‘Nick is just the third head professional in the last 78 years at Minchinhampton’

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick March 23, 2023 13:30

The head professional at Minchinhampton Golf Club in the Cotswolds for the last 43 years, Chris Steele, his replacement Nick Haile, and the club’s general manager, Gareth Morgan, discuss how a long-term commitment to the professional facilitates a first-class golf shop and academy, and delivers on member experience, recruitment and retention.

Located in the heart of the Cotswolds, Minchinhampton Golf Club has developed a fantastic reputation for the way in which it operates, from the day-to-day club management and business to the greenkeeping and golf services teams.

As head professional at Minchinhampton for the last 43 years, Chris Steele has played his part in establishing a model operation that brings enormous value to the golf club and its members.

Working together with the club, he has created the excellent Minchinhampton Golf Club Academy, which provides the basis for the successful coaching and fitting set-up. Through his extensive experience at the club he has also been a long term member of the Foremost Golf buying and retail marketing group, giving him a unique insight into the successes and pitfalls of how a golf professional works with his or her golf club.

With Chris taking a step back and moving to a reduced role in semi-retirement, Nick Haile, who has been head assistant for the last 10 years will now take over. Working collaboratively with the club’s board and new general manager, Gareth Morgan, who took over at the start of 2023, Chris and Nick have put into place a harmonious succession plan that is set to smoothly take the golf club forward into the next two decades.

Nick is now making his own mark as just the third head professional in the last 78 years at Minchinhampton with a new five-year contract agreement and his own Foremost Golf membership support services in place.

Nick Haile and Chris Steele

What makes a good relationship between club and pro?

Chris Steele (CS): From my experience here, and the many years working with the Foremost Golf group, I have seen the distinct pattern of a successful golf pro tenure emerge. It must be a unified approach with the club and a professional contract that is long enough to allow the pro to invest in building first-class facilities and a quality team. It’s also essential to have a strong retail and fitting proposition, academy set up to enthuse the membership to play and improve, and in the modern day, some additional support from a group like Foremost to enhance the pros’ tenure in creating a good club environment with healthy communities.

Gareth Morgan (GM): A good professional team enhances the value of club membership and actively works to make the club a great golf destination. The club needs enthusiastic active golfers who want to spend time at their golf club. The pro team plays a significant role in making this happen and helps to promote high membership retention and recruitment with other local golfers wishing to be part of the experience.

How are you managing the transition and how do you view the arrangement between the club’s management team and the professional team?

GM: I understand periods of change can be significant disruptors to the high levels of service given to members and visitors alike if not managed appropriately. However, the situation at Minchinhampton is one of great stability and despite Chris transitioning into semi-retirement, Nick is fully ready with the skills and knowledge to step right in.

It’s great that the current and past board of directors created a framework for such a stable environment to allow pro golf services to thrive. I have witnessed much trauma as clubs decide how to appoint the next pro and how a pro can be caught in a vacuum, trying to clear their stock and exit the business. A run-down shop and a disinterested pro are not what a club manager or the membership needs.

What’s the golden ticket for achieving the success that you’ve seen here at Minchinhampton?

CS: Success for the golf club and golf professional are often tied together. They can’t function efficiently working independent of one another, and the level of trust and faith from both parties provides the backdrop for the success we’ve enjoyed over the years.

Being prosperous means a pro stays at the club longer which provides continuity for the club and membership and brings many benefits that support the club’s ambitions in terms of member satisfaction, recruitment, and retention.

Why are long-term contracts the way to go for employing a club professional?

CS: They provide the professional with the peace-of-mind and support to properly invest in their business. Improving golf shop fixtures and fittings and properly developing a coaching and fitting academy becomes possible, as well as investments into the latest technology to stay relevant and provide an elevated proposition. Naturally, you can lean towards a smoother succession and set up the next successful golf services team.

A lot of golf pros have contracts that are renewed annually. With this short tenure, access to finance to invest in a business is very limited and with that follows caution to fully commit and be able to build a golf business in the mid to long-term. I’ve been fortunate and now Nick will be the beneficiary of the support of the club here at Minchinhampton. This has led to us developing excellent facilities and services which bring tremendous value and sustain the long-term ambitions of the club.

Gareth Morgan

What are the benefits of the traditional retained club professional model versus moving to a club-owned shop model?

CS: A retained club professional is totally invested in driving forward all aspects of the golf shop, academy, golf lesson and fitting studio business. When a golf pro harnesses and invests in coaching, retail and fitting each element feeds into the other and helps find many more lasting solutions to help improve the golfer’s performance and enjoyment. Golf club arrangements that separate these key ingredients underperform in comparison to a motivated golf pro and club contract.

