How two ‘outsiders’ became golf club managers

Should golf look externally more often when it comes to selecting club leaders? We ask two recently installed club managers, both of whom came from outside golf, to tell us about their experiences.

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

How do you become a golf club manager? Is it easy to get into the role if you are not steeped in golf and is there a misconception that the industry is a ‘closed shop’?

There are so many ways to get started in golf club management – a principal route being the GCMA’s own Principles of Golf Club Management residential course.

The GCMA’s chief executive, Tom Brooke, previously worked in health, fitness, and sales before embarking on his own golf career at the age of 27. Within a year, he’d secured his first general manager’s role.

With the topic surfacing recently on the association’s social media channels, we asked two association members – and recent additions to the industry – to detail their experiences both good and bad and show that you can have success if you’re looking to make a career change.

Adrian Wood became the GM at Longcliffe, in Loughborough, in October 2021, while David King has recently taken the reins at Rushmere, in Ipswich.

Here’s how they did it…

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David’s story

David King gained a sports science degree and dabbled with teacher training before joining a School Sports Partnership and then taking on a Sports Centre supervisor role at Coplestone High School in Ipswich. He spent 11 years there, adding a raft of responsibilities including bid writing, finance and health and safety, before beginning to reassess his career in the wake of the Covid pandemic and deciding to move into the private sector. He was appointed General Manager at Rushmere, in Ipswich.

How and why did you get into golf? 

I didn’t think of golf. I knew that I wanted to come out of schools. I interviewed to manage the training facilities for Colchester United and that was a turning point. Ultimately, I didn’t get it but I thought ‘OK, facilities’. I saw this job and its responsibilities in lots of different departments – including hospitality, which I think is a big strength of mine.

I knew that I wanted to report to an owner. I didn’t want too many middle managers. I was surprised when I clicked the button [to submit the application] but I didn’t have a reason not to and it sounded enjoyable. 

Is running a golf club just like running any business? 

I’ve met a lot of people and they ask this question, ‘do you play?’ I say, ‘no, not really’. My sport is football. We’d all get together for recreational golf but nothing like these guys [the members].

When you talk about it, and where I’ve come from, it’s all very member driven customer service – and it’s fine. It’s finances and facilities. Instead of a few acres of football pitches, it’s a golf course. 

We’ve got a fantastic course manager and so do you really need an intricate knowledge of golf?

You need an understanding and appreciation and a basic knowledge but I think you can be just as successful without that side. 

Does it matter not being a golfer? 

The gap in my golf knowledge was absolutely the elephant in the room, but I went on the GCMA Principles of Golf Club Management course and it was a fantastic week.

I looked at the itinerary and thought, “I’m responsible for that, that, and that?”, but one thing that really helped was that my predecessor retired – with plenty of notice – which allowed a great handover because obviously he wasn’t going anywhere else. 

We were able to have a thorough handover and that was important for the club and was probably a consideration for them during the interview process. It perhaps made it easier for them to bring in someone from outside the industry.

How does experience outside golf help you? 

My advice to owners or committees is that if the person you’re looking at has customer service as one of their main priorities in their current role then they’re potentially suited to golf club management. 

The fitness and leisure industry is very similar to golf. Customer service is key. You’re also in charge of a facility and there’s so many transferable skills from that industry. 

Restaurant managers could make good golf club managers, if they’ve got the support around them on that on that side.

The club’s structure has to be right, and then the GM can use the strengths of their heads of department to ultimately have a successful golf club. 

Adrian’s story

Adrian Wood worked in industry – at Plessey and Siemens – and worked his way up to become CEO of Siemens in Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. He decided to go into golf club management, took the CMAE diploma, and spent five years volunteering and learning the industry in Qatar before starting to apply for positions. He was appointed GM at Longcliffe just over a year ago. 

How did you find coming from industry into golf?

You go to the recruiters and they genuinely prefer their set general managers. Coming from industry you’re a real oddball. 

When you do the courses, you quickly realise that industry is far ahead of the golfing world. It is probably about six to eight years ahead. Siemens is quite innovative and they are a long way ahead. 

You think, ‘come on golf world, you’re way behind’. Recruiters don’t see that. They think, you’re from industry and you don’t know what you’re doing. Well, yes, we do!

I didn’t get anywhere with the recruiters. I felt they just wanted to pick their own sort of people, people they knew. 

That didn’t work too well, as I just didn’t have a golf club behind me. That was the first hurdle. Then I’d applied to clubs that didn’t actually have a recruiting company in the process.

I’d go interviews and they’d be interested in my CV. One owner said, ‘you frightened us. We didn’t want to employ a CEO’.

Another one, I got through round one, round two, and then didn’t get it. The guy who called up says, ‘I’m not on the board, but I would love you to work at this club, but the board said no, they were worried you know more than they do. And you just terrified them, by being a CEO.’

I thought, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me! But I was told that a number of times’. I’d thought it would be a benefit.

What was your motivation to get into golf?

It was six years ago, with my wife and father saying, ‘look, what do you really want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to get into golf management’.

I’ve gone up the industrial tree, and I am a golfer, but it was an area I wanted to try – and where I am interested. I thought I’ve got the golf background. I’ve got the management background. Perfect. But the golf world didn’t see that.

You need to have a lot of experience in golf clubs. Why? You need to have golf understanding, yes. But the industrial side is just as important – if not more so.


Membership of the GCMA unlocks a network of like-minded professionals, provides you with support in your professional and personal development, and provides you with a multitude of benefits. Whether that’s the tools that will help you to excel in your profession, or a wide range of services to support your wellbeing, signing up to the GCMA is joining a community. 

For instance, we’ve been doing proper salary weighted KPIs for years. At Siemens you have performance based KPIs linked to various parameters, either soft or hard parameters or financial practice.

They’ve been around for some time, and they’ve done the first round and then they’ve tweaked to make it better and better, so it’s quite normal in the golf world. 

In one of my golf interviews I was asked if I knew the concept of KPIs and I didn’t say ‘are you kidding?’ but I explained what we did and they could see I did know! 

What has been the key benefit of your experience in industry in how you manage a golf club?

It’s handling boards and members, running meetings, project management skills, sales skills, efficiency of work and professionalism. In the Siemens world, if you’re not good you get cut quickly. 

I can see whether we have the right employees or not. Then you need the courage to say, ‘this is wrong’, and make some tough decisions like in any industry. 

In industry, you have to do it otherwise you fail. If you have that experience from industry where you’ve had a number of teams, you can tell the good and the bad players and you can motivate and train and push and delegate, which is necessary in a really small workforce, where it’s amplified even more.

If I have somebody half performing, then that makes a massive difference. 

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

Get involved in the debate. To join the GCMA, click here, or to organise a call with a member of the GCMA team, just complete this form and we’ll be in touch!

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