This is going to be a very different Open for Jack and Sheena Willoughby. That’s because this year marks the first time the championship is being staged in St. Andrews since the longtime proprietors of the Dunvegan sold what is among the most famous and popular 19th holes in the game. But that does not mean that the former Texas oil executive and his Scottish wife will not have a presence at the place that stands a mere 9-iron away from the 18th green of the Old Course.
Jack and Sheena are still shareholders in the business they bought in January 1994, just months after they married, and then parted with in 2017. And they will continue to be found at the Dunvegan during Open week.
But their roles this time around will mostly entail meeting, greeting and interacting with customers. They will not have to concern themselves with back-of-the-house duties, such as taking deliveries of beer kegs at 5 in the morning or fixing the ice machine when it breaks down from overuse.
In fact, they may even find time to head out to the Old and take in a bit of the golf tournament, which they have never been able to do before.
The 2022 Open Championship is the sixth one for the Willoughbys in St. Andrews. And those experiences give them a deep and unique understanding of what it entails to run an establishment such as the Dunvegan during the championship and what having the tournament in town means to their business.
“Our first Open here was in 1995, when John Daly won,” said Jack, a graduate of Texas A&M University. “That was 18 months or so after we had bought the place, and there was a lot we did not know. But we paid attention over the years and took a lot of notes. And by the time we had our fifth Open as owners, in 2015, we pretty much knew what we were doing.”
Operating in the heart of the Open venue most certainly has its benefits, the most obvious ones being an increase in revenues during the week of the championship.
“Generally, those numbers are from 20 to 30 percent higher than normal,” said Sheena, who met her future husband when she was working for the same drilling equipment company in Aberdeen, Scotland, that was employing Jack. “You would think sales would be higher given all the people in town. But we can get only so many bodies into the Dunvegan during that time. In fact, we have turned away hundreds each day and night.”
There is also enormous upside to so many influencers in the world of golf – from top equipment company executives and leaders of the game’s governing bodies to tour professionals and journalists – getting a taste of the Dunvegan, a three-story gray stone building that now has eight rooms that can sleep 16 people, as well as a bar and restaurant.
(Click above to view video of Jack, Sheena and the Dunvegan)
“The word-of-mouth that results from that is invaluable, from those people and also regular recreational golfers,” Jack said. “They have a good time with us and then tell their friends about us. It’s always been a way for us to further build our brand.”
That explains why the walls – and ceilings – are full of framed photographs of celebrities who have thrown back a pint or two at the Dunvegan. There’s one of President George H.W. Bush and astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Actors Clint Eastwood and Hugh Grant, too, as well as Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas. Ernie Els has been a regular visitor through the years, and also Fred Couples, Tom Kite and Rory McIlroy. Arnold Palmer wet his whistle on occasion in the Dunvegan. In fact, there is a plaque by one of the seats in the bar where his Open Championship caddie, Tip Anderson, so often sat.
After seeing those shots and hearing stories from Jack and Sheena about those people, customers cannot help but share them with their good golf mates back home. And guess where many of those folks go for drinks and dinner when they organize a trip to St. Andrews?
“We are also helped by the inevitable boost in golf tourism to St. Andrews the year after it hosts an Open,” Sheena said. “People get fired up watching the championship on TV and being exposed to all the things that make this town so great. And they want to get over here themselves as soon as possible.”
Not surprisingly, however, the Open does bring its own sets of problems.
“The courses in town shut down three weeks prior to the championship, to set up corporate and hospitality pavilions on parts of the New and Eden and the driving range that competitors will use on the Jubilee,” Jack said. “And the Old is obviously closed so it is in great shape for the tournament. There is not a lot of business for us at the Dunvegan as a result. Yet we still have to maintain the very high staffing levels we need during an Open.”
“The property takes a hammering that week. And it takes a fair amount of money to fix things up.” – Sheena Willoughby
Crowd control is often a problem during the championship, and that means keeping patrons from overflowing into the streets just outside the building.
“We have to do that so we don’t get shut down, and it is not easy to keep a handle on everybody,” Jack said. “In years gone by, I’d be out there day and night trying to push people back to the building. For several Opens, we even hired local caddies to help us with that. But as of 2015, we had to switch to people who were officially licensed.”
And after each Open, Jack and Sheena found that there was a lot of repair work that needed to be done on the premises. “The property takes a hammering that week,” she said. “And it takes a fair amount of money to fix things up.”
Of course, the Willoughbys learned how to better manage the madness that the championship has brought to their bar through the years.
“We try to keep things simple and make it quicker and easier to serve our customers by limiting our beer choices to one lager, one ale and Guinness on tap,” Jack said. “Typically, we will go through 10,000 pints that week, and beer will make up roughly 75 percent of all alcohol sales. The rest of that is largely whisky, and we limit our selection of those as well, again to be faster and more efficient.”
During the normal golf season, the Dunvegan does a strong lunch and dinner business, with people eating in the bar and also the Claret Jug Restaurant. But the crowds during Open week prevent them from offering any of those meals in the bar at all.
“We’ll serve breakfast there in the mornings and have the TVs on as golfers normally start teeing off at 6 a.m.,” Jack said. “And we will do dinner in the Claret Jug only at night. As a result, our food sales as a portion of total revenues drop by nearly half when compared during the rest of the year.”
During previous Opens, Jack has set up a grill outside the main entrance of the Dunvegan and cooked hamburgers during the day.
“That smell would waft down to the 18th green, and we would get golfers and spectators stopping by on their ways home,” he recalled. “Sometimes, I have had players wait for me to bring ones out to their cars.”
Neither Jack nor Sheena expects to be doing any grilling at this Open. It’s how things are for them in 2022.
But for the Dunvegan, it will be business as usual. And a very good business at that.
Top: A crowd congregates outside of the Dunvegan. Photo: Barbara Ivins-Georgoudiou, Global Golf Post
© 2022 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?