Nick Haile (NH): At Minchinhampton, we see each component part of the pro shop services being of greater value when they interact with each other. The pro shop needs the three main services working together for a more successful professional tenure and a more interesting and happening place to attract staff to work at. I see many of my contemporaries get frustrated when their coaching efforts are isolated from other decisions that influence a golfer’s game.

CS: Taking over the shop can be a much larger undertaking than many golf club managers or board members would expect. There are perhaps some considerations that get overlooked, such as what happens in the time of transition? And will the replacement employed staff be as invested in driving the existing retail business?

The additional staffing requirements to cover 40 hours per week of a retail business, as well as a cost of the incentives and commissions required to maintain the existing shop turnover and performance, can become a risk and indeed a cost. It’s easy to potentially undermine the asset of the shop to the golf club’s services and create a headache rather than the perceived easy income stream.

What is the importance of an academy or coaching and fitting studio, and why is it significant to brand it with the club’s name?

CS: A well-run golf academy can have huge financial and member experience benefits. Providing a great level of service to members with coaching, fitting, simulator hire and a golf facility when the course is closed, can be a real asset to the club and pro’s business.

From the success that we have seen and that I’ve observed across the breadth of Foremost members, I would recommend this to be branded as the golf club academy. In the long-term that is beneficial to the golf club and helps maintain continuity while assisting membership retention.

Nick, are you excited at becoming the head professional, and what, if any, changes are you planning?

NH: Yes! Having been assistant to Chris for 10 years and knowing what a great golf club Minchinhampton is, it’s great to have secured the position with a five-year contract in place to implement my vision for professional services to the club.

For the last few years, the branding has moved away from Chris Steele to Minchinhampton Pro Shop and Golf Academy, so I will look to further develop the less-of-an-individual, more of a professional team approach. Other factors have a bearing, but I have an initial five years to invest and build on Chris’ legacy. If I prove a great golfing experience to the membership, visitors will also want to use our pro setup.

GM: Nick is a very competent and well-liked person, and he will play a leading role in the years ahead of providing a high level of pro golf services to the club. It’s great the club has been able to facilitate the smooth transition from one pro to the next with a transition of staff, responsibilities, and stock without disruption to the very important role the pro team plays in the delivery of a high-class golfing experience.

What are the benefits of being part of a marketing and retail services group, like Foremost?

NH: Chris has been a longstanding Foremost member and I will certainly be continuing in that. Access to the best buying terms is just the beginning. With Foremost, we offer an active low-price promise to give customers confidence they are getting the right deal. Having the quality additional support in marketing, retail and finance allows you to be the best golf professional you can. The time saved and tools you get with Foremost make a huge difference to the business and I know it allows us to deliver on the promise to the golf club of elevated pro service to our members and guests.

What advice can you offer to other clubs wondering how to move forward their own club and pro relationships?

GM: I would say that decision makers should think very carefully about their golf services solution for the best future of the golf club. Getting on the successful pathway to providing an enhanced golf services proposition at their golf club will provide benefits all round.

CS: In our case, a long-term pro contract has enabled long-term investment by the golf professional and in turn, a commitment to growing the long term business of the golf club. The multitude of benefits that can be attributed to having a pro who is able to make an investment in their shop, staff, and the club’s fitting and teaching proposition are so wide-ranging but essentially for the club, they help to build communities and make membership a far more attractive investment of time and money for golfers.

Chris and Nick’s top tips

What makes a successful golf professional tenure and a good golf services business model?

• A professional contract that is long enough to allow the pro to invest in building first-class facilities and a quality team

• A strong coaching team that enthuses golfers to be excited about playing and improving

• A golf academy to support golf members and new golfers

• A strong equipment fitting service preferably backed up with an indoor facility to house the technology

• Encouragement for new players with get into golf groups for all categories

• Simulator available for member rental

• A good retail proposition with outside marketing support to help with the promotion of products and services via a planned social media and communication strategy

• An inviting well-stocked pro shop and retail proposition

• Well-trained professional staff who have knowledge of all aspects of the club and golf landscape

• Removing barriers that divide the golf professionals and golf clubs objectives for a unified approach

• A membership of a buying and marketing group for retailing support and accessing the best terms and conditions

• Linking the name of the golf club to the pro shop and golf academy managed and fronted by the name of the head pro


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick March 23, 2023 13:30
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1 Comment

  1. Golfbreaks March 24, 08:36

    Great article. Reslly interesting to read about the evolution of the traditional role of a PGA Professional. Would be great to learn if anyone feels there is room for travel in these responsibilities too

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