IN THE SWING
Secrets of the staff at Trump Turnberry
THE year was 1986, and the 115th Open Championship was being staged at Turnberry. The Australian Greg Norman won in front of a huge crowd, with millions watching on TV. “The emotion was the greatest thrill of winning the Open because I’ve never before experienced it to that degree,” said the golfer nicknamed the Great White Shark.
One of the people on the Ayrshire course was a boy named Ricky Hall. “My father was the hole controller at the 15th hole,” says Hall, now 42, “and that was the first time I ever came to Turnberry. I was blown away by what I saw, and aspired to play golf one day at Turnberry.
“I was lucky enough to do that, and as my career became more golf professional-focused – as in teaching and working in the golf industry – I thought it would be fantastic to get the opportunity to work at Turnberry, and that has happened.”
Indeed it has. Hall is director of golf at Trump Turnberry. He has been here since early 2000, arriving as a teaching pro at the golf academy and rising to become head pro before taking his current position half a dozen years ago.
Considerable changes have been made to the hotel and two golf courses for a claimed outlay of £150 million since Turnberry was acquired by the Trump Organisation in 2014. In June last year Donald Trump attended the grand opening. The weather behaved and the redesigned course looked splendid in the sun.
“Having grown up on the west coast of Scotland, having come from a golfing family,” says Hall, “I was well aware of Turnberry, and what it meant to people: it’s a special wee corner of the world. It’s such a beautiful place, and it has only been enhanced in the last couple of years.”
The Open has been held at Turnberry four times, most recently in 2009, when Stewart Cink triumphed over the veteran Tom Watson in a four-hole playoff.
“Fingers crossed,” Hall responds when asked if another Open is long overdue. “We’re ready, willing and able, and that’s all that we can be. At the end of the day we firmly believe it is deserving of that. The golf course was one of the best in the world anyway but what has happened over the last couple of years … The changes have been universally accepted as being something very special.”
Inside the hotel, Rab Armstrong, 53, executive housekeeper, is talking about his job. “Basically,” he says, “I run the housekeeping department across 21 buildings, 18 of which can be guestoccupied, over 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.” That’s a lot of work, I say. “Yeah,” he replies with a laugh. “That’s why I’m bald.”
Armstrong has worked at Turnberry for 35 years, having started as a linen porter. “You have basically 40 per cent structure and the rest is reactionary, which is based on what is happening,” he says of his job. “You can be walking through the front hall and you happen to greet a guest and ask if they’re OK and the next thing they say something that means your whole day is thrown into turmoil.
“They might say, ‘I’m thinking of bringing my friends down – what is there to do?’ and your next hour is filled – giving them a wee tour, showing them what happens, [talking about] the history of the place.”
Armstrong observes that “a lot of money” has gone into Trump Turnberry but “the thought behind it is absolutely brilliant as well”. The designers responsible “were here every four to six weeks, and you can see the difference”.
Of Turnberry’s setting he says: “It’s always beautiful, it’s always phenomenal, even when the wind is howling and you go down to the Halfway House at the lighthouse and have a cup of tea inside and watch the water getting battered off the rocks. There’s always something beautiful there to see.”
Has any guest ever thrown Armstrong with a request? “One time, we were asked by a guest for a big sheet of polythene. I asked where he wanted it, and he said, ‘We can take it up to the bedroom.’ I said, ‘No problem,’ and we took it up to the bedroom.
“They proceeded to take a stag’s head out of the bath. It was a shooting party, and this was the first stag he had shot. And they cut the head off it, and gave him that. He came in, and he still had the blood on his face, and he proceeded to put the stag’s head on top
of the polythene. I don’t know if he was thinking of shipping it home, and how that would have worked … but I was grateful to give him the polythene, so he kept the blood off my carpets.” He laughs again. “That’s probably one of the strangest requests I’ve had.”
Guest experience manager Gemma Scobie, 27, has worked at Turnberry for six years in a variety of roles. Her current post involves “mainly looking after VIP guests, looking after regular guests, dealing with feedback in the hotel. I’m also involved in the front-office operational side of things. It’s an interesting job,” she says.
“It’s fast-paced, but I love it. The guests make every day different. There is just such a variety. You will get people who are here for a honeymoon, or for a one-night stay. There are a lot of people who are here for the golf. You really get to know people, and I like that.”
Her concern for guests is genuine. One couple stayed at Trump Turnberry seven times during the recent renovation, but the wife passed away and, the weekend before last, the man came on his own for the first time. Scobie checked him in and took him to his room, and she spent an hour and a half with him, talking to him. It was an emotional time for them both.
Scobie is marrying her fiance Steven next month. “We’re actually getting married at the hotel,” she laughs. “It just shows you how much I love the place. You look for different venues, and I thought it’s really strange, getting married where you work.
“But actually, when you trust the people you work with, and you know the people who are planning your wedding, and there is nowhere like it in terms of the reviews, and with the new ballroom …” The hotel has been doing “more and more” of these complete wedding packages, she says.
MORVEN Young, 42, is director of resort
sales and events, a post she has only occupied since the start of April. She has worked at Turnberry for 17 years, during which she has been events manager, front-ofhouse manager and manager of the resort sales team.
“The department I run handles all the reservations from the resort. It can be one room up to 192 rooms, and there’s also the golf, spa, dining, outdoor activities, meetings, conferences, events and weddings – it’s absolutely everything.
“I really do enjoy it. Events and reservations have been the two highlights of my career and this job combines them. Every single day is different, which is good – you’re handling different situations every day, which keeps it enjoyable and fresh.”
Besides overseeing the day-to-day running of the department, Young herself deals with high-end VIP reservations, “so I might have direct contact with them and help them with their planning and booking”.
The renovations carried out by the Trump Organisation, she feels, have been “outstanding”. “The place is out of this world now,” she says. “It was something we were needing, and it has been fantastic that they were able to put the money in and make those changes.”
The Trump Organisation says it has spent £150m on Turnberry since purchasing the hotel and two golf courses in 2014
Clockwise from above: director of resort sales and events Morven Young; director of golf Ricky Hall; guest experience manager Gemma Scobie; Donald Trump at Turnberry in 2015; and executive housekeeper Rab Armstrong