Meteoric rise

Jack Heginbotham has been a head pro for just over a year but has already achieved a considerable amount. He tells Andy Brown about winning awards, building rapport with members and why he’s working on getting the younger generation into golf.

It’s fair to say that 2015 was pretty good for Jack Heginbotham: he won the Foremost Breakthrough Professional of the Year award and was appointed under 16s coach for Somerset Golf union. Not bad for someone who only took over as head pro at the Wells Golf Club, located in the heart of Somerset, in January 2015. Heginbotham has been at the club since 2011, working as an assistant for four years before making the step up, so he did know the club before becoming head pro, but the 23-year old’s achievements are still mightily impressive.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.59.31“I always wanted to be a head pro and build an academy and get involved with a golf club to improve it,” he comments. And he is certainly involved with the club, sitting on the main and green committee as well as getting involved in the social aspect of the club. You get the sense that he would be this involved wherever he was, but he admits that it was something that the club made clear they wanted. “One of the things the club said when I interviewed for the role was that they wanted a really active pro and one that would get involved and work to get people into the club. That’s what they told me they wanted, so that’s what I’ve had to push myself to deliver.”

The club has around 450 members and one of the challenges Heginbotham has faced – along with most pros up and down the country – is addressing the rising age demographic of the club. “We’ve been working hard to increase the 40 years and below age group,” he confirms. “That age group is one that has a big deposable income; a lot of seniors are a little set in their ways regarding what they will spend per year, whereas the younger demographic will splash out a bit more and are keen to get all the new kit when it comes out and upgrade. That’s been one of my challenges, to get in younger groups of golfers.

“For this we have done Get into Golf sessions, we have approached football and rugby clubs to come here for social occasions and driving range nights. In the past we never had the range open in the evening, even though we have floodlights and it is under cover. We trialed it for three nights a week but only had a really busy night on a Wednesday, so now we only have one late night a week.”

Both Heginbotham and the club are clearly being proactive trying to attract new members and the younger generation – the club recently introduced membership ranges at different prices for age groups 21-25 and 26-30. Another way that the younger generation are being targeted is through a burgeoning academy. “We have tried to separate the golf lessons from the golf club and we have made a brand of the golf academy and linked it to our driving range and our custom fitting,” comments Heginbotham. “We have developed a growing junior base, so we do a lot of junior coaching in the week and have junior days in the summer holidays, which also brings in the parents.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.59.26The head pro’s work with the academy has clearly paid off – Heginbotham believes the success of it was a large reason he was given the role of under 16s county coach – but he also doesn’t neglect the retail and business side of the role. Heginbotham says that in terms of hardware Callaway and PING are their star performers, while for apparel Glenmuir and Under Armour both do very well. The 23-year old says that, even though the pro shop isn’t the biggest, he regularly reviews what stock is selling and what isn’t and also moves items around the shop. He also says that he constantly keeps on top of pricing. “I am always checking that we are not overpricing,” he confirms. “If you overprice then I think no-one even considers you.”

Research has shown that too many golf pros don’t engage with potential customers when they walk into the shop, something that Heginbotham says he and his two assistants are very aware of. “We always make sure that, even if we are talking to someone, we turn and say hello to the next person that walks in,” he says. “We do make an effort to come out from behind the counter. If you stay behind the counter it can make you seem a bit unapproachable, whereas if you are out there chatting to them then they see you as an easier person to approach.”

Winning the Foremost award is obviously a highlight in his young career, but what does Heginbotham think he did to win the prize? “Last year we did try a lot of new things, such as organising quite a few demo days,” he says. “The members really enjoyed them and they were advertised days, where the fitting guy comes down with ten golf bags full of clubs. I had my own FlightScope out there and made sure to really engage with the members.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.59.16“I also started a Pros day last year, which is something that has never happened before. It was a Four Ball open event and Callaway helped support it – we had 120 members and visitors playing in the middle of summer as an open event. We’ve opened it again for this year and we’ve already had such a big demand we have had to extend the tee times.”

It is clear from talking to him that Heginbotham has worked hard to be a visible presence at the club. Last year he organised the club’s first golf trip abroad and it was so popular that he’s planning two separate trips next year – he also says that those who went away with him in 2015 are now some of the pro shop’s best customers. One way Heginbotham builds relationships is, as he says, to sometimes just “rock up” and play with members. “I regularly play with the members and different groups,” he says. “I also got involved in doing things like Pro Captain challenges to help become a visible face. We have a lot of groups here that are already set up, so sometimes I just rock up and join them. They seem to like that the pro is going out with them. My assistants do similar stuff and they’ve found it results in teaching lessons for them.”

Heginbotham says that his goal for the future is to continue developing the golf club and his own skills, and it is clear that to meet these goals he will be proactive, rather than simply wait for new clients to walk through his door. He says that he has already visited places such as Women’s Institutes, sports clubs and schools to spread the word and, with new housing developments in his local area, he is already planning on how the club can reach these new people. Thanks to his work ethic and positive relationship with the club these are exciting times for Wells Golf Club.

“We have seen a change in the age demographic of the club and our membership has grown a good amount over the last year and the Pro shop got a lot of praise in our recent AGM. The chairman and the committee are happy with what we are doing,” he says. “We are seeing that the hard work is paying off, which is nice. Working with the golf club, as opposed to working as two separate entities, makes a huge difference.”