Trust William - The Trilby Tour
If the success of the Trilby Tour hinged on a showdown between one Savile Row tailor and five irritatingly smug dragons perched in a converted warehouse, the smart money – the suited and booted money – would be on William Hunt. The business model would not focus on the golf, neither would it dwell on the fact that at £250 a pop contestants are being asked to shell out a pretty sizeable sum for what amounts to a day’s golf – albeit a stylish one involving one of the game’s most innovative formats. No, the bigger picture here revolves around the value inherent in building a highly distinctive brand in a specialist market – a fact not lost on Sky Sports who have been onboard since day one.
A maverick of his own making, Hunt, 52, has been the dynamic force behind an event formulated with the intention of giving regular club golfers the opportunity to experience their ‘Wembley moment’, and there’s no mistaking the relish with which the dedicated Trilby Tour team go about the business of making all competitors feel utterly ill at ease. “It’s all about taking players out of their comfort zone,” says Hunt, during a pitstop on the return leg of his journey to the first qualifying event of the season at Trevose in Cornwall. “From the set up of the course, banners everywhere, the starter up in his high chair on the 1st tee to the clothes, the white boiler suits for the caddies and the TV cameras, everything about this event is designed to enhance the experience and test a player’s true nerve and character.
“To win the Trilby Tour in front of the cameras is a
Quite apart from the paranoia they elicit, the television cameras have provided the Trilby Tour with the critical air supply that turns a cult following into a national event. And with a limited number of playing places on offer at the start of each new season, the Tour is in the enviable position of being oversubscribed from the moment entries go live, with a high proportion of those places ‘repeats’ from the year before. Never one to miss this sort of opportunity, Hunt this year took the decision to add a new tier of pre-qualifying events running the day before several of the regional fixtures, while also launching a Trilby Pairs and a Match Play element to the mix – both of which are also now full. At a stroke, 400 additional golfers will have the opportunity to taste Trilby Tour action this summer.
“The momentum behind it all is just getting stronger and stronger,” says Hunt, “and the best thing about it is that the golf clubs involved all get what we are about. They are switched on to the fact that these events represent a great way to show off facilities to potential new customers and thus generate revenue. When we launched the Trilby Tour in 2007 we ran a pro series concurrently with the amateur event. Didn’t work. Why? Because the pros want something for nothing and they don’t give back to a golf club. Amateurs are the life-blood of the game – these are the guys who spend the money.”
More than any other nationwide amateur golf tournament, the real key to the success of the Trilby Tour is that it has crossed the line between a typical sports model and a reality TV show. Winning the support of Sky Sports was the catalyst that turned just another game of golf into an event, invaluable in spreading the message not only to potential competitors but to golf clubs who might be interested in hosting a regional qualifier, with the promise of a dedicated hour-long highlights show on Sky that attracts a loyal following (and enjoys multiple repeats).
“When we took the plunge last year I have to say the Trilby Tour was one of the most talked about fixtures on what is a pretty hectic club schedule,” says Nick Gammon, managing director of Trevose Golf & Country Club, the only links venue on the TT circuit and a former host to the Brabazon Trophy. “The whole operation was just handled so professionally run, both by the Trilby Tour crew and Sky Sports, all of which made our decision to run with it again this year a fairly easy one,” adds Gammon. “We thrive on the custom of visitors to the West Country and there is no doubt that the TV coverage helped to spread the message – plus we have had a lot of repeat business from players who made the journey here last year.
“What has been noticeable this year is the difference it has made having the time to properly prepare for the event. Last year was a bit last minute – we signed up just six weeks before the date of the tournament – and we were slow off the mark. This year was fantastic. The people who came down were proper golfers who told me they will definitely come back to Cornwall and Trevose.
“One thing I must add is that William and his team set it up better than any other tournament we host – and I’m including EGU events in that assessment. They make every single one of the competitors feel special, the staff all love it because of the Trilby’s and all that, it looks good and creates a real atmosphere. By the time the starter calls you to the 1st tee you’re a bag of nerves – I certainly was and I play the course every week!”
Presure. The unique Trilby Tour pressure. That’s a theme that keeps cropping up. Talk to the competitors and to a man they will tell you that teeing up on the 1st hole is the most nerve-racking experience of their golfing career. William makes the rules, one of them being that all players are on the 1st tee 20 minutes ahead of their starting time just so they can watch the group ahead suffer before it’s their turn to peg up. The banners create the atmosphere of professional tournament, and then the starter up in his high chair turns on the mic. “On the tee...” Little by little the screw is turned.
