Meet the PGA professional: Matthew Blake

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 5, 2022 17:11

The head professional at Dyrham Park Golf & Country Club in London details how he took control over his shop’s budget and stock, teaching the game to beginners and his career to date.

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

It was very stressful and for the first time in my golfing career I felt completely out of control of my business. I was getting very stressed; I just couldn’t see any way out.

Fortunately, the guidance and support I received from both TGI Golf and The PGA was a great help and I didn’t feel so much on my own. They helped me to put some strategies in place to help with my finances, such as putting direct debits on hold and speaking to suppliers about where I was with finances and working together with them to work on orders rather than just panic.

I received a ‘Bounce Back Loan’ and once I had that it was a huge relief and I began to enjoy being able to spend some quality time with the family during lockdown.

During that time to keep myself occupied I put together a number of YouTube videos for my membership … without realising it, I actually grew my lesson business; my customer base exploded without any intention.

TGI Golf have always taught partners to have constant communication with your customer base, so I was simply putting that into practice, keeping my customers stimulated and keeping me in their minds. When golf came back it was all they wanted to talk about, so it had a great effect.

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

I found in the last few years staffing has become a massive challenge; trying to get quality staff has been the biggest headache.

Fortunately, I have it now with Max who was a junior member now a junior assistant and Gloria who does a morning a week. James, my long-term assistant, has been with me for 11 years. If you have good staff, it can make all the difference, it’s taken a while, but now I have a good team, it’s great.

When I first started, I used to mainly just teach, but started to realise I had no control over my shop budget and stock wise. It all got a bit out of my control, so now I make sure I work 15 hours a week in the shop. It’s good to be seen by the members, but also gives me a more hands-on approach with the buying and stock control.

By having the extra time in the shop, I work two late nights on a Tuesday and Thursday dedicated to lessons for those who don’t have time during the day or weekends to come in. I found there were a lot of members who worked during the week who were heading to the local driving range in the evenings for coaching, so introduced two late nights to ensure they stayed with us.

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

TGI Golf are very good at communicating with us to let us know what’s available and what’s coming from the brands, as well as providing us with a lot of industry data so we can see what’s working. I look at a lot of what we get from them about new products and I also look at those stats provided to see how close I am to having the best products.

I try to make things as simple as possible, so I have just two apparel brands. I only stock PING hardware and I only stock FootJoy shoes, this allows me to give a great offering of those brands when I am limited for space.

For example, with PING, I’m known in Herts as ‘The PING Man’. I have the full range of demo equipment for customers to try out and the fitting system too, because the brand is so good for all levels of golfer it’s never held me back.

It’s a bold move to have just a few brands, but they’re the number one and it works for me. Don’t see it being beneficial particularly in hardware to have so much money wrapped up in a number of brands.

I do listen to what members have to say though, for example, I have a lot of older members and just found an arthritic grip from Lamkin and it’s flown off the shelves.

I have a great relationship with my customers and club members. We have a regular captain / pro match and I sit on a lot of the committees, so I speak to a lot of members on a regular basis.

How do you manage your day?

I have fixed teaching times and shop times so when I’m not in the shop I’m coaching. I like to open the shop so I’m the first person the members see and I’m quite social, I will go and have a coffee and tea in the bar so I can be seen and I’m there for the membership.

During lockdown I started looking at my hours of opening and realised that during the later hours of the day barely anyone was coming in, so what was the point of being open and having someone staff the shop?

So, now I close at 4pm rather than 6pm. I’m still on site most days so if there is something urgent, I can pop in, but it’s not had any effect on my business at all.

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

My assistant James runs a junior academy every Sunday from 11am to 3pm and they have organised junior comps and clinics during the school holidays. Basically, any time the kids are off he has a camp and that has really helped to boost the junior section, he has about 50 to 60 kids now, which is great.

Are you trying to attract more women to golf?

James and I both work on a ladies’ academy to attract ladies that have never played before, want to join a club but are not too sure.

We have groups of four and they get two hours of group coaching a month and they then get three hours of individual coaching in that year.

It’s been great as what tends to happen is we filter them through to the ladies’ section where we have about 80 to 90 and it keeps new members coming through, it’s a real cross section as we have ladies in the 60s to those in the 20s – we just keep building that section.

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?

Every customer I have for a lesson receives an email afterwards with a split screen of before and after the lesson. This video includes a voiceover and slow mo of their swing so they can understand and refer to what they have done in their lesson.

We use SkyTrak in the swing studio where we also have two putting greens. I’m always looking at little gadgets to help with lessons to help me and my pupils. I have just found some speed sticks that are supposed to help with your yardage, so we have some speed stick training coming up over the winter.

We conduct plenty of golf MOTs over the winter – little half hour sessions where we look at the driver swing, iron swing, putting stroke and their equipment, we can recommend programmes for the winter for them to improve and plenty of regrips.

I like to make people feel like they want to have a lesson, I’ve had people WhatsApp me with swing videos and I’m happy to give them some points. I like to show a real interest in their game and like to have good contact with them.

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

In the early 2000s, it was very early on in my career. I looked at all the groups that were available and the main reason I joined TGI is because I liked the flexibility of being an independent retailer, running my own business without having to tick boxes and not having anything forced upon my business.

I liked the expertise TGI Golf had in all areas. The retail expertise and marketing are excellent, it had everything I was looking for without any major commitment to things in my business I didn’t want.

The whole model of paying to be a member each month rather than investing in the business and getting money back as a partner was a big factor too.

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

Massively. Having retail consultants at the end of a phone who can come in and completely rejig your shop and offer expert advice is invaluable, it’s a service that you could pay thousands for if you weren’t a partner of TGI Golf. Then the marketing tools they have make you look so much more professional – I use the email marketing programme to communicate with my members and they are all convinced I write and source all the content every month. It’s a great tool to have.

You often see within the group and on its social media channels about the TGI family … it’s not just marketing speak; you really do feel like you’re part of a family group. Having that constant support around you, I feel that if I ever need to pick up the phone there’s always someone to help any part of my business.

Being a partner has also opened so many doors, I’ve met so many great people just by being part of TGI.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Today’s Golfer magazine and also travelled to Phoenix which was the best golfing trip I’ve ever been on. None of that would be possible without being a partner, the quality of golf pro and staff I meet regularly and can speak to would not be possible if I wasn’t in the family.

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

I turned pro in 2000 and playing wise I’ve had no real highlights other than taking money off many playing partners.

I started playing golf very late, I didn’t take it up seriously until I was 20 and turned pro two years later. I took a year out to play seriously and went from a 12 handicap to four in that year, then the following year I turned pro.

I was a caddie at Dyrham Park and was friendly with the pro at the time, Bill Large, the former European Tour pro. I started helping him out in the shop, he had a look at my swing and said ‘you’d be quite good if you tried.’ So I gave it a go and the rest is history.

I started as a shop assistant at Dyrham Park then went to work at Redbourn Golf Club before coming back to Dyrham Park. My career highlight was getting the job here. It was a tough interview process with more than 50 people going for it. I put together a full business plan showing where I wanted to go and the committee was impressed enough to give me the opportunity – that was 17 years ago.

Recently I went to Phoenix after being named TGI Golf’s PING Custom Fitter of the Year for England and Wales. It was an unreal trip, playing some great courses including TPC Scottsdale, having a tour of the PING facility and getting to meet the Solheims in the Gold Putter Vault. As I said earlier it was the best golfing trip I’ve ever been on and something I will remember for the rest of my life.


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick November 5, 2022 17:11
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1 Comment

  1. Royb November 6, 09:11

    Well done Mathew

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