Meet the general manager and PGA professional: Nick Duc

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 24, 2022 09:47

From Holtye Golf Club in Kent, Nick talks about how the club, and his working life, has adapted to a doubling of membership in the last three years, managing both a busy golf club and a busy pro shop, and how the club attracts women and youngsters to the game.

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

When we locked the door I was probably like a lot of people, quite concerned about whether we’d be coming back.

At that point the club didn’t have an abundance of cash; there was no furlough or grants, they were all established after we had locked down. But we put some strategies in place, as soon as furlough came in, myself and the then head greenkeeper became the greens’ team. I took a crash course and became a greenkeeper for all three lockdowns.

This turned out to be a fantastic move, I learned so much in that time. I never realised how hard it was to drive a mower straight! Working with someone who was an expert in a different field was a great experience, learning all the aspects of greenkeeping from cutting greens, which isn’t easy, to hollow tining and clearing fallen trees, it was such a great experience.

Post (the first) lockdown we were in furlough and had some grants so the club was fine, the problem was all the staff were still furloughed when golf opened back up. So I had to stop the greenkeeping and was working from 7am to 8pm because everyone seemed to take up golf.

I remember many situations where people would ring up for a green fee and I would say I couldn’t get you out til 8pm and they were happy with that. It was an amazing time, clubs with bigger memberships than us closed to everyone bar members so we were inundated with golfers, in May to July we took nearly as much green fee revenue as we had taken in the whole of 2019!

From a personal business point of view it was great. The footfall was enormous, even if it was just food, drinks and golf balls, we were selling so much, so many people returning to golf, people needing lessons and equipment, it was actually causing problems. We did do a lot of business in second hand equipment and I couldn’t get enough of that.

From 2021 we simply couldn’t get any product. We were waiting seven months in the worst case scenario, but it’s amazing how quickly it’s turned around again, some are still struggling, but others have pulled it round.

From post the first lockdown to the end of summer 2021 I’ve not experienced anything like it and I’ve been in the industry for nearly 30 years.

Even the boom of the late 80s to early 90s wasn’t like what it has been this last 18 months to two years. I have never seen the footfall and desire for equipment and playing so high. It wasn’t so long ago that golf was touted as a dying sport, but even today we have people coming in asking to join the club. We used to struggle to get people in but now, fortunately whether in retail or coaching, the diary is full.

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

As general manager at the club I have taken a back seat on the coaching front, but I still run the shop. Running the retail business, the challenges are keeping abreast of stock, making sure they’re not too high. They have been a little high this year but that’s on the back of two great years, and I was quite happy to take a bit of a risk… obviously I didn’t take into account a war and cost of living crisis!

This year more than others has been the most difficult for me as I managed to completely lose the plot of what had been delivered and what was outstanding. I have been constantly on the phone to reps to find out what was coming and when, that was really difficult.

Other issues across the board, whether club or shop, I have to deal with a number of staff, which brings its own issues whether illness, grievance, whatever, it may be people need time away or perhaps time keeping isn’t great, it all causes its own issues.

And of course members bring their own challenges. The busier you get, the more challenges you encounter. It’s all about being empathetic and listening to the problem and working to a solution, whether stock or a member.

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

I try to take as much of the new product as I can, not necessarily in volume, but keeping the shop fresh with new products. With regular customers it gives them something new to see. You don’t want them seeing the same thing all the time.

So I do, if possible, try to get hold of everything that’s new from the brands. I deal with seven hardware brands, two or three clothing brands and a lot of shoes. We’re a nine-hole course with a driving range, so you wouldn’t expect the shop to be as big as it is, but we are right on a main road between Kent and Gatwick, so we get a lot of passing traffic, it’s an easy place to pull in and shop.

Because footfall is reasonable I do try to get as much new as I can, but when product is discontinued I try to work with the reps and I have to do some sort of rotation. I have some good working relationships with reps, so I can find out when things are changing and can filter things out with multi-buy deals. I try not to discount too much as I don’t like the thought of people waiting for a sale.

How do you manage your day?

Much better now that I have a full time coach in Rupert (Hunter). He joined us after the first lockdown. It was a crazy time, I simply couldn’t fulfil the roles of general manager, coach and retailer. I’ve been general manager for five years and throwing in coaching too I simply couldn’t manage. He came in and took the coaching off me, but I still do the fitting, run the shop and the club.

My typical day involves getting up early, about 5.30am, going to the gym, then getting to the club by 7.30-8am. I try to pop down the range for 20 minutes to do a little golf to keep some sort of sense in my game, then my day is split between meetings with various committees or the chairman. We have some development going on, so there’s some project management going on, through to dealing with queries in the shop and making sure the range has enough balls – all those day-to-day things.

Within the club I’m in charge of light bulbs to HR to green staff to catering, it’s a huge job, which I just couldn’t do with coaching involved as well. Our membership has doubled in the last three years, so much so we’re almost at capacity.

