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Sultan Of Spin

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Plate-spinning is not one of the modules on the PGA Director of Golf qualification – but being handy at balancing the family china is an apt metaphor for the all-encompassing role according to Stuart Leech.

The 37-year-old Director of Golf (DoG) at Macdonald Portal Golf & Spa Hotel in Tarporley, Cheshire, likens his job to the art of juggling given the multitude of skills and knowledge it requires.

Leech, a PGA Fellow Professional and PGA tutor, speaks from a wealth of experience. In addition to accruing more than a decade’s experience as a DoG, he was also among the first to complete the PGA qualification, which was launched in 2007 in response to the increasing number of DoG roles in the industry and the growing number of PGA Professionals wanting to pursue this career path.

To date more than 30 have undergone the rigorous demands set down to meet the criteria, which examines the skills required to perform the role, with an emphasis on strategic and operational management, financial acumen, human resources and marketing.

Leech, who harboured an ambition to be a Director of Golf at the start of his career, had gained five years of experience in the role at Hawkstone Park when he began the DoG qualification process.

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“I’d always wanted to run a hotel and golf resort from the first day I started out as an assistant,” he said. “I was pretty unique as there weren’t many assistants looking at that as a career. Getting the role at Hawkstone Park at the age of 27, achieved my goal, albeit at an early age.

“That led to a lot of challenges because, all of a sudden, I was thrust into managing a fairly large team of people, a number of them older than me, so it was about exerting authority fairly quickly.

“Initially, I drew from my previous experiences as a head professional at a proprietary club.

“My business management skills were also drawn from my previous role, so I was heavily involved in corporate days and the ‘back of house’ side with sales and promotions.

“I’d been involved in retail, coaching and then sales before the management side, so that gave me a really good grounding to get to the point I was at after four or five years. Everything then started

to piece together as I looked at taking the new PGA Director of Golf qualification and I wanted to be the first to do it.”

Leech gained further experience at a boutique golf resort in Bath where, among his tasks, he sold long-term debenture-style memberships to fund the construction of a luxury clubhouse.

Other aspects of the role included running the hotel which, because it had just 26 rooms, was very hands-on and leaving a lasting legacy in the form of an academy.

He subsequently landed his ‘dream job’ as Director of Golf at the Marriott St Pierre, Chepstow,  which comprised a large membership, golf package visitors, an array of functions, corporate events and professional tournament golf, and required an additional eye for budgetary control, staffing and communication.

He is now drawing on that experience having returned to Portal, where he first got his passion for golf. His chief priority is to reinvigorate the facility which boasts two 18-hole courses, a par three course, an academy and the Lee Westwood Golf School.

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Leech’s business and marketing acumen is again at the forefront of promoting the golf facilities, while he also has to ensure that targets are met.

“When I came here as a kid it was a very private exclusive members club, whereas now it is a hotel resort with the gates open to all,” he explained. “Part of the excitement is that as a project I have got to reinvent it and make people aware of what’s here.

“The team have worked hard on that and we have made inroads, both on the course and on the customer service and we’re really pleased with the feedback on that. Longer term, and this is where the strategic planning comes in, we have got to look at where we go from here? What do we want to try and be and how do we get there?

“How are we marketing that? What packages are we going to do? We’re also looking at what we can do with the academy as it’s a fantastic indoor facility. It needs a spruce-up and some new ideas and new blood. It has an indoor bunker, putting green, bays and a simulator so I’m trying to get it all up to speed to offer new packages, as well as looking at the corporate and residential golf break market. It’s about opening new avenues of business.”

As senior member of the resort staff, Leech’s remit is a wide one – with communication at the heart of every action.

“One of the key things is personality,” he said. “I know that does not fit in with a recognisable qualification but you need someone who has a presence about them. A Director of Golf is a senior manager in the business and they have got to be able to command the respect of the staff across the departments and they’ve got to be affable and get on with people.”

A ‘normal’ working week is regularly between 50-60 hours and will see Leech engage in a number of activities enhancing the business.

“We have weekly operational meetings looking at the next fortnight’s business so everyone is aware what’s coming up and its staffed accordingly. We have to balance that rota with the income and what the payroll will be. We do a lot of forecasting.

“In addition, the senior management have a regular conference call with our customer revenue manager who’ll look at availability and what rates we’re selling at and what the pick-up has been like. We’ll examine if we need to change anything to generate additional business. Look at what we can do on our own website and assess if we need completely different packages.

“I have to do forecasts and budgets for all aspects of the golf. My budgets do not just involve green fees but other income streams like buggy sales, society days, plus they also factor in food and beverage, forecast functions and comparisons with the previous year.

“I get involved in duty management shifts as well so I’ll be in charge of the hotel. That’s a couple of times a week and I could find myself in charge of staff running functions like a wedding or a conference and I’ve got to be on call to ensure everything runs smoothly and deal with any issues that arise in connection with the resort.

“There’s no such thing as an average working day. The role of director of golf is a bit like spinning plates. You’ve just got to spin as many as possible and keep them moving.”

** Since this article was published Stuart Leech has moved to Formby Golf Club where is now the secretary/manager.

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