Bob Paisley, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Jeff Fallon?
Driving into The Royal Dublin Golf Club as the sun sets behind Dublin Port on a chilly Friday evening in December, the car park is full to the brim with a sizzling atmosphere audible walking into the clubhouse.
Every club needs a great manager at the helm to steer the ship in the right direction and Royal Dublin has certainly found that in General Manager Fallon who has come full circle in his career in the golf industry to claim the IGTOA Golf Manager of the year award for 2022.
The Sutton native was once a tour operator for Links Golf Ireland so to receive the award from the Ireland Golf Tour Operator Association was a very proud moment for him.
“I was very honoured to receive the IGTOA Golf Manager of the year award,” smiled Fallon. “It reflects all the great work that our team do every day in Royal Dublin to offer the best possible experience to all the golfers that visit our Club. We have a great team in Royal Dublin across all departments and they are led fantastically well by our Heads of Department.
“The golf club is very progressive and the membership provide a great supporting base for the operational team to do their jobs. That makes life particularly easy for me as it allows us, the staff, to focus on continuous improvement across all departments without too much interreference.
“The members take great pride in the Club and when our visitors come to Royal Dublin they get a very warm Royal Dublin welcome from the members who are proud to showcase the course and all the great facilities we have.
“Receiving the award from the IGTOA was particularly meaningful for me as my first proper job in the golf business was as a tour operator. In 2006 I started out working as the Operations Manager with Links Golf Ireland. I think that period has given me a great understanding of the important role that tour operators play.
“As a Club we greatly appreciate all the work that the tour operators put in to promoting Ireland as a golf destination as without it we would not be able to generate the same level of interest for all the great clubs in our country. On behalf of everyone in Royal Dublin, I would like to thank the IGTOA and their members for all the great work that they do to promote our Club.
“The night of the awards were particularly emotional as the late Jerry Quinlan, who was one of the founding members of the IGTOA and a true gentleman, received the Jerry Donworth Outstanding Contribution to Golf Award.
“It was great to have the Quinlan team in the room to receive the award. The Quinlan family have done so much for Irish golf and Jerry was always very supportive of me throughout our time working together. I wish Josephine, Greg and all the Celtic Golf team all the best in future as they build on the great legacy that Jerry has put in place,” added Fallon whose first venture into the golf industry came as a barman at his local golf club in Howth.
Teamwork makes the dream work they say and that is certainly the case in Royal Dublin. Since taking the reins in 2017, Fallon has had a ferocious appetite to develop and improve the facilities with his priority always on the golf course for the members.
Fallon has built a strong team around him across all departments in the club and a bunker renovation project which is already well underway will frame and define one of Ireland’s premier links courses.
“I think having a good team around us the starting point. In my time at the Club I have been able to recruit people into all of our key head of department roles. We have a shared vision of what we are trying to achieve, which is one of continuous improvement. The fact we can all work together towards a common goal ensures the club continues to go from strength to strength.
“The membership, who are represented by the Council, do a great job in developing their Club policies so that is in line with the best in class. The Club are very good at benchmarking against what the best clubs in the industry are doing, gathering all the relevant information internally and then making the decisions that best suit the Club. The Council adopt a ‘club first’ policy, ensuring that they are leaving the Club in the best possible position for future generations.
“No doubt that the capital investment is key to continuous improvement. The Club have never been shy in investing in the Club to strengthen all elements of the facilities. The Club underwent a huge investment project in the early 2000’s when Martin Hawtree did a major course renovation project which was tied in with substantial clubhouse upgrades. Since that time the Club has had made investments every year to further develop the links and other facilities at the Club.
“This winter, we are undergoing a bunker renovation project which is been overseen by architect Frank Pont. The project will bring a much-needed face lift to the bunkering of the golf course as the existing bunkers would be coming up to 20 years of age and over time they have changed shape. Pont’s main focus for the bunker renovation is to restore Harry Colt‘s heritage.
“The design principles will be based around the classic Colt style with the key characteristics being sand faces and irregular shapes. Their positioning should be driven by a return to a more asymmetrical style of defence, delivering more strategic intent in each hole‘s design. The members are very excited about the project and the work is two weeks in and already we can see the new style taking shape.”
Fallon has become a lover of links having grown up around Howth Golf Club and he sees links golf as a great equaliser a prime example being his father (78) shooting one better than his age last year despite not driving the ball over 200 yards.
