The Icelandic volcanic eruption that showered Europe with ash more than a decade ago was a sign for East Devon’s General Manager. She’s never looked back... Had Eyjafjallajökul not erupted – sending huge plumes of volcanic debris nearly 10km into the sky and grounding planes all over Europe – who knows where Maria Nolan would be now? For while the disruption from that natural disaster may have been brief, it certainly caused an eruption in her career and took her on an exciting new path. Having forged a career at clubs in her native Iceland and Turkey, Maria considered being stranded in England, as the ash cloud blocked the sky, a sign. She has subsequently continued a successful livelihood that has seen her remain in the UK for more than a decade. In charge at East Devon, the delightful clifftop course with mesmerising views of the coast and Budleigh Salterton, we caught up with her at GCMA 2021 Conference to chat about golf’s culture, changing times, and leading by example... How did you become a golf club manager? I was born in Iceland. My mum’s Icelandic, my dad’s English, and my dad was a golf professional. I thought I had ruled out ever working in golf. My original aspiration was to be a lawyer but I realised I am a people person. I love helping people and managing people. Back in Iceland, I started by taking over the food and beverage side of one of the golf courses there and I just fell in love with it. One thing led to another and I was managing the golf course too, which lead me to the role of golf manager and the rest is history! I just love being with people and managing different people. You’re managing different expectations all the time and I thrive on that. As well as working in Iceland, you’ve managed golf clubs in other countries too... When I lived in Turkey, my dad was the director of golf at two courses in Istanbul and Antalya and I was working alongside him. Istanbul was quite interesting. He started at Kemer Golf and Country Club, which was fabulous, with a very different atmosphere and environment to what we experienced growing up. It was a real contrast from my early days in golf, when my dad was getting the boys from our village to be caddies – with a little TV in the corner showing them Seve Ballesteros and what golf was. Antalya was completely different as well because it was really corporate. How would you compare the culture of the golf industries in those countries in which you’ve worked? The culture in England is obviously very different and I would say the biggest difference in the UK golf industry is a lack of change, which has been a hindrance to golf here. For whatever reason, people are not often willing to take the chance of changing and that culture here has been part of the negative journey in golf....
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