Meet the director of golf: Rockliffe Hall’s Martyn Stubbings

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 24, 2019 19:36

The Durham-based PGA professional talks about what this role in a major resort entails, getting more women to play the game and the technology he utilises to offer customers something extra.

What daily challenges do you face in running a pro shop and teaching?

After 20 years in this business, we think we have seen everything, but there is always something new to challenge you!

The biggest skill any successful retailer and PGA professional must show is that they truly care. Generally what every pro shop sells within store is a generic product that can also be bought elsewhere, so to split themselves apart and make somebody want to spend their money with them, be it a lesson or a product, they have to create a superb experience.

It’s not enough just to expect the members’ business anymore. This added value of experience could be in the pro’s demeanour, humour or just a beautifully-presented shop in which people want to spend time, as well as their hard-earned money.

Martyn Stubbings

There is a constant flow of new golf products – how do you manage your stock to serve the needs of your members and visitors?

Every company now offers excellent products, so choosing which equipment to stock is becoming harder and harder. In my experience, stocking fewer brands in more depth shows commitment to them, which improves the relationship and more importantly support towards our business.

I find this pays dividends towards the service given from suppliers and ultimately the margin received.

How do you manage your day?

Wow…there is a question. Time management is a skill that I don’t think anybody truly masters, but most of my best planning is done in the car driving to and from work.

The role ‘director of golf’ encompasses many things and being a modern professional, certainly at a resort, is spinning many plates at once. The key to my job is having a great team in place that are more than capable of dealing with any situation.

If I was to become a private club professional again, I would certainly make it a paramount priority to invest and train my staff to not just be seen as a way for me to get a day off, but incentivising them and motivating them to be more than just a shop assistant.

What are you doing to support junior golf and introduce kids to the sport?

Golf has never been so accessible, or ‘cool’ to play, but the millennial generation and younger have been brought up immersed in technology which they spend lots of free time on.

This spare time is when we as kids would have been playing golf, football or other outdoor-based hobbies.

I don’t think it’s golf’s fault that junior participation at clubs is decreasing, or anybody working within it. Every club offers junior coaching sessions, either for free or affordable, but essentially the kid has to want to do it! Our head of instruction, Simon Robinson, runs various sessions, both group and individual, with great success.

Are you trying to attract more women to golf?

In a word, yes! We feel ladies’ golf is a real emerging market. Again, working at a five-red-star resort, we have lots of footfall through the hotel, spa and the clubhouse. Offering taster sessions, group sessions (with wine), helps to get the ladies together and when they get to know each other as a group they pull each other along and friendships blossom.

Again, like juniors, it’s not easy to develop them into full members but all of us as golf professionals have a responsibility to sustain the future of golf by bringing new players into the game.

Do you have any programmes in place such as academy membership to make it easier to introduce beginners to the game?

We are just introducing an ‘Academy Membership’. Our membership works slightly different as the driving range balls are inclusive with membership; we are very lucky to have excellent practice facilities and may not have the time to justify a full membership. This also gives beginner golfers who are having lessons the chance to access the practice facilities.

A lot of PGA pros are having to be a step ahead of their competitors in their offerings and technology – what additional added value services do you provide?

I think the customers’ perception of a ‘modern’ fitting has to comprise of some sort of launch monitor. We as professionals don’t necessarily need one to define the desired ball flight, but it definitely gains an element of trust for the customer to the information you are giving.

They now don’t just want the numbers, but they actually understand them! I have always owned a Trackman since turning professional, and have believed in the technology and benefit they provide to the customer.

When I moved to Rockliffe there was very little coaching and fitting in place, but a fantastic academy facility that wasn’t being maximised. We invested in two Trackman units five years ago and the difference it made to our fitting and lesson experience was huge.

We are one of only two five-red-star hotel and golf properties in the UK, so our standards are very high. We need to get it right so we offer ‘golf service’ at Rockliffe Hall, offering club cleaning, starters, marshalling, car valeting and a half-way house facility at the driving range. Again, for me it’s all about trying to set us apart and create the added value to a member or guest, to accompany a great golf course.

When did you join the TGI Golf Partnership and what was it about it that attracted you?

I joined TGI back in 2003, my training professional at the club was associated with them so I knew the value to the business and how the partnership worked. It was the first decision I made when I became a head professional.

Has TGI Golf been of benefit to you as a PGA professional?

Undoubtedly. Knowing you can compete in the market with the best prices gives you confidence in the industry, and to the consumer.

From the managing director right through the company, all I have ever been offered is help and support to make my business better.

In recent years, the business conference has been invaluable. The seminars are current, with interesting speakers that engage you into wanting to learn and gain knowledge, held at the best properties in the UK.

Aside from business, the networking opportunities that are created from the events and the good friends I have met, that I would never have had the exposure to. I can’t understand the professionals that don’t get involved with the events, they are the highlight of my golfing year.

Every position held in the company I have had the pleasure of dealing with is filled with a super competent individual, and I would have no hesitation in recommending another professional to join the partnership. From my experience I scratch my head in wonder why every professional isn’t knocking on the door to join!

What year did you turn professional and what have been your career highlights, both playing and employment?

I turned professional on my 18th birthday in 2000, and became head professional at Dinsdale Spa Golf Club in 2003, aged 21. Being the club professional at the club I grew up playing at was an honour, especially being so young.

It was a quick learning curve, and without the help of the TGI Partnership, it would have been much harder. In 2011 I moved to Rockliffe Hall, a completely different experience from the village golf course I left, learning the ropes in the corporate resort world.

Again the first thing I did was join the resort with the TGI Partnership. Holding roles as head of instruction, head professional, and latterly director of golf, I’m proud of my career progression so far and feel very lucky I’ve had the chance to work at two fantastic places.

I would describe myself as slow to get it when it comes to the playing side of golf. I turned professional barely off a four handicap, purely to work in the business side of the game. But I have always loved playing, and I’m quite the opposite of the norm that professionals tend to say they get worse as they get older, my exposure to Trackman as a professional gave me not just the tools to teach … but to play.

I think a big part of our job is playing with the members, conducting yourself professionally and involving yourself within the club. Members want to see their club professional play, even if they’re not Tiger Woods, giving the odd tip here and there. Just count yourself lucky you don’t have to play them on a 7,900 yard golf course with links rough like I have to!


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 24, 2019 19:36
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