Meet the PGA professional: Michael Nesbit

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 29, 2021 10:07

The head professional at Westerhope Golf Club in Tyneside talks about the extraordinary year from the lockdown starting in March 2020 to the club’s recent opening and how the pro shop has adapted to the ‘new normal’.

Can you detail what your life was like from the first lockdown in March 2020 until the present day?

The best way to describe it is that it’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster!

I had a call on about March 28 last year from the club telling me that they were not in a position to fulfil my retainer, which was obviously not a good place to be.

Who knew how long this was going to go on for, so I had to put my sensible head on and speak to the bank and the brands. I had already taken in some pre-books so had to sort out payment plans for those, which the brands were brilliant about. The rest of the pre-books had to be put on hold.

Once in lockdown I had the mentality that I wanted to utilise the break as best I could, so threw myself into looking at ways I could better myself and my business. I signed up for online training programmes through the PGA and worked on improving my knowledge in all areas of the business.

Then when lockdown lifted we were non-stop. The club went members-only and the tee sheet was full every day. We had 100 new members and footfall through the shop once we reopened was immense, we literally sold out of everything. If you’d told me that would be the case two months previously I’d have said you’re nuts.

It was the same with lessons and custom fits, my assistant George and I were like ships in the night, just passing through as we went from lesson to the shop to custom fitting, it was crazy – once visitors were allowed again we were still taking green fees at 7pm which was unheard of!

Demand became so high we then had the problem of actually getting product, so had to be on the ball and think ahead to make sure we were well stocked. We took advantage of a lot of the offers that came along.

All was going well, even the lockdown in November didn’t impact us too much, but then after Christmas it all came to a shuddering halt.

The January to March 2021 lockdown was a tough one, but we worked on getting the shop sorted, conducting stock takes and getting prepared. As soon as we had the start date we started receiving the new product and as soon as golf started it was crazy again.

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

There aren’t enough hours!

The biggest challenge is just how quickly your day can change. The start sheet can look relatively quiet in the morning, but then you have a few visitors come in and suddenly your day’s turned upside down. Especially in the current climate when you have to talk visitors through all the regulations as to where they can and can’t go around the club.

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

You have to ensure you keep up to date with everything that’s new and what’s coming. I get most of this information from the newsletters we receive from TGI Golf. Although I’ve been around long enough to know most brands and what’s on offer, I see a lot of things I don’t stock through these newsletters.

Occasionally we have members asking for things we don’t stock, when that happens George and I will take a look at it. We have regular meetings where we’ll discuss what’s out there and how our current stock is working, if we need to shake it up a little. George and I have worked together for 14 years so it’s great to have two heads that have been here for so long and know what will work and what won’t.

How do you manage your day?

Between the two of us there is a lot of teaching going on, but we like to have a couple of hours in the shop, certainly in the middle of the day.

We share the teaching diary so we look at it on a weekly basis to make sure we have things covered. Last year we made the decision to take one day off a week as we were both going non-stop for 12 hours each day.

I like to get in quite early before we open up so I can check my emails and make sure all the paperwork is looked after. Once that door opens the chance to do any of that goes, so I like to have it done early.

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

As part of their membership package all junior members have a minimum of three group sessions with George or I to help their development.

I was a junior member here myself with a good junior section, then when I joined as head professional it had tailed off a little bit, so one of my aims was to enhance the offering for juniors to get that back up and running. Over the years we’ve produced some good players who have gone on to play at county level.

In fact, last year’s club championship was a three-way tie between three junior members, which shows the strength of the junior section at the moment and all three had worked their way through our coaching system.

Just before the first lockdown we were in discussions with the local community centre to start some sessions there with the Golf Foundation to help introduce young people to the game. Unfortunately since the pandemic started that has been put on the back burner, but hopefully it will be resurrected soon.

Are you trying to attract more women to golf?

We’ve had mixed success over the years with our campaigns. The last one we ran offered three taster sessions as a ‘Get into Golf’ campaign. We had a massive response initially, but unfortunately interest dwindled once the free sessions were over. However, we’ve run similar sessions in years gone by that have seen 100 percent take up and they all went on to be members.

Once things return to normal it is something that we will start up again, however, the reality is that demand has gone through the roof so the prospect of running initiatives to attract new members is not particularly high as we manage the members we have.

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

We have what’s called a ‘Trial Membership’, which is a three month membership at a reduced rate. The idea being that you can give someone who wants to start playing golf all the benefits of membership but without the full outlay of fees, for someone who has perhaps come through the Get Into Golf scheme – it’s ideal.

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?

We have a TrackMan unit that we use for our lessons and custom fitting sessions that we can take onto the practice ground.

Unfortunately I don’t have a swing studio at the moment due to the space in the building. It’s quite old so there’s not a lot of room and not a lot of scope for development. However, you never know and it’s something I like to discuss with the club management each year.

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

I joined about 10 years ago, after the group I belonged to kind of disappeared after it merged with another group. After the merger I wasn’t really sure what I was getting for my money and I knew a couple of lads in TGI, so called up and actually spoke to Eddie Reid at the time. He took me through everything TGI did for their Partners and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made the switch years ago.

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

It’s been a huge benefit to both my business and me personally. Through the awesome events such as the business conference, team challenge, golf days and Partnership Trophy I’ve had the privilege to play at some amazing venues with great people.

I’ve made so many great friends through TGI Golf, you may only see these guys once or twice a year, but we’re all in WhatsApp groups together and chatting throughout the year.

The retail consultants have been a massive help as has the marketing team over the years. We receive a constant stream of information and know everything that’s going on in the industry through the group’s communication channels.

The whole TGI Golf team from the boys on the road to the team in the office are all experts in what they do, so if you have a problem with any part of your business you know you can get the right help at any time.

Over the years I’ve had the retail team into the shop and they’ve turned it upside down and changed it around with exactly the same stock, but members come in and think you’ve had a complete restock.

For me you wouldn’t be able to run your business without that help and support from TGI Golf.

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

I turned pro in January 2000 and have had the privilege of playing in the PGA Cup in 2007 over at Reynolds Plantation. That was a career highlight without a doubt.

I’ve also won the North Region Order of Merit on a couple of occasions in 2001 and 2004 and been lucky enough to play in two PGA BMW Championships at Wentworth.

I also won a EuroPro event in 2004, but to be honest I just love being a PGA professional. It’s allowed me to play in some great events and some amazing places over the years and make great friends while doing so.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 29, 2021 10:07
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1 Comment

  1. Jamieson May 30, 20:44

    Looks as if it might be on the Scottish coast overlooking the Forth due to the size of the ship in the background. I usually go up there whenever there’s pro golf on. Well it’s Whit weekend here, most of the country is basking in sunshine but we are dodging in and out of mist and fog !!! The golf comp was cancelled yesterday because they had to close the course, Alan and all of us up here,

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