Meet the new director of golf at Foxhills Club & Resort in Surrey, Sean Graham

By Alistair March 26, 2023 07:39

Graham talks about the changes to the courses he is now overseeing, including creating a new signature hole, and working for a club that has more than 5,000 members.

Foxhills, named after the 18th century politician, Charles James Fox, in Surrey was converted from an estate into a golf club in 1975, and hasn’t looked back since.

Pam and Ian Hayton purchased the club in 1983, with their son Marc taking over as managing director in 2010.

Today it features two highly-regarded 18-hole courses, Longcross and Bernard Hunt, the nine-hole Manor Course and excellent game-improvement facilities.

The two championship courses are regular features in UK top 100 rankings with their superb setting, design and elevation changes, as well as exceptional standards of maintenance.

Combining parkland and heathland-style courses, they each provide a memorable challenge and both have received international acclaim, staging high-profile PGA and EuroPro events.

At the start of this year Foxhills Club & Resort promoted Sean Graham to director of golf, with the 29-year-old set to oversee a major golf course modernisation project which has seen the club already invest more than £1.5 million. Here, we speak to him about the appointment and the forthcoming projects.

Can you give a description of your background and how long you’ve now been at the golf club?

I’m fast approaching five years now working at Foxhills, having joined in 2018 upon returning from a three-year spell in the Middle East. I worked as head of golf operations and retail until just a few weeks ago, when I took on my new role as director of golf.

Prior to working in the Middle East, I worked at the Marriott Forest of Arden as golf tournament coordinator. I graduated as a PGA professional in 2014, and spent time as part of my placement in 2012 at Machynys Peninsula golf.

You’ve recently been promoted to director of golf, how good of a moment for you was that?

Being given the opportunity to become director of golf here at Foxhills is a really proud moment for me. It’s a reward for how hard I feel I’ve worked since joining the club five years ago and it’s also hopefully a reflection of my relationship with the members. I feel like I have a real connection with the club, so it’s a really gratifying moment for me.

This is an extremely exciting time for golfers at Foxhills. The course changes are going to make a big difference to the playing experience. It’s important to us that the courses are enjoyable for all levels of golfer, from low handicappers to mid-high and the masterplan for this project was designed with this at the front of our mind.

Foxhills is making significant improvements to its Longcross course and has plans to improve the Bernard Hunt course also, can you take us through what’s being carried out?

Work at Foxhills has begun on a major golf course modernisation project that has seen £1.5 million already invested.

Following the opening of our dedicated short game area, The Practice Den, and significant driving range enhancements, a major investment and golf course improvement project over the next five years is now underway which will see the biggest structural changes in the Longcross and Bernard Hunt courses since they were designed by Fred Hawtree and opened for play in 1975.

As part of the significant upgrades, the best-in-class greenkeeping equipment has been purchased from leading suppliers Toro and John Deere, which will elevate the conditioning and maintenance to even higher standards.

European Golf Design (EGD), which has redesigned several of Europe’s most exciting golf courses including 2023 Ryder Cup venue Golf Club Marco Simone and the West Course at Wentworth, was selected for the work following a full review of both championship courses with agronomy experts, Turfgrass. The assessment highlighted where playing conditions can be improved and how the course can better challenge the modern style of the game.

Bunker shape and positioning; green size, shape and contouring; as well as herringbone drainage and irrigation upgrade work on holes 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the Longcross is underway, while tee positions will also change on several holes to bring hazards more in play and encourage more strategy and creativity throughout the round.

But it is on the 16th hole where the most complex part of the renovation project will take place, with work already having begun to transform the par three into a signature hole. A pond, which currently sits too far away from the green to influence club selection, will be extended to the putting-surface edge to create a more dramatic hole and an intimidating water hazard from the tee. The size of the green will also be increased to provide room for additional pin locations and a new bunker will be built on the left side of the green to remove the temptation of bailing out.

Phase two is scheduled to begin in summer 2023, with attention turning to improvements across the rest of the Longcross before moving onto the Bernard Hunt in 2024.

Foxhills hosted the 2022 PGA Cup between GB & Ireland and USA in 2022, what was that experience like?

It was an amazing experience to be able to host the competition for a second time. I just missed the PGA Cup that was hosted in 2017 having started just after, so it was great to play a central role that week. It was fantastic for the club and resort as a whole and something I know many cherish.

The courses were in an unbelievable condition. Our greenkeeping team, led by course superintendent David, did an incredible job. Hats off to them for the work they put in during the run-up to make the course in the best condition I’ve ever seen. It’s even more impressive given the extremely hot, dry weather we experienced this summer.

How did the courses cope with the heatwaves in the summer of 2022?

It was a difficult summer, difficult for a lot of clubs. We had to be quite pragmatic in how we managed usage of water, particularly in the run-up to the PGA Cup. The greenkeeping team worked tirelessly all summer to ensure the course was presented and irrigated, as well as hand watered in the driest spots where the course received that extreme heat in the direct sunlight.

Crane fly larvae has been a major issue on UK golf courses lately, has this impacted you and how have you dealt with it?

Recently, we have been fortunate not to have been too affected. During lockdown periods, we did have a bit of bother with crows going after the leather jackets as there were no golfers on the courses so the crows were able to run riot. We have made use of the approved application window of Acelepryn and, coupled with regular aeration and sand dressing, it’s meant that we have fared quite well this year.

What growth has the club seen by way of members and play since then, and what challenges has this brought?

Handling the demand that golf has witnessed as a sport was certainly a challenge through the pandemic. We’ve seen a big growth in membership with around 2,000 new members in the past two years, taking us over the 5,000-member threshold. This has been fantastic for the club but now it’s about continuing to improve the facilities and service, setting that new bar and expectation and continuing to enhance the member experience.

What advice would you give to youngsters starting out and wanting to pursue a career in the profession?

I graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2014. During my early years in the golf industry, I was able to build some very good contacts.

My early jobs allowed me to appreciate a golf department from the ground up, and I think working whatever job you can at a club is vital for moving forward in your career.

As mentioned, networking has always been a really big part of it so I feel you’ve got to make as many contacts within the industry as you can.

What changes do you think need to be made to benefit the industry sector and profession of the greenkeeper?

This is a challenging topic with lots of factors. Highlighting both the importance and level of skill required for modern day greenkeepers so that it’s seen as a desirable industry and profession with prospects and financial reward is key. BIGGA and The R&A recognise this and have started to pedal the message, but it’s also incumbent on employers to make sure the workplace conditions are as good as possible to both keep talent and attract new employees.


By Alistair March 26, 2023 07:39

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