Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore has become an icon in world golf. Perhaps the uniqueness of its location; on a paradise island, adjacent to the world’s largest port and a headline attraction in one of Asia’s most prolific modern metropolises, has provided the ingredients to propel the golf club into the spotlight. It isn’t until you look a little closer you realise the club has a special aura. Its pioneering position has established the club as a regular feature across world course rankings and its major event profile is unprecedented.
Andrew Johnston has become one of the club’s central figures. Few people exude a passion for the great game as much as Andy, with unparalleled knowledge and a desire to lead the golf industry into a new era.
Despite the pressures of overseeing the club’s season opener, the SMBC Singapore Open, Andy sat down with Golf Business News.com to share insights into what makes the club tick and what 2018 holds in store.
What’s a day in the life of Andy Johnston like during tournament week?
Tournament time is full on! Anyone who hosts Championships of this calibre will know it is a 24/7 operation. I’m up around 3 o’clock in the morning and at the club by 4, briefing the team, trying to anticipate what Mother Nature has in store for us and getting into the set up details.
It’s certainly a week to put your multi-tasking skills to the test. We naturally want the players to have the best experience possible and we wear the condition of our courses as our badge of honour. Equally we want the service standards to hold up, despite the influx of visitors and of course have our New Tanjong Course which is open to our members.
The sheer number of different moving parts really ensures that no day at Sentosa, especially during championship week, is a dull one.
our relationship with Sentosa Golf Club is a special one. Can you explain a bit about the relationship you have with the club, and why it means so much to you?
Sentosa is in my DNA. There’s something about this place that I’m just connected to. I’ve been at this facility, in and out, since 2005, and full time since 2010.
Having first been involved as a consultant from an agronomy and design standpoint, my role has evolved into Director of Agronomy and General Manager of the club.
Balancing the two is something that I take very seriously, and so the start of everyday for me is spent with my greens teams out on the courses.
The rest of the day will be spent in the office, looking after all other club matters. I’m fortunate enough to have a great team, who I believe to be the best in the world of golf, and without whom none of what we’ve achieved as a club would be possible.
I’ve worked at hundreds of facilities all around the world in my time, either designing or consulting, but this one just feels like home.
Sentosa has a rich heritage in hosting events. 2018 is a big year for you with four headline events. Is there anything you are doing differently this year?
We have embarked on an activation program for this year’s events in an effort to convey and promote environmental sustainability in golf management, whilst endeavouring to nurture the game through some unique benefits to local junior golfers.
#KeepItGreen was conceived as a vehicle for us to turn the attention to topics we believe are critical for the future of the game. The campaign has been designed to mirror initiatives that we share in common with our partner, The R&A. Our campaign compliments The R&A’s GreenLinks programme, as well as supports its efforts in growing the game around the world.
Events bring the broadcast and turn the attention on Sentosa for the week. This year we really wanted to take advantage of that fact and build something that would give back and help build positive sentiment.
We are tracking the number of rounds hit in regulation by headline player, Gavin Green, and equating this to the number of free rounds the club will give away to junior golfers. This is a great way to ensure a legacy for this event and, hopefully, create a new discourse on what Sentosa Island and the golf club stand fo
You have enjoyed a special relationship with the R&A?
We’re very humbled to be a close partner with The R&A. Having them here in our Clubhouse as their home of Golf for Asia is a huge honour.
The events that will run throughout 2018, the next after the SMBC Singapore Open being the inaugural Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship, have enabled us to develop a really strong relationship with the game’s governing bodies. Being able to host the first event of its kind is again a massive privilege, especially with what’s at stake for the competitors in February’s event.
It’s set to be a life-changing week for one competitor, who will get the single spot on offer for the HSBC Women’s World Championship, also to be held at Sentosa the following week. Likewise, she’ll win a place in the The ANA Inspiration, as well as the Ricoh Women’s British Open, which this year will be held at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s.
To be able to give a female amateur the chance to compete at two Majors this year, at the very first instalment of the event on one of our courses, is just fantastic.
Later in the year, in partnership with Augusta National, the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation as well as The R&A once more, we’ll host the 10th edition of the Men’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. Again, this event provides a great springboard into the big time for one lucky amateur, who’ll receive a prized spot at the 2019 US Masters, as well as a trip to the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
So, four events in one year sounds like a big undertaking, and it is. But if anyone can handle it, it’s us. Being offered the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of The R&A and Augusta National, and create truly special partnerships, really is the biggest thrill any club could ask for.
One constant at the club is the condition. You are regarded by most as the pioneering property in agronomy. What is the motivation behind this?
I think the motivation is always to be the best, and to have a property here that we are all proud of. This stems from the heritage of the club, and the beliefs it was founded on, but also looking forward and ensuring we create a legacy for the future, positioning Sentosa at the top of its field and providing inspiration to golf clubs all around the world.
Having said that, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the constant support of our committed ownership, who completely understand the importance of quality and how world class conditioning sets a club apart from the rest. They’ve given us permission, and the resources to seek out innovative practices and to apply our knowledge and introduce new techniques.
From my perspective, I want to Sentosa to be known as a pioneer in its maintaining of the best possible conditions, and in the most environmentally sustainable and unobtrusive manner.
What makes Sentosa Golf Club so distinct in your eyes?
It is a combination of factors in my eyes. We have two world-class golf courses in the Serapong and the New Tanjong. They really frame the club and are distinct from one another, but there’s a harmony between the two that balances the experience for our members and guests.
There is a storied history to Sentosa Island that I think adds a certain mystique. Remember, the club is relatively young in comparative terms. When you compare to the company we hold in some of the world rankings, we are still the youngsters.
The team is also an important contributing factor. We all share a common passion for the club and its success.
The Singapore Open Agronomy Volunteer Programme is a project you’ve endorsed throughout your time at Sentosa. What does the initiative offer its participants?
The Singapore Open Agronomy Volunteer Programme is in its seventh year and this year has welcomed 50 participants from around South East Asia, and as far afield as the UK, Canada and Australia.
The principle of the program is to expose volunteers to principles in agronomy practice that we believe are vital in improving the understanding of sustainable environmentally sensitive practice.
Education has been the foundation of the program and this year is no different. We have Steve Isaac, Director of Sustainability at The R&A, addressing volunteers on their GreenLinks programme and key aspects of their approach to sustainability in the game and agronomical practices. Likewise, Jonathan Smith, of Golf Environmental Organisation, is with us and has been sharing the work they are doing with developers and governments to create new benchmarks for best-practice to ensure minimal environmental impact.
Alongside first-hand experience of working with the Sentosa team, and an invaluable education with insights from the game’s thought-leaders, we also offer the team a chance to vote for their ‘Superintendent of the Week’. The chosen one, will form part of The R&A’s greens team at this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open. A great prize and one that is cherished by all previous winners of the award.
Andy Johnston, thank you very much Bio.jpg