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Academy Role Is Taylor Made

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Life is anything but straightforward for Alistair Taylor. Today, the PGA Professional has to make a key decision on range balls; yesterday it was a longest drive competition with darts superstars Eric Bristow and Ray van Barneveld; and tomorrow...who knows.

But right now, Taylor is hitting an alternative option on balls down the range at the PGA-branded academy, assessing the ball flight results on the launch monitor, and discussing the whys and wherefores with Richard Bowman, his long-time friend and Herons' Reach's Director of Golf.

Cost and supply time are a key factor over whether to change or stick with what they have, however, the main concern for both of these PGA professionals is ensuring that their decision is the right choice for every golfer that sets foot in the academy. The facility, where Taylor also undertakes custom-fitting, is his pride and joy.

I oversee the custom-fitting, coaching schedules and continually look to drive revenue at the range.

The 36-year-old father of two was personally recruited by Bowman to come to the resort to oversee the development of the academy and to take charge of its day-to-day operations and profitability.

It was something of a homecoming for Taylor who, having begun his professional career as an assistant at nearby Penwortham, spent three years at Herons' Reach completing his training alongside Bowman before heading south and roles at the Scott Cranfield academies at Chart Hills and Pachesham Park and then back up north to De Vere Carden Park.

"When I qualified I thought it was a good opportunity to try something new and so I moved south and worked with the Cranfield academies," he said.

"I was at Chart Hills for a year and then moved to Pachesham Park in Surrey, which had huge 40-bay driving range and nine-hole course.

"I started as a teaching pro but I became team leader in Surrey. There were coaches on site and I would oversee their day-to-day training, ensure commissions were paid and the business run in line with company policy.

"Due to family circumstances we looked to move back closer to home and the guy who was director of golf at Herons' Reach when I did my training had moved into the same role at Carden Park. I had four years at Carden, initially as head teaching pro, but I moved into the head pros role, which meant looking after the academy, the range, the pros and reintroducing hardware and custom-fitting.

"Richard then came and saw me at Carden and indicated he would like me to run the academy at Herons' Reach, which I took up in March 2009."

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Armed with a range of skills including managing and training staff, running a wide-ranging facility, successful marketing strategies, working to budgets and producing returns, Taylor also oversaw the development of the existing academy.

He added: "The academy wasn't like it is now. When I first came here the remit was to increase footfall, get the coaching and custom fit up to speed and essentially get more people on the driving range.

"When I came on board, I wanted to re-introduce custom fit. We invested in Flightscope, and there was an instant impact with some phenomenal numbers in the first few months.

"When we became a PGA academy, the pre-requisite for being one was perfect for what I wanted.

We have overhauled our junior coaching going from just hitting balls to an athletic development programme. I do 15 hours a week coaching and the rest is spent in meetings, working in the shop or doing custom fittings.

"The current academy was built 12 months ago, and in the process I was very hands-on getting various quotes for the construction, the hardware, software and such like. I was co-ordinating all of that and for it to be done in a set time frame as there was only a small window to get it done and to avoid it looking like a building site. From the first brick to the first ball being hit was two weeks, so let's say there were some interesting times in that fortnight."

Taylor is also a keen student of the game and, while enhancing his knowledge, he has brought it to bear at Herons' Reach.

"I'm a Titleist Performance Institute fitness coach and TPI level two junior coach," he explained. "We have overhauled our junior coaching going from just hitting balls to an athletic development programme.

"Also, we have introduced TPI screening assessments with new members and those totally new to golf. We then co-ordinate with the gym and look to offer programmes to work alongside their game."

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It all adds up to a packed working week that, on average, accounts for 50 to 60 hours and encompasses a wide range of tasks.

"I would say I do 15 hours a week coaching and the rest is spent in meetings, working in the shop, which is a requirement of my contract, or doing custom fittings," he said.

"I oversee the custom-fitting, coaching schedules and continually look to drive revenue at the range and tie that into introducing golfers to the De Vere Club membership.

"I also do a weekly column in the local paper to promote the academy. It's part of my coaching role and as a manager it's nice to get the academy mentioned and the more people see and read about it the better.

"I've got more involved with social media and using the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In and I am posting to get more followers and create interest."

In deciding to approach Taylor for the role, Bowman explained his thinking and the kind of personal attributes which were key.

"I was looking for someone committed to what they do," said Bowman. "They had great knowledge and were passionate about coaching. They would have a good business head as you've got to understand the figures. It's not just making money but spending it as well for the best outcome.

"They would look to make a difference and think about ways to improve and be the next piece of the jigsaw. For me, it's not just about being good on paper but also being able to deliver."

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