Rising to the challenge

The leap from assistant to head pro is one filled with potential minefields. Jack Richecoeur spoke to two relatively new head pros to find out how they made the move and whether they think it is better to do so at the same club or to venture to new pastures.

The journey to becoming a head pro is full of hurdles. If you’re sat in a pro shop reading this then you’ve probably jumped over most of them already – from getting your handicap down to four to passing the playing ability test to undertaking the PGA training course and becoming an assistant. That leaves just one more hurdle to clear, but it is arguably the toughest one yet: becoming a head pro.

It’s no longer good enough to rely on your golfing ability to get you to where you want to be. You need drive, ambition and patience. Whether it’s retailing, cash flow or marketing, you must absorb everything happening around you as an assistant like a sponge. It’s only when you understand and have experienced these that you’ll be ready to make the jump. But it’s not something that will happen overnight. The transition from assistant to head pro is a huge step, and for many assistants it will be years in the making – three or four at the very least – until a golf club is willing to take a gamble on you.screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-10-00-55

A question which may be on your mind is: should you stay on where you are and wait until the current head pro leaves (if they do); or move clubs to take up a vacant head pro position? Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way. We’ve spoken to two young head professionals to get their insight on this progression and how they rose to the challenge.

Mike Ovett is head pro at Hassocks GC (and Pyecombe GC), taking the role at the age of 27, five years after initially moving there as an assistant. In his time at Hassocks, Mike has worked his way up the ladder from junior assistant to head assistant and then finally to the role of head pro which he occupies today. On the other side of the coin we have Aaron Galbraith, head professional at Sene Valley GC. Aaron started his career as a full-time coach at a local driving range, before realising his desire to become head pro. As such, he moved to a private members’ club at the age of 30, staying there as an assistant pro for five years before making the step up to the job he finds himself in today.

Both Mike and Aaron have successfully navigated this transition and find themselves in charge of very profitable retail businesses. Although in a similar role now, the way in which they turned head pro differs drastically. “The head pro that I worked for handed in his resignation, the club then approached me as to whether I wanted to take over the role,” says Mike. In contrast, Aaron’s situation was rather different: he found himself working for a young head pro who, in his words, “wasn’t going anywhere”. With the opportunity to become head pro at that club stifled, Aaron didn’t want to wait indefinitely in his shadow and so chose to move on to a different club.

But is it always worth moving to another club? Interestingly, notwithstanding his experience, Mike actually thinks it’s best to make the transition somewhere new: “My preference would be to go in as head pro somewhere else, despite not doing it that way. You’ll be respected more and it’s a clean slate. Even if you think where you work is great, go find out if it is as great as you think it is by working somewhere else.”screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-10-01-01

Regardless of what you choose, you’ll always be compared to your predecessor. In this respect, it’s important that you don’t give yourself too big a pair of shoes to fill in your first role. At Sene Valley, the previous head pro held his position for 17 years before deciding to retire. It made things much easier for Aaron, a pro on the other end of the spectrum looking to kick-start his career. “If you’re taking over from an old pro who is close to retiring, you’ll come in and liven the place up; that’s exactly what I had coming in here. It was so much easier for me as the previous pro hadn’t done anything in the last five years!” says Aaron.

At Hassocks, Mike found many members already came to him as an assistant for coaching and advice. On this note, we asked Mike how he believes he is perceived by his members: “Looking back through experienced eyes, I think there are always people who look at me as a junior, whereas if I was a new head pro coming in it may have been different.”

jack-richeoeurWhether they were both dealt a good hand or not, the transition from assistant to head for both Mike and Aaron was relatively smooth sailing, partly down to timing. “Time of year is very important,” says Aaron, “I don’t know how anyone can take a job or start from scratch in November – paying for the stock in 90 days’ time with no way you can turn it over. Taking over on the 1st April, by the time 90 days came I had already turned it over and doubled what I had in the account.”

Mike stresses the importance of this too: “Earlier in the year you have a month or two to find your feet. I took over at the start of January with no stock. The first week I put all new stock in, fixtures and fittings and displayed it completely differently.” It makes perfect sense. Taking over a retail business in the middle of peak season could be considered financial suicide: bills just around the corner whilst still trying to settle in.

Overall, both Mike and Aaron were in complete agreement over the importance of joining a retail and marketing services group, stressing how much easier the transition was thanks to being part of one – in both their cases, Foremost Golf. Mike’s philosophy on this is quite simple: “You’re only ever as good as your buying.” His biggest piece of advice is to join a group. “It’s a complete no-brainer,” he says. “They offer you things you wouldn’t be able to dream of doing on your own, plus the financial benefits of better terms with the suppliers.” Aaron wasn’t shy in his advocation of joining a group either: “Being part of a buying group made the transition a lot easier. It caught me by surprise as other pros always complained about all the invoicing paperwork but I didn’t have to deal with any.”

Given their opposite paths to becoming head pros, you may have expected them to have different beliefs, but that’s far from true. The four key points to consider when taking that first job? Go to a new club, don’t follow big footsteps, ensure you take over at the right time of the year and consider joining a buying group.

Jack Richecoeur has worked in the golfing industry since graduating from university and is currently senior campaign manager at Foremost Golf. He is responsible for the digital marketing of numerous professionals across the UK; helping them to achieve their retail and coaching targets, as well as becoming invaluable assets to their clubs.