In Good Company with Sunningdale Golf Club's Director of Golf Christian Foreman

In Good Company with Sunningdale Golf Club's Director of Golf Christian Foreman

Christian Foreman walking down fairway with John Bourne

It’s great to be at Sunningdale and so nice to catch up with you Christian! Can you share the story of how you got started in golf and what led you to Sunningdale?

Thank you for coming to England and visiting. It’s great to have you here! My interest in the game started from a very early age and probably from the moment I could walk, I had some form of a golf club in my hands. My father, Martin, was the Head Professional at the local club that the majority of people played at, and he succeeded my Grandfather Roger and Great Grandfather Harold who were based there before him. From as young as I can remember, I spent time surrounded by golf and amongst the hustle & bustle of a busy pro shop.

Like many juniors, I always aspired to be a player and played as much Amateur Golf as possible at County & National level but was encouraged by my father to get the PGA Qualification under my belt. So when I was 18, I turned Professional and started the programme.

After qualifying 3 years later and during the ever-worsening English winter, I decided to go traveling to Southeast Asia and Australia. Whilst in Australia, I was lucky enough gain experience by working at Royal Perth & Royal Sydney Golf Clubs which allowed me to extend my stay.

Upon returning to England a few years later and after the experience I gained in Australia, I joined Wentworth Club for 2 years before being approached for a position at Sunningdale Golf Club. I have been here for the past 7 years, and I'm very much honoured to be here in my role.

You’re a fourth-generation golf professional with quite the family tree! Do you know all of the clubs at which the Foreman family held professional titles? Is there anything specific that your father or grandfather taught you about the business growing up?

Indeed I am! My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all worked as Head Professionals at Belfairs Golf Club, a 1926 Harry Colt Course in Essex. Before that, they were originally based in Surrey at Chipstead Golf Club and also Wentworth Club. There are some others too where they all worked, but there are far too many for me to recall!

My great-uncle (Harolds Brother) was also one of the first English Professionals to head to the USA, and he was the Head Professional at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Florida for 43 years from 1925 onwards.

Director of Golf Christian Foreman playing at Sunningdale

Sunningdale Old is over 120 years old. It comes from humble beginnings - can you chat a little about the start of the club and how it came to be? What makes it so special?

The Club was founded in 1900 by two brothers, T.A. and G.A. Roberts who had built a house nearby in 1899. Surrounding it was nothing but gorse, heather and pine trees.

Willie Park Junior (The Open Champion of 1887 & 1889) was hired to design and build a course for the price of £3000. The Course remarkably opened for play just one year later in 1901 to universal acclaim and was among the first successful courses located away from the coast. 

The New Course was then added some years later in 1923 to keep up with the rapid demand for golf following the First World War, and this was designed by renowned Architect and former Secretary, Harry Colt.

There is so much that goes into what makes Sunningdale so special. Firstly, is having these two incredible golf courses that are both ranked inside the World’s Top 100. It is one of only a very select few 36-hole Clubs Worldwide that have this accolade.  Secondly, the great membership and the characters amongst it make it a special club and welcoming to all who visit. 

If you are looking for that quintessential English experience in golf, then a 36-hole day at Sunningdale is pretty hard to beat.

22 years after the Old Course was formed, the New Course opened. 2023 actually marks the 100th Anniversary of The New Course. Is there anything fun planned for the centennial?

We have some great events lined up this year to celebrate the Centenary. This includes The Brabazon Trophy, which is the English Men’s Amateur Championship in May; a Hickory Club Foursomes Event in June; an exhibition match between Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood; and an International Member Guest Tournament in July. We also have a big party in Central London organised in November on the same date that the New Course opened 100 years ago for Members to get together and enjoy!

Sunningdale Flag

Do you have a favourite place on property on either course? If so, what about this area resonates with you?

My favourite place would have to be looking down the 10th hole of the Old Course. It's just such a special view that you don’t really see anywhere else in golf, and it can leave you speechless the first time you see it. You also get to see the famous halfway hut in the distance for the first time!

I also love the walk up the 18th of the Old with the famous oak tree behind the green and Clubhouse in the background framing the approach. It doesn’t matter what time of day you are hitting into 18, but it always excites you as it feels as though someone is watching! 

You and your staff undoubtedly put in long hours to serve members and guests. What are a few ways you motivate your team?

Like anyone working in our industry you know this from the outset, but what motivates me and my team each day is our love for the game of golf and the Club we work at. The members are also very encouraging in inviting us to join them in games out on the courses. This is always a great privilege and allows us to do what we enjoy most which is playing the game. If you can’t get motivated working at a special club such as this, then working in golf might not be for you!

We also have a staff social committee here at the Club that I sit on, and we try to put on social events and days out throughout the year for all staff across the Club that can bring them together - from the green keepers to the office and from our golf operations team to food & beverage.