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

We have a junior academy that Rupert runs, coaching Saturday mornings and school holidays from Easter to October. We run afternoon sessions where they do a bit of everything and can get on the golf course.

Those afternoons the kids love. We all fell in love by playing it so we get them out on the course as much as we can. As they improve as players there’s discussion with parents to take that next step to allow their child to become a member. We have a pathway where they can work to a handicap and play a bit more and play in competitions.

We create an environment when they come along and enjoy the whole club. We make sure they have some time in the clubhouse where they have some food and get used to the environment of the club, learning basic etiquette. We’re not a snooty club, we want people to enjoy the game and club, we don’t have lots of archaic rules.

Are you trying to attract more women to golf?

On top of junior academy we have a ladies’ academy too with three sessions a week – one weekend and a couple of weekday sessions. We conduct most of that coaching on the course, there are certain times when you can’t get out. We know the interesting part of golf is playing the game, getting them on the course is more engaging than hitting on the range.

What we don’t do is say you have to come for six sessions and you have to come to this many and so on, that doesn’t suit everyone as people have busy lives, they are not always free to attend at a certain time. So we make it a roll up session, just book 48 hours in advance, then whoever is around we tailor the session to their needs.

So if four ladies turn up who are close to moving onto the course then we might play individual ball, but if not we might play greensomes or foursomes while we’re out there. We might look at some special shots like out in the thick rough, sloping lies to help them when they encounter different shots.

Anyone who becomes an academy member, once they have found that level of proficiency we talk about getting them into a membership.

It’s all about creating rapport with people, you don’t want to jump on them and give them lots of information when they’ve barely held a club. Between Rupert and myself we create an environment they enjoy and we introduce them to like-minded people.

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 don’t have a swing studio at the moment, unfortunately we don’t have room for that facility. We do have the opportunity to teach outside though and we have FlightScope that I’ve had for some time … could probably be upgraded really.

We use the V1 Golf app on our iPads and iPhones for coaching and use a lot of video. We send those out to people who have lessons, giving them a video and a summary via email or WhatsApp.

We also use ProAgenda for our coaching diary and that’s been a massive boost. We created an academy website and ProAgenda runs it in the background; they can see our diaries, and can book all sorts through that.

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

I have been with TGI Golf for 19 years now. I first joined when I was at Haverhill Golf Club. I’d been in the job for about 18 months and was looking at joining a group. TGI was recommended as the up-and-coming group and being a new pro I didn’t know much about the groups. However, what really attracted me to them was that once I’d paid the fees I could buy shares and be a shareholder, which allowed me to recoup the joining fee through the dividends each year.

The thought of paying a monthly fee wasn’t so appealing, once I had my shares it’s certainly been profitable for me since then, earning money back.

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

Where do I start? It’s been a huge benefit to my business over the last 20 years, behind the scenes there’s all the negotiation to get the best buying terms which is a huge benefit, but also in later years going to the business conference. Having the chance to get together and learn from my peers is invaluable. You get to find out what else is out there to improve my own business, not just from a profitability point of view, but also managing time, how to get the most out of each day, it’s always time well spent.

From a business point of view that’s how they’ve helped. Then you have the fun of playing in events such as the recent Partnership Trophy and numerous golf days and other events over the years. They’re all great events in which you can meet like minded people from the industry to network and bounce ideas off, whatever you go to there’s always some sort of pearl of wisdom to take away and implement into your business. Just to help keep the business improving.

It is like a family, everyone is happy to help you. We used to have the forum, now we have the Facebook groups where people are always willing to help and give answers to any questions or find some obscure product, it’s a huge benefit.

Chris Taylor and now Simon Keeling, my retail consultants, have been a tremendous help over the years. I have regular meetings with Simon, he comes into the shop and has been very helpful recently. I have had some issues with service providers and Simon has been here to help me, it’s great to have someone on our side to turn to if we have any issues. Great to know we have their knowledge and advice available if we need them.

They’re there to help you look at every aspect of your business.

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

I turned pro in 1993, career highlights outside of being general manager and pro at Holtye – I’m also a PGA tutor on equipment technology and have been attending PGA residentials for the last 16 years.

Playing wise I’ve won the odd pro-am, but not been prolific in any of the regions I’ve been in – West, East and South – but I’ve enjoyed playing regional golf and still try
to play a few pro-ams, and I really enjoyed playing in TGI Golf’s Partnership Trophy this year.

I take huge pride in the amount of people I’ve introduced to the game and helped them with their playing over the years.

My work at Holtye has a special place in my heart.

Taking them from almost rock bottom to now being almost full, being able to create a working environment for the staff and a friendly atmosphere for those who come to play, is something I’m immensely proud of.


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 24, 2022 09:47
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