When Elliott Gray arrived at Tanah Merah Country Club as its new General Manager in January 2022, the PGA Club Management diploma holder was the fresh pair of eyes the exclusive Singapore golf and country club needed.
The property had just undergone a redevelopment of both its par-72, 18-hole Tampines and par-71, 18-hole Garden championship courses, which sit on opposite sides of the East Coast Parkway near Singapore Changi Airport.
"My objective was to build on that by enhancing the member’s journey and experience and put the property back on the map," Gray tells The CEO Magazine.
After close to two decades in the Middle East, most recently as Golf Saudi’s Director of Operations, he describes the settling-in period as quite eye-opening.
"It’s a very active club and, because a lot of the members are retirees, the club was busy every day," he says. With travel still restricted, there were daily waiting lists of members wanting to play. "In the Middle East, the midweek traffic is much quieter, because the demographic is different," he adds.
But he knows that sometimes it pays to be thrown in at the deep end. "Joining the club when there’s a lot going on has allowed me to identify early on the key areas that we can look at to hopefully better meet members’ expectations," he says.
As one of his main mandates, he didn’t have to wait long for the club to make its first step in returning to the big stage: the same month as his arrival, Tanah Merah Country Club hosted The Singapore International with total prize money of US$1 million.
That was followed in August by the International Series Singapore, part of the Asian Tour, where the winner, Thailand’s Nitithorn Thippong pocketed first prize from the US$1.5 million tournament prize money.
To round the year out, the club also played host to the Hana Bank Financial Group Women’s Singapore Open, a Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) tour event.
"By taking on these marquee events, in conjunction with the Asian Tour and the KLPGA Tour, we’ll be able to market the club once again on a wider scale, in order to match what was done in years gone by," he enthuses.
We’re hosting one men’s and one ladies’ professional event each year, and we have some upgrading and enhancement projects that will soon be completed. We’re back on the global stage.
For its 2,500-plus members, a busy calendar of events has also been relaunched after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, including an Oktoberfest golf tournament, wine tastings and mini putting for children.
Gray says that the club’s corporate golf days are seeing an increase in demand. "We are able to prepare client lunches before their golf game and organize a prize presentation and award ceremony with dinner at the conclusion of their round which could not have been done during the pandemic," he explains.
Much of the business is repeat – although finding the right mix of corporate days and member play days is, he says, a balancing process.
Other facilities at Tanah Merah Country Club include an Olympic size pool, squash and tennis courts, indoor and outdoor fitness areas and a children’s play area, as well as several food and beverage options. A staff of more than 200 ensures the smooth running of the facility, a figure that includes agronomy and golfing staff.
"We’re quite a lean team, so we’ve been keeping busy," he says with a smile.
A successful return
Despite its dense, urban nature, there are still 20 golf courses in Singapore. For Gray, Tanah Merah Country Club’s dual location gives a competitive advantage, especially considering the distinct character of each.
"The Tampines Course is longer, in terms of distance, and more challenging. There’s a bit more elevation, and a lot more undulation on the fairways and greens," he explains. "The Garden Course is a slightly shorter, more friendly and easier-to-play golf course. It gets a little bit more footfall from our membership as our recreational facilities are also situated here."
Across both properties, he adds, are extensive banqueting opportunities for 500-plus people. And they also share a friendly feel. "The meet and greet is very personal," he says, adding that some of the staff have been at the club for 40 years and so understand members’ needs.
And, with further work planned, including a bunker enhancement on the Garden Course and some greens tweaks at the Tampines Course, the buzz at Tanah Merah Country Club has returned.
"We’re hosting one men’s and one ladies’ professional event each year, and we have some upgrading and enhancement projects that will soon be completed," he says. "We’re back on the global stage."