With a wealth of experience generated from working all over the world, Justin Griffiths is now based in Latvia and due to the enforced off season he has utilised his fitness qualifications to keep golf on the agenda all year round. He also incorporates fitness exercises across all his golf lessons.
Q. How long have you been a PGA Professional?
A. I have been a PGA Pro for over 20 years and was made a PGA Advanced Professional in the last 18 months. I started my career in Austria and have worked all over the world including Canada, Germany, Greece, UK, China, Indonesia and Portugal. I eventually ended up here in Lativa where I am about to start my 6th year here at Ozo Golf Club.
Q. Did you always want to work in golf?
A. My dad was a PGA Professional and I loved all ball sports growing up, so it was inevitable that I was going to end up working in a sport of some kind. I had really wanted to be a footballer but that didn’t work out, luckily, I was better at golf anyway!
Q. A lot of your current work is based around golf and fitness, how did that start?
A. It was 12 years ago, when there was a lot of discussion around childhood obesity and the need for children to be more active. At the time, I was working in about 30 schools across the West Midlands. I saw a great opportunity to combine fitness into golf, so in my spare time I worked at a gym and worked through my level 1 to level 4 fitness industry qualifications.
I then put together a presentation which I took to schools as they were receiving external funding for these sorts of activities. Every school I spoke to bought into it and before I knew it I was teaching a combination of golf and fitness classes at 4 to 5 schools a day. I also worked alongside local golf courses, who were very supportive and would provide their facilities, normally for free, to help with the transition from school to golf course. It was great to see it all come together.
Q. You did something similar in North Wales, can you tell us about that?
A. Yes, I had the opportunity to re-open a 9 hole golf course, which I received funding for from Sport Wales. I did the re-design and laid the greens, it was a labour of love! Once opened in 2010, I applied the same plan that I had put into place in the West Midlands. I taught golf and fitness in schools to then drive people to the golf course. We also had great offers with any under 16 playing free as long as a paying adult was with them. There was also free club hire. I also offered sessions at the golf club and would have a regular ladies golf and fitness morning where we would play golf then exercise.
Q. The impressive Mission Hills in China was your next destination, was golf and fitness already available there?
A. Actually, the reason I got appointed there was because I offered something different. They already had 14 professionals, but they offered the same thing. I quickly established a good teaching base and had a great experience working in China.
Q. After a year in Indonesia, you then moved to Riga in Latvia. What do you like about working there?
A. It’s definitely the job I have enjoyed the most. Great people and a beautiful country to work in. What’s great about golf in Latvia is that the sport is still growing, there is no stigma associated with the sport; no old traditions. There is a much more relaxed approach to golf in every aspect so you see people out on the course in jeans, comfortable, playing golf with their families. They are also open to suggestions which makes the decision-making process so much easier.
Q. What changes did you make when you became Head Teaching Professional at Ozo Golf Club?
A. One of the first changes was to scrap the gender segregated tournaments, for example, changing the Ladies Beginners Cup to just a Beginners Cup. The golf club was also spending €4-€5,000 on radio advertising. I suggested that the money would be better spent in running free open days. So we now run a free open day once a month, where you book into a 2 hour session to experience all that the club has to offer. We throw in free coffee, a lesson and balls too!
Q. What happens after the Open Day?
A. Participants can sign up to complete their Green Card, this is a necessary requirement across most of Europe to be able to play on the golf course, which includes a month of lessons. Once they have completed their Green Card, they can then sign up to more regular golf and fitness sessions.
To help new golfers become accustomed to the golf course we run a 9 Hole Green Card Tournament every fortnight. Everyone pays €10 and we provide prizes and drinks. We do a random draw for partners so that you end up playing with different people of varying age and gender.
Q. What makes your golf lessons different from the norm?
A. My golf lessons are always split between golf and fitness. We don’t have any gym facilities at the golf club but we have great space outside and all my students normally need is a gym mat. I always start with a warm up and then split the rest of the time switching between golf and fitness exercises. This is particularly important with the juniors as they tend to have a very short attention span! I tailor each session to suit the people I am coaching, for example the 15+ year old students will be given one to one fitness activities depending on their needs, where as the under 10s will have more general exercises to complete.
This approach has been really well received, in fact a lot of women have joined the golf sessions because of the fitness element. I’m proud to say that I coach 85-100 children each week in this way. Also, during the junior sessions I get the parents to do the fitness core exercises that I have taught them in their own lessons.
Q. What is the pathway to membership?
A. Due to the weather here in Latvia the club offers a season card which runs from March to October. Under 12s are free, they just pay for lessons and range balls. Under 16s are free if a parent has a season card, again only paying for their lessons and range balls.
Q. What happens in winter when the golf course is shut?
A. I focus solely on golf fitness in the winter and am based at 4 different locations in the city. The opportunity is given to my students to continue to maintain the golf fitness during the winter. I run adult and child sessions. I have also put together 15 minute plans that can be done at home. Many have seen the benefit in their health and their golf by continuing to exercise and work on specific golf fitness drills during the winter.
Q. One final question, what would your advice be to aspiring PGA Professionals?
A. I think that all pros need to add to their skill set, make themselves different to every other pro out there. I think it’s good to be diverse and offer something extra. The integration of technology over the last few years is making this more possible. I believe that a lot of the opportunities I have been given over the years is because I stood out from my peers. Don’t always think you just have to lower your prices to attract new clients, you only end up devaluing yourself.
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