My route into golf club management: David King

Should golf look externally more often when it comes to recruitment? We asked a recently installed club manager, who came from outside golf, to tell us about their experience.

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 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 an association member – and recent addition to the industry – to detail their experience both good and bad and show that you can have success if you’re looking to make a career change.

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 recently 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. 

Are you new to the golf industry? If you’d like to tell your story, let us know and we’ll be in touch to feature you in GCMA Weekly.

By GCMA Content Team

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