What’s the biggest difference you see when you play golf in the States? Any favourite courses on this side of the pond?

The biggest difference I see is way more irrigation resulting in softer courses, and you just have to hit everything up in the air with all carry. In the UK during the summer and particularly on the links or heathland course like Sunningdale, you can play lots of shots along the ground or play lots of half cut down type shots under the wind.

There is also a huge difference within the infrastructure and staffing levels that you get in the States, but that all comes from how the Membership fees are structured. In the UK many of the clubs have much smaller teams of staff and at Sunningdale, for example, we have less than 60 staff across the entire club and courses.  Sometimes in the States, that can be the staff just on the courses for a similar size 36-hole club.

My favourite courses would have to be Cypress Point and Seminole, and I have been very fortunate to play at both. The courses are nothing like you see over here and the overall experience at both was just incredible. Pine Valley is also an amazing experience when staying on site and the Crump & Colt design is just so special and has lots of similarities to Sunningdale.

Sunningdale Golf Shop

Are there any big differences in how merchandise is approached in England as compared to the States? What is your personal strategy on merchandise?

The logo game in the States is just so much bigger and more prominent as compared to England and the UK as a whole. I love the small subtle logos that you see in the States. Over here many of the Clubs have large shields or coat of arms type logos that are very historical, so they are reluctant to change. Our Members' Logo, for example, is just the famous oak tree and it's that “if you know you know” type approach.

In the States, a lot of Clubs also have a Merchandise Manager or Retail Manager and someone who is purely designated to buying and merchandising. Whilst some of the busy resort courses here are starting to do that, many only have a Director of Golf/Head Professional who is trying to do that amongst everything else. So sometimes the shop cannot be presented at the same levels of what you see when visiting those in the States. 

For me, I want to always ensure the experience golfers have on the courses is matched when they come into the Pro Shop. For many golfers in England, Sunningdale will be their bucket list course, so I always look to brands like yours as you are not available in their local pro shop or online and it is something they see when they come here for a special day.

Full but neatly hung displays along with clean, crisp folding is also a must. Displays should be like a journey and put together for someone to experience all the different products available to them, which ultimately makes them feel enticed to buy something.

How do you spend your time during the offseason and is it generally March through October over there? 

Our main golfing season where we have all of our club competitions and we take visitor groups is from April to October. We then revert to Members only throughout the winter months of November to March, but we remain open all year as the courses are built on sandy heathland soil so they drain and play incredibly well over this period. 

As we don’t close, not much changes really other than the weather worsens. Being that we drain so well though, we have some winter days where other courses around us all close and we are really busy!

From an operational side, we open the following year tee sheets for bookings in November. So much of the time November onwards is then spent fielding these bookings/enquiries and for retail prepping for the following year, by reviewing, placing and inputting all the orders into the system for the spring delivery. We also play more golf with the Members, which we can’t always do in the peak season months which is always great fun.

Any advice for aspiring head professionals? Any lessons they should live by?

Be a sponge when starting out. Try to absorb and learn as much as you can about the game and all the different facets involved with a golf club and the industry. There are some things you might not want to do and think that’s not for you, but you can guarantee that most Head Professionals or Directors of Golf have been there and done everything before they got to where they are.

Sunningdale Golf Course

What was your favourite day of golf and why?

I have been very fortunate to play at some special clubs, but I would have to say my favourite day was only recently where I got to play in a Charity Golf Day down at Princes Golf Club in Kent, which is next to Royal St. George’s. I entered a team with my father and two older brothers. They both played a lot when they were younger but not now with full-time jobs, and it was probably the first time we have all played together in 20+ years.

We all played great and it was a picture perfect, warm, blue-sky day on a links course by the sea and all together.

Sweater or Quarter-zip?

I wear both but would probably say quarter-zip. They can be worn both smartly with a dress shirt underneath or casually at or away from golf. 

Favourite H&B style and why? 

We originally took the H&B brand on back in 2018 with the cotton range that you had and still offer. So for polos, I really like The Herron and then for outwear it has to be The Charles Pullover from last year or Sargent Sweater. The King Vest has also been a strong staple of mine.

Whilst I can appreciate and understand the direction some brands are taking with golf apparel and trying to give it more exposure and appeal to a younger demographic, I don’t believe you can really beat the classics. Particularly for us being a traditional English Club - it needs to match that character. 

What is your personal style on the course and off?

I would say pretty understated. You won't see me in many bright colours or brash patterns, but I like core earthy tones. Most days at the Club, I will be in chinos with a cotton polo or dress shirt and then a layering piece but mostly cotton or wool. If I’m playing, I will likely then switch to something more breathable and tech-based. Basically everything that H&B has to offer really! 

That’s all from me, but thanks again for coming over to visit and asking me to do this piece. I hope to see you all again in the near future.

Sunngindale Golf Club