Meet the PGA pro and qualified referee: Charles Dernie

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 7, 2017 12:31 Updated

He was the first British PGA member to referee a major championship in the USA, has been the head professional at Blairgowrie Golf Club for 20 years. He explains how a club make the game more appealing

Please can you give a brief description of your background and the path you followed to become a PGA pro. How long have you now been at Blairgowrie?

I was born in Cambridge but brought up near Lytham St Annes, Lancashire and took up golf aged eight at Fairhaven Golf Club, when my father gave up tennis and was looking for a more gentle pastime! I played county golf from the age of 14 and for England Boys when I was 17. I turned pro shortly afterwards and earlier than planned as my father died when I was 17 and the family could no longer afford my hopes to play full-time amateur golf.

My first assistant’s job was with John Jacobs Golf Centre at Gosforth Park and that was a terrific education watching the great man at work and being in a very busy retail environment, but I wanted to play more golf and got the opportunity to go back to Fairhaven with Bill Miller, a former Scottish PGA champion, who taught me an awful lot of what I now know!

I played more or less full-time from 1977 to 1980 when I moved to Scotland firstly to Buchanan Castle, then to Banchory and finally to Blairgowrie 20 years ago.

What would you say are the biggest challenges you currently face and how does this impact on your daily business?

I think the biggest challenge in golf at the moment is retaining and increasing participation in golf. I have always felt that if the clubs I worked at were busy then I would be too and I still believe this to be true.

There is a lot of competition from other sports these days and also great demands on people’s time so it’s important that we give our golfers a great experience both on the course and in the clubhouse and keep them coming back. I am sure it is easier to keep an existing customer than it is always seeking new ones, so service is key.

People assume that the discount stores are our biggest challenge but I don’t agree! I am a member of TGI Golf ( I was a founder member in 1981) which is a huge group so I can buy competitively and I believe that with my superior knowledge, expertise and facility that I can compete.

Have you seen changes in when people want to play their game of golf and if so, in what way and how are you adapting your business to this?

Yes! Time is tight these days with increased pressure on people’s time from work and family so we have to adapt to be available to suit the customer.

We find that mornings are our are peak times at the moment so we are actively ‘stretching’ the mornings by opening earlier, and starting competitions earlier and so on.

We have therefore adjusted our working patterns somewhat to concentrate on the players and retail in the morning and focusing our afternoons on coaching – although all things are flexible!

What skill sets do you believe a PGA pro should have and how do you think this contributes to the daily needs of the business?

Where do I start?! It has been said that a club pro needs to teach like Jacobs, play like Tiger and have the business acumen of Al Fayed – and there is some truth in that – our clientelle can be demanding so we have to meet those demands (OK, I can’t play like Tiger!)

Knowledge holds the key to an awful lot of what we do – knowledge of equipment and the golf swing is our biggest asset so constant refreshing of your own skills and staff training is vital. Clubs will expect you to organise and run their competitions and look after their guests so sound organisational skills are important. Most importantly to me though is your ability to deal with the public.

The pro shop is very often the first port of call when people arrive at a golf club and their first impression of it is paramount, so how we welcome them and see to their every need is vital to my business and the club’s as well – so inter-personal skills and diiplomacy are very important tools of our trade.

How are you reaching out to attract youngsters to Blairgowrie?

We need to keep youngsters involved in golf and attracting new ones is one of our most important challenges going forward. Here at Blairgowrie we are trying to be extremely proactive rather than waiting for them to come to us so to that end we have a number of initiatives.

We have ‘bring a friend’ days where an existing junior member can bring along a friend and let them see what this great game is all about – at no cost. We run Get into golf classes regularly through the summer along with summer camps and this year we have introduced a loyalty card where non-member juniors can play at a very reasonable rate and then every fifth round is free.

We are also going into all the local primary schools in the area through the autumn and winter terms with a fun programme designed to encourage them to get into golf and then hopefully get them playing on the courses in the spring. We have also reduced the junior membership fee and can provide loan clubs to get them started so getting into golf has never been easier here.

