Transition is a journey

Eddie Bullock made the transition from club professional to the top levels of golf club management – he shares how he made this journey and the lessons he has learnt along the way. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 09.44.45Why did I embark on a career within golf club management? It was because I quickly learned that I certainly wasn’t going to get rich by playing seventy two holes of tournament golf, that’s assuming I even managed to qualify for the final rounds! The golf transition has been an adventure without direction posts; it’s been an exciting journey with each phase gliding into the next chapter of life’s learning trails. My first nudge towards diversifying my skills began at the US PGA merchandise show during the 80s. I observed at this time the enthusiasm and desire that many of their PGA members were embracing, the opportunity to deliver an all round golf experience for their club employers while setting exemplary standards.

Clubs in the UK at this time were in a time-warp whereby they still clung onto the Corinthian attitudes that had been historically adopted within the amateur golf environment. Any barriers to entry and to address these antiquated mind-sets were being tackled at a snail’s pace. The thought of a PGA Member becoming a golf club secretary was certainly not the norm in 1987, although I was not the first to make this transition.

My adopted philosophy at that stage was: ‘A commitment to change would be a lifetime commitment’. On reflection I am pleased I have influenced and pioneered a pathway for many others to follow. One of my first recollections as I made my transition into management was the amazing social divides between club secretaries and golf professionals; you felt as if you were left alone on an island with very little assistance within your industry. For sometime neither sector knew how to react with the diversification of my career pathway, to what appeared at the time to be a ‘turncoat’, resembling the sporting obstacles that were prevalent during the early days of professional cricket and rugby.

It was not unheard of for golf club committees, consisting in excess of twenty volunteered members, all-trying to vie for their preferred club advantages, hence procrastination became a matter of course; future planning at the time was less of a priority! There were no formal management education routes; you had to learn on your feet, technology was just making an appearance into club life, which was to contribute toward many clubs becoming increasingly savvy towards how they would eventually manage their futures.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 09.45.08There are now defined golf managerial educational routes for those motivated and wishing to take the journey into golf club management, with opportunities through the Golf Club Managers’ Association in collaboration with BIGGA, PGA and also the Club Managers Association of Europe. Newbie managers can often find themselves lost at sea, unfamiliar not only with the responsibilities surrounding their new role but unsure of the skills and tools necessary to execute them successfully. Many that find themselves in such position tend to quickly discover that the knowledge and capabilities which allowed them to thrive in their previous role have little bearing on the new one and that a whole new set of skills, or rather a whole new way of thinking, is suddenly thrust upon them.

Personally I feel an effective Golf Club Manager requires the same abilities today as it will require tomorrow: the willingness to lead, the openness to learn and an unwavering commitment to creating long-term value to the golf club community. The transition to golf club management is a change indeed, and it requires serious mental and emotional effort. Frequently, it represents a shift away from everything one has known in the past, and often entails the unlearning of lessons one has spent years trying to make second nature. Moving from a task-oriented role to a role of managing the tasks of others and then to general management, where one is now responsible for managing the managers involves significant changes in scope and comprehension. ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’, is a quote by Stephen Convey which resonates with experienced golf club managers.

Among the most challenging of changes required by moving from a role of management of task oriented people to managing the managers is the complexity of the jobs of those you are now charged with overseeing. Transition is a perpetual journey; if you want to be an extraordinary 21st century golf club manager, the required skills and competencies are changing at a rapid pace.

Clubs are a hospitality business, but at their very essence are a uniquely people oriented business that emphasises seeing the same group of people over and over again. The golf club business is more than a job, it is life, a professional vocation, one were you motivate and build teams whether it be the membership, the board or the employees. The Club Manager should be the driving force of the club business: the meeter and greeter, the hospitality king, one that distributes and shares the clubs values, the person to know, the mediator, the inspiring motivator, the critical thinker, judgment and decision maker and a business trend setter.

Many powerful voices have spoken during the last few years on how golf should evolve to encourage more participation. Alas many clubs have listened but then done very little to respond. The clubs that have taken the initiatives to change have evaluated their position, with many reinventing how they deliver their golf experience. The secret of their successes is simple; they have been diligent and structured their businesses in recruiting the right team to fit their future plans.

Golf clubs with broader ambitions need to take the plunge, as they have a key role to play in changing the perceptions of the golf club culture. Golf clubs that have a distinction over others will be those that, with conviction, invest into a hospitality model culture by nurturing, mentoring, coaching and providing support to retain their talented employees. This will, in the long term, enhance the future growth and health of the overall club operations.