“A lot has been done in a short period of time”

“A lot has been done in a short period of time”

Keith Cousins is a successful english businessman who owns and co-runs a number of businesses in the media and sports world. In this interview he explains his recent involvement in the golf business, talks about the Portugal Masters and discusses a hopefully bright future for the Vilamoura golf courses. 

Question – How excited are you about the forthcoming Portugal Masters?

Keith Cousins – We’re very excited. This is going to be the biggest Masters ever. We have a much stronger field of 156 players this year, which is substantially more than we’ve ever had. Even more interesting, we’ve ten Portuguese players, which we’ve never had before. And I think that shows that it’s very important for us, and for the European Tour, to continue to improve the event. So we’re really excited about this year. 

What does this tournament mean to you?

For us as a Group it means additional credibility for our golf courses. It demonstrates that we’re working together with the European Tour and I think it also demonstrates to our clients that they have the opportunity to play on championship courses in the Algarve – courses which are second to none.

And personally…? 

Personally I think it gives credibility to what we’re trying to achieve as a business. As a person and as a golfer, I think it’s fantastic. We should embrace it – and I personally do embrace it. I enjoy very much the opportunity to work with the Tour on this.

Before last year you were a normal spectator? 

Yes. I’ve been a spectator at the Masters for some years and a player in the Pro-Am.

What memories do you have from the Portugal Masters? 

My memories of the Portugal Masters are mixed. In the initial stages I think it was hugely exciting, in the early days of the Masters. Then, if I’m being frank and honest, I think it lost its way a little. And now it’s reestablished itself and it’s fantastic to see. And there are a lot of new inventive and innovative issues that are being discussed. Everybody is working incredibly hard to provide the facilities for the players, for the Tour, and to welcome everybody who wants to come and watch. It’s a great testimony to everyone. 

Who have you played with in the Pro-Am? 

Last year I had the pleasure of playing with Mr. Olazábal which was a wonderful experience, one I will keep as a treasured memory. We’ve had some fun games, met some lovely people and the Portuguese embrace it as much as any Europeans.

Why did you decide to become involved, through KCC, in the acquisition of Oceânico Golf in Vilamoura? 

I knew the courses and an opportunity presented itself. I’ve been involved in sport purchasing, sport merchandising, sport acquisition for many years and I saw this as a natural extension of what I’ve been trying to achieve in the world of football, tennis and now golf.

Is this your first experience in the golf business? 

Yes. Never owned a golf course before.

You said in an interview that you want to take the Vilamoura golf courses to the next level and introduce new and higher standards using an American style approach… What does that mean exactly?

Offering a better service to our clients: it’s not just about playing golf. It’s about everything that goes on around it, ensuring that the right services and facilities are provided. Obviously ensuring that the courses are in the best possible condition that they can be and everyone is welcome. So it encourages clients to stay and not just use the facility as a golf course but to use it as a place to meet, to use it for conferences, to use it for seminars and to place a greater value on it.

And what are you doing in terms of investment to take the golf courses to the next level? 

Other than spending money [laughs]? We’re investing a huge amount of money to improve the courses. All five courses, not just the Victoria Course, and we’re investing a huge amount of our time to meet the standards we wish to introduce. That’s a lot of hard work, but it’s enjoyable hard work and we’re dealing with some lovely people. 

You also said you want to help raise the profile of Vilamoura. 

I would like Vilamoura to be considered as a destination resort. It’s not just about the golf courses or the Marina or the equestrian centre. It’s about Vilamoura as whole and how we can improve it collectively for all concerned, because we all have a part to play and we all need to support one another. 

Are you happy with the number of rounds this year at the Dom Pedro Golf Collection? I know there were over thirty thousand rounds in May alone. 

Are you asking me as a businessman or as a golf owner? If you’re asking me as a businessman I tell you I’m never happy; if you’re asking me as an owner, of course I’m happy, delighted with the level of attendance and with the feedback we’re getting from our clients. The future looks very bright. The bookings for the next six to nine months are very strong indeed.  And I think that’s a reflection of how hard everyone has worked over the past 12 months. We’ve had this asset now for just over for 11 months so a lot has been done in a short period of time.

Any special strategy for the low season? 

No. I think we need to introduce more attractions for our clients. For example, the children’s academy or other academies need to attract holiday makers with families. I like the idea of having a proper academy where children can be taught the rules and etiquette of golf and have the opportunity to hit balls and participate. It’s something that other sports embrace, football in particular, and I don’t see why we couldn’t do it here.

How about your relationship with the Vilamoura Golf Club which has just won the National Portuguese Team Championship for the 17th time? The support it receives will continue? 

Yes. We’re all working together to improve the standards and our expectations. I compliment them, they’re very good.

How about the Victoria clubhouse? 

It has been and will be refurbished. We’ve changed the internal look of all of the building. We’re replacing a substantial part of the player’s lounge – that’s been completely refitted. We’ve had to change a lot of defects in the building that you cannot see with the naked eye – those had to be changed. And we’ve increased the size of the shop, improved the quality of the merchandise and we’re now in the process of finalising the restaurant area, all of which will be completed very soon.

Was Luís Correia da Silva an obvious choice as CEO of Dom Pedro Golf? 

For me, absolutely. He’s done a first class job. He’s very aware of Vilamoura, understands the methodology of what needs to be done, and he’s able to execute the requests that we make of him.

You have a house in the Algarve. Do you live in Portugal? 

I spend four months a year here. I have a number of properties in Portugal and other businesses.

What does Portugal mean to you? 

It’s our second home. We’ve been here for 20 years. My wife and family have spent a vast amount of time here, my children have been coming here since they were very small. And now my grandchildren are spending as much time out here as they can. Portugal has a special place in the hearts of our family and that’s another reason why we decided to get involved in the acquisition of these courses – because it’s a country that’s close to us.

Which Vilamoura golf course do you prefer? 

That’s a tough question. I very much enjoy the Old Course because of its tradition and beauty and also because it’s shorter than Victoria, which for an old man like me makes life a little easier. But the Victoria course has really developed and I really like playing it. What’s interesting to me is that Pinhal is a kind of mixture of Victoria and the Old Course which is a nice attraction. So it’s either the Old Course or Victoria, but they’re all beautiful.

Keith Cousins interviewed by Rodrigo Cordoeiro photographed by Filipe Guerra

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