Ian Gibbons was born into a sporting family in Hereford, England and started playing golf at the age of 7. At the age of 16, he started his apprenticeship as a PGA Professional in Yeovil, Somerset under the guidance of Geoff Kite. He has been a Member of the British PGA since 1985, the Swiss PGA since 1999 and is currently the President of the Swiss Managers Association (ASGM).
The Gibbons Story
After I qualified with honours as a PGA Professional in 1989, I decided to move to Hamburg, Germany to take up a teaching position at Golfclub Wendlohe. After three years in Hamburg and a further four years in Muenster and Wuerzburg, I seized the opportunity to move to Indonesia where I took up the role as Director of Golf working for ClubCorp. Intl. at Rancamaya Golf & Country Club in Bogor.
During this time and in cooperation with ClubCorp., my focused moved more toward general Club Management and in 1998 ClubCorp. relocated me back to the UK to manage the Drift Golf Club in Surrey. After only a few months in England, ClubCorp. signed a contract to build a 27 hole golf course in Switzerland and due to the fact that I spoke fluent German, I was given the opportunity in 1999 to oversee the pre-opening phase of Golfclub Lipperswil which lies on the Swiss side of Lake Konstance.
When ClubCorp. decided to adjust their international strategy and exit Europe in 2001, I chose to remain in my current position which, after 20 years, is still exciting, rewarding and very motivating.
You wake up in the morning - what’s the driving passion?
I am privileged to working in an environment that I love, with people I respect and in a country of great beauty. The challenge of providing consistent quality of both service and facility along with meeting high customer expectations is always motivating. Golfers spend their time and money at golf courses and I gain great satisfaction from seeing and hearing from satisfied guests.
How are things proceeding with the golf season given the impact of the pandemic?
The shutdown lasted from March 16th to May 11th. During this time courses continued to maintain their facilities to very high standards whilst respecting all restrictions put in place by the authorities.
Weather conditions were exceptionally good during this period and as courses re-opened in May, many courses experienced extremely high frequencies of players eager to play golf again.
Additionally, due to border restrictions, many Swiss golfers who are Members in Clubs in neighbouring countries, were forced to re-start their season as guests on inland courses.
The largest negative impact due to the pandemic, can be noted in the cancellation of large events and corporate days for the entire season throughout Switzerland. On the other hand, we are seeing increased numbers of Swiss visitors in all areas of the country who are now spending their vacation within Switzerland as appose to going abroad for golf vacations.
With various countries imposing quarantines for those coming from outside a given country how is this aspect impacting financial bottom line realities?
Although golf tourists are in fewer numbers this year due to concerns relating to outbound travel, many courses in Switzerland are finding that due to the increased number of “Swiss Golf Tourists” combined with excellent weather conditions, relatively high revenues can be generated on a daily basis. As infection numbers continue to rise, it is expected that this trend will continue at least into the Autumn vacation period too.
In gauging the mood of the various key golf facilities throughout Switzerland how would you characterise it?
Most facilities have remained very optimistic despite the restrictions imposed. A number of clubs have noted an increase in new golfers and hence new members due to golf being seen as a “safe sport” where social distancing can be observed without problem at all times. Many view the current situation as “short term” and expect a large increase in recovery for 2021.
What key lessons have been learned, thus far, in regards to how things will need to handled going forward in terms of reassuring guest confidence?
Much has been learned in dealing with the pandemic and the necessary restrictions. Courses have communicated exceptionally well with their clientele to ensure that the new situation and the new rules that apply have been clearly understood and are easy to follow. This in itself has instilled confidence in those playing golf as they see how courses have immediately reacted to the situation and place customer and employee safety first.
Swiss golf courses have implemented very clear and precise safety measures for their members and guests. Social distancing and hygiene standards have been put in place and those visiting golf courses in Switzerland are confirming their feeling of safety and confidence whilst at the clubs.
Which specific areas of Switzerland would you recommend a golf trip?
Ticino, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, offers a special “Mediterranean feeling” with excellent courses, warm climate and fine food. Valais is dominated by the French language and boasts some of the best courses and spectacular views including Crans Montana, home of the European Masters. With the language of Romansch only being spoken by some 20,000 people, the Grison region of the country is culturally and naturally of great beauty and significance whilst the central and eastern part of Switzerland is defined by open, low level countryside where German is mainly spoken.
With some 98 golf courses, Switzerland’s regions offer a wide variation of resorts, mountain courses, championship venues and public golf facilities suited to all standards of golf and budgets.
Are key resort facilities throughout Switzerland realigning various incentives to attract guests who may be reluctant to plan getaways and spend the money to do so?
The Swiss Golf Press has actively highlighted to golfers the possibilities of remaining in Switzerland for the summer vacation and promoted all golf courses within the country. Due to the reduced number of events, courses are also in a position to offer an increased number of tee times to visitors. Based upon the increased volume of play and perfect playing conditions, most courses have continued to offer golf at regular rates in an effort to compensate for lost revenues during lockdown. Numerous visitors have stated that they are specifically travelling to regions and golf courses within Switzerland that they have not visited or played before.
What kind of dialogue exists between the key resort facilities throughout Switzerland how significant has that been?
Many courses made use of social media and technology to communicate with each other throughout the lockdown and re-start phases. On a local and regional basis, many clubs have coordinated their contingency plans at a personal club to club level and many uncertainties that existed due to the new situation were addressed via the Swiss Golf Association, Swiss Managers Association and the Swiss PGA.
Golf was already going through major adjustments even prior to the pandemic - what steps do you see being needed in order to attract newer players to the sport - especially among Millennials, women and minorities?
The pandemic will leave a lasting mark on many parts of our lives and not all negative. Digitalisation has taken and will further take large steps forward in terms of communication and administration within golf. From online bookings and payments to electronic scorecards and virtual tournaments, golf is moving quickly in terms of modernisation and accessibility.
The use of mobile phones and social media to organise your next match with friends is attractive to younger people who are entering the game. As mentioned, golf is also viewed as being a very safe pastime activity and this is positively impacting the growth of the game. Even for those who may avoid large gatherings and events, the golf course is seen as a safe haven for sport, exercise and recreation.
You’ve been in the golf industry for quite some time - what’s the best advice you ever received and what’s the best advice you can share with others interested in doing similarly?
I learned at a very early stage that customer relations and customer satisfaction are key to working in the golf industry. If the customer is happy then he or she will return again and promote your business to others without it costing a penny! The more satisfied customers you have, the more pennies you save whilst increasing your revenues. People spend their free time at golf courses and free time is valuable. Golfers are therefore willing to spend money to make sure that the experience is as they expected.
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