and composition of both operations – it was Selley’s experience of running a private members’ club that attracted him to the Eden Hotel Collection, Bovey Castle’s owners.

“The company has six hotels, but this is the only one with a golf course, so they wanted someone who was experienced in pure golf club membership,” he explained.

“The interview process was quite easy and far from being hard. Both sides had questions and they were very transparent in what they wanted and where they wanted to go.

“They want to increase membership but nothing dramatic. There are not that many people living around here so the membership model won't be like what you would see at a normal golf club. We’re looking at going from 160 to 240 – a 33 per cent increase.”

In terms of prospective customers, however, there are plenty of possibilities, not least due to the hotel boasting 60 luxurious bedrooms and 22 six-berth lodges on site.

“There’s quite a few people on site that will use the golf course,” he continued. “Add to that our corporate members and the potential for society days and golf breaks, and the scope to increase the number of rounds played is enormous.”

Although tasked with that responsibility, Selley has experienced help to call on in the form of Bovey Castle’s in-house sales and marketing team.

“I’m very fortunate in that respect. Typically, as a head pro, you take care of your own social media, do your own advertising and reports. But here I’ve got professional people to turn to.

“If I’ve got an idea, for example, I can knock on their door and get their advice. The group also has a sales and marketing director in Tara Robinson, and I have access to her.

“I've also had some great advice from Dean Gunston, the hotel’s general manager. I've never worked with a professional hotelier before and it’s exciting to know what his vision is. It's about improving everything by a few per cent and drawing business from different avenues.

“He's very forward thinking and very keen to show the course off as he sees golf as a big part of the operation. In that respect he can get things done quickly, which is exciting for me and different to what I’m used to.

“When you want to get things done in a traditional golf club you have to negotiate your way through committees and the process can be quite slow. But here, with a smaller membership and it being a privately owned company, we're able to move fast.”

Another advantage of having a small number of members affords Selley the chance to get to know more if not all of them. Likewise, the hotel or corporate guests.

“It can be a bit of a blur at a busy members’ club and it’s not possible to get to know or recognise everybody. It’s a lot more intimate here and, because of the smaller number, there are more opportunities to spend more time with members.

“The same applies to hotel guests. If a resident wants to do something off-the-cuff such as have a playing or swing lesson or need some advice after a game, we have the staff and the facilities to do that.

“That’s not the case at a normal golf club because there's just too many other responsibilities.”

When you want to get things done in a traditional golf club you have to negotiate your way through committees and the process can be quite slow. But here, with a smaller membership and it being a privately owned company, we're able to move fast.

- Robert Selley (PGA Professional) - The Bovey Castle Hotel

In addition to increasing membership, rounds played and female participation, Selley’s responsibilities at Bovey Castle include managing and teaching two year-three PGA Trainees, looking after the small pro shop, administering competitions, and coaching.

“I've taught throughout all my career and been involved with the juniors at county level and the Devon Golf Partnership.

“My main responsibility for the coaching here will be for hotel residents while my assistant pros will cover the academies, junior and women’s programmes and look after the members.”

Although answering to the estates manager, Selley is also tasked with making the 6,000 yards plus championship course playable for golfers ranging from PGA Professionals and county players who will compete in next year’s tournaments to hotel guests new to the game.

“I'm very keen here to build it is a championship course but make it very playable at all levels, so it needs to satisfy that fine balance.

“Achieving that is all part of the jigsaw that my role is. I’m really enjoying learning and understanding how we’re going to make golf a big part of what we do but also fitting in with everything else that’s happening here. It’s an amazing set-up and I’m really enjoying the challenges and looking forward to what the future will bring.”


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