How do you market to and communicate with members to stimulate interest in your retail business? What support to the retail effort do you get from TGI Golf and what increases do you typically see following your marketing efforts? What determines the product range you carry?

My main marketing to my members is through my monthly TGI email which goes to over 1,300 addresses and we do further seasonal mailshots and competitions to keep their inteerst. Social media has become a big part of our promotional activity with posts on an almost daily basis featuring all aspects of the business such as merchandise, teaching, equipment technology, demo days and so on. This has been popular and successful – but even more so since we have been making our own short videos. If we inject a bit of humour into them it’s not unusual for them to get upwards of 10,000 hits.

Being a member of TGI has enabled me to have a known profile over and above my own and also gives me the buying power to stock almost everything I want at very competitive prices.

My stock decisions are very much based on the type of clientelle I have, personal preferences and goods which are slightly more exclusive and offer hopefully good margins. I would hate my shop to look like everybody else’s! Hardware is pretty common to most retailers but brands such as Oscar Jacobson, Abacus and Hugo Boss have worked well here and aren’t seen everywhere. Previous clubs I have worked at have been different so you have to be prepared to do a bit of research, experiment a bit and see what works best.

Technology is playing a role in the teaching effort. Which platforms / software are you using and how are you using it to improve the game of the student?

I’m an old pro who likes to believe I’ve got supernatural eyesight so I can see everything – but I havent! – so modern technology is important both for teaching and custom-fit. We use a GC2 launch monitor which I find very accurate and simple to use and it certainly helps both me and the customer to see just precisely what’s going on. We also use V1 and Ubersense on our laptops and tablets which are great tools for the pupil to really ‘see’ their issues and subsequent improvement. Golfers seem to need electronic back up to give them confidence in what they are working on and with the best will in the world I can’t see exactly things like angle of attack and club face positions at impact so it’s a great tool for me also. I am careful how I use these tools though as I strongly believe golf is an individual sport, played by individuals, so I work with the player rather than to a set blueprint supplied by an outside source.

What year did you turn professional, what have been your career highlights and what advice would you give to youngsters wanting to pursue a PGA pro career?

I turned pro in 1974 when I was 18. I find career highlights difficult as compared to Nick Faldo I have had none – but to some others my career would seem not too bad!

Playing for my country as a boy was a great thrill and I won the Northern PGA assistants in 1976 and the Northern PGA in 1978, finishing second in the order or merit and represented the North Region in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Winning what is now the Lombard in 1981 was pretty cool too. I was proud of the fact I got my tour card and that I never lost it – but had to give it up in 1980 when a very bad car crash, which meant I didn’t play in enough events. I never really regained my playing form after the crash.

Some real career highlights have come since I started refereeing however – I was the first from the PGA to ref a European Tour event at the Dunhill at Carnoustie. The first to ref a major in the USA at the USPGA at Oak Hill in 2003 – my first of three but pride of place would have to go to working at two Ryder Cups – The Belfry and The K Club, and in particular to ref the singles match between Robert Karlsson and Tiger Woods! To say I was nervous on the first tee would be the biggest understatement ever – there was reported to be 18,000 people on the first hole and masses of cameras but once it got going it was almost fun! I was told to expect a ‘rules test’ early in the round and it happened at the second. I’m glad to say I passed that OK and the rest of the round went well. I had five rulings in total plus deciding what to do when his caddie Steve Williams famously dropped his nine iron in the lake at the seventh! His golf was awesome, he called me by my name every time we spoke, took a fairly disadvantageous ruling in good grace, was great to work with and was most courteous and full of praise when the match ended and we shook hands. I was on cloud nine! Not ideal to say that your career highlight was watching somebody else do it – but for the club pro from Blairgowrie to be with the best player in the world and do a fairly good job was a wonderful feeling!


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 7, 2017 12:31 Updated
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  1. Gus September 7, 21:50

    You would appear to have had a successful and enjoyable career to date and no doubt that will continue until you decide to hang up your clubs. Blairgowrie is a fantastic Club and much of that is down to you and your enthusiastic staff. Best thing I ever did was move my golf to Blairgowrie.

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