“I play a lot of competitive golf, but I’ll never forget the first time I pulled in to Sprowston Manor for a practice round the day before the tournament,” says 2011 champion James Voce. “There seemed to be banners everywhere. I can remember turning to my caddy and saying: ‘Bloody hell, this is a bit serious.’ The effort Will and his team put in has to be seen to be believed. I’ve watched European Tour events on Sky that appear second-rate in comparison to all of the TT events I’ve played in.”
Voce, 34, a 7-handicapper at Gorsty Hill, near Crewe, is Trilby material through and through. A born competitor (a private banker for Coutts), Voce enjoys nothing more than being tested under pressure, and the unique format – with the four top stableford scores going through to a shoot-out for the title – appeals to his mind-set and instinct for survival.
“I played in three regional championships last season,” says Voce, as the finishing touches are applied in make-up ahead of his stint in front of the camera for the cover shot and lesson (one of the perks of being TT champion). “What I like most about the Trilby is that there is a genuine field, and by that I mean you don’t get a runaway winner with 45 points. In fact I don’t think I've seen anyone above 40, which reflects not only on the calibre of the courses, and the way they are set up, but the fact that the TV cameras are on you [37 points made the playoff in the first regional played a few days before this issue went to press.]
The guys who tend to get into the playoffs always tend to be single-figure players. They just cope a lot better with the pressure – little things like seeing the scoreboards on the final 6 holes. Some players respond to that in a positive way, others fall off the cliff.
“What always amazes me is the way at leat one of the four guys who makes it to the playoffs loses it as soon as the cameras turn on him. It’s three holes, anyone’s game. You have played well to be in this position, but then something snaps inside and they go to pieces. They just lose it. Pressure.”
As for a title defence this summer, Voce says he is looking forward to the challenge, with a couple of warm-ups in place at Rockliffe Hall (for the inaugural Match Play) and Sprowston ahead of taking his automatic place in the final at Stoke Park on August 16. Two weeks have passed since the photo-shoot with Trilby Tour ambassador Steve Cowle and Voce has been putting in the hours at the range.
“The lessons with Steve were very useful. I’ve taken his comments on board and adjusted my posture and I’m now working on the backswing. I’m self taught, never had a lesson in my life – I’m out there with Bubba! – and so this is all a bit new to me. But I liked the messages Steve was giving me, that good golf is largely about posture and body position, and having a good idea of how to complete a good swing. If the body starts and finishes in the right position, then there’s every chance the bits in between shuffle into place.”
With a hankering for the mood of the 1950s and 60s, William Hunt built up his Savile Row business largely on the basis of recreating the style of that era – and the golf tournament is an extension of that passion. “I’ve always loved the evocative mood of the classic movies, the Humphry Boggarts and the Cary Grants,” says Hunt. “Whenever I need a shot of inspiration I get the old movies out. They make everything look cool. And I think that’s what I love most about the Trilby Tour – we serve up proper tournament golf in our own unmistakable style. Throw a party with no specific dress code and it’s just a get together. Stipulate black tie and suddenly it’s an event. The Trilby Tour is an event, and I think the guys all look cool in the gear.”
Along with a retro golf bag from Callaway, and a white boiler suit for the (compulsory) caddie, a full outfit from the William Hunt Golf Collection – a pair of strides, belt and top – is included in the entry fee. Plus the Trilby of course. Little wonder then, that on a summer’s day, the spectacle of a full field is something pretty special to behold. This is golf with attitude... and a smile. Among officials and competitors alike there is an underlying sense that they are all players in a made-for-TV drama, and it is against this backdrop that the live action unfolds.
As the opening credits roll on each of the hourlong Sky Sports shows, the host himself will appear in a cameo role in a series of hammed up intros. It’s an opportunity not only to build up the drama in his inimitable manner, but also to parade a model from a prized collection of motors. Hunt is a fanatic, with over 30 vintage models, 1960s & 70s mostly, cosseted in a 10,000 square-foot garage at his Hertfordshire home. “This year it’s all 911’s,” he says, preparing to complete his journey north from Cornwall in a recently acquired 911ST. “What could be better: the purr of that glorious flat-six air-cooled engine note providing the theme-tune to a show featuring real golfers under the gun.”
That’s golf, Trilby style.