Like many, he dreamed of becoming a professional golfer but some might say he has done well to hold a handicap of six and balance a stellar career in the industry!
“It is hard to believe as it is nearly 25 years since I started out working in the bar in Howth Golf Club, little did I know then that I was taking baby steps into a golfing career…sadly not the professional playing career I might have been dreaming of back then but certainly a career that I have found very rewarding.
“The golfing community is a great one and I always count myself lucky to work in an industry where people you are dealing with our looking to have a good time playing golf. Such a simple thing but so much work goes on behind the scenes to ensure that people do enjoy their game of golf.
“Being able to contribute even something small to that effort is very rewarding, as we all know what joy people get from the game of golf. In saying that, we take no responsibility for people’s bad golf!! You will have to take up that one with the Club Pro!”
Fallon’s career in golf has taken him from behind the bar in Howth all the way across the Atlantic to Jupiter Florida where he served as an assistant manager in the Fox Club while on a J1 after completing a Masters in Sports Management in UCD in 2013.
The experience gave him a great insight into what American golfers expect in terms of customer service and the Dubliner still applies the tricks of the trade when welcoming overseas visitors and members to Royal Dublin.
“I thought it was my last chance to go away and experience something new. I worked for a year in the States and approached a few people with contacts there and one of them was 1989 Walker Cup player Eoghan O’Connell,” explained Fallon who was reservations manager in Portmarnock while studying in UCD.
“He was a travel agent and would have known me from my your operator days and he said he would give me a job in his club, the Fox Club in Jupiter, Florida and he needed an assistant manager.
“The day-to-day management of a club is very different to what we are used to here. It’s very member orientated, and part of my job was playing golf twice a week with the members.
“It’s a much bigger operation here in Royal Dublin whereas in Florida it was about customer service and we were heavily staffed.
“It was a really good experience. Our main market in Royal Dublin is the American market so that gave me a great insight into what they do expect when they come on site.
“From a personal level and professional level, Florida was a great place to live and it was a very enjoyable experience and would recommend a year in the States to anybody.”
The 39-year-old studied a degree in Media and Cultural Studies in Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and the stable of elite amateur golfers in Royal Dublin has given him plenty to write about in the club newsletter with their own Hugh Foley dominating the Irish amateur scene this year.
Foley became the first player since Darren Clarke in 1990 to win both the North and South of Ireland Championships and will be targeting a Walker Cup berth next September.
Royal Dublin also boasts the likes of Richard Knightly and Mallow Scratch Cup winner Max Kennedy who was runner-up in the Mullingar Scratch Cup and has a pair of top-10s on the US Collegiate circuit.
“Hugh Foley had an extraordinary year this year winning both the North and South of Ireland Championships,” beamed Fallon. The Club have great faith that Hugh will build on that with a Walker Cup debut this September in St. Andrew’s. We hope Hugh can continue the good form as no doubt lots of members will have that date marked in their calendar to go and support Hugh in person and it would be a fantastic achievement for him and a really proud moment for the club.
“The members are very proud of Hugh and his achievements not just this year but over the last couple of years winning majors. He is a great ambassador for the club, a lovely guy and he always puts a positive spin on everything.”
Royal Dublin has an illustrious history and is synonymous with Irish golf. Since hosting the Irish Open in 1894, the course has hosted in excess of 50 professional and amateur championships including the Men’s Irish Amateur and Close Championship and the Irish Ladies Close, welcoming the cream of the crop to Dollymount.
Fallon is eager to build on that history and after two years of COVID frustration the atmosphere is purring around the club again.
“We are certainly going through exciting times at the Club. We saw record numbers of members playing golf during the pandemic and this year it was great to welcome back our overseas visitors. The feedback on the links has been fantastic, with our Links Manager, Alan Hammond, settling in very well with his first full season under his belt.
“We had a great year in the Clubhouse too, with the food and beverage sector also back to full strength following the lifting of all restrictions. Hospitality had a very challenging year, going from relative quiet periods during the pandemic to record levels of footfall and it has been smoothly managed by our Clubhouse Manager, Kevin Canavan, and his team who deserve immense credit.
“The level of vibrancy across the entire Club gives us a great buzz and a brilliant foundation to go into 2023 with.”
A lover of links, travel and a thirst to entertain and welcome, Jeff Fallon Golf Manager of the Year.
A winner alright!