The heart of a successful golf club
By Duncan Simpson
New Zealand PGA Chief Executive
The training of a PGA professional has changed significantly over the last 100 years, but the basic mission – to grow the game of golf and make it easier to play and enjoy -– remains essentially unchanged.
When Fred Hood arrived from St Andrews, Scotland, in 1902 to become New Zealand’s first full time professional golfer, he had no formal training in finance and business management, market research, physiology, anatomy, psychology, writing business plans, and many other topics which form part of the PGA trainee professional programme of today.
What he did have was expertise in club making, golf course design and maintenance, training caddies, coaching the game, and playing it to a high standard.
Fred had no business degree, but he knew that to make a living he would have to attract new people to the game, provide the equipment they needed and teach them how to use it.
He also knew how to build the golf courses (which were few at the time) for them to play on, and organise and play in professional events to lift the profile of golf and provide him with a supplementary income stream.
The same approach was duplicated by many of Fred’s contemporaries as they set out from Scotland and England to grow the game in Australia, South Africa, the USA and Canada, and of course many other countries including New Zealand. They built the foundations of today’s golf industry because of their expertise in the game and business of golf.
It would be interesting to see what Fred thought of the New Zealand golf scene in 2016.
He would no doubt be pleased to see that we now have 395 golf courses, and that most of them are accessible and affordable.
He would also note the high numbers of people playing the game, even though most do that on a casual basis without belonging to a golf club.
He would be amazed -– possibly baffled initially -– by the array of technology available to the modern professional, as well as the huge advances in ball and equipment technology.
He would too be impressed by the qualifications and knowledge of today’s club professionals and their trainees.
But on the other hand, he would note with concern the financial struggles of many golf clubs, and the relatively low presence of PGA professionals in urban and regional golf clubs.
He would also be puzzled at the disconnect between the extra knowledge and qualifications they possess today, and the use of this by golf club management and governance, whilst noting some encouraging signs of a number of clubs starting to use PGA members in multi-purpose and management roles.
He would possibly conclude that he got better recognition as an expert in the game and business of golf in 1902 than his counterpart in 2016.
This contrast is not unique to New Zealand. While on holiday in Australia last month, I visited two golf resorts within 10km of each other in a popular tourist area.
Resort A had a small membership (220 members), but a thriving green fee trade, and a noticeable non-golfer presence through its hotel, apartment, spa and family targeted activities.
Resort B was larger than A, and had been through an expansive refurbishment programme which unfortunately seemed to have stopped before the golf course, which was basically empty and poorly maintained.
One obvious difference was the lack of a proper pro shop and PGA professional in resort B, which was as dead as the proverbial Dodo on the day I visited.
It may not have been the only factor in play, but in terms of success or otherwise as a golf facility, it certainly stood out.
By contrast resort A had a PGA professional who was the first point of contact for members and visitors alike, who had an encouraging or motivating comment for everyone as they checked in.
It reminded me of the words of Sandy Jones, chief executive of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland: “The PGA professional is the heart of a golf club.”
Jones likened the role of the PGA pro to that of the heart in the human body: a healthy heart is necessary to keep blood circulating to all parts of the system. Without a healthy heart, the body cannot live for long.
That also means that the PGA professional must live up to the analogy of a healthy heart, and in subsequent articles I will show how this is working in successful golf clubs in New Zealand and around the golfing world.