Anna Darnell: Navigating two decades of success at The Grove

Anna Darnell: Navigating two decades of success at The Grove


The Grove’s Resort Director reflects on her career journey into senior management at the world-famous Hertfordshire venue.

Anna Darnell joined The Grove back in 2005 as a fresh-faced twentysomething keen to climb the career ladder to the management ranks. Almost 20 years on and she now heads an operational team of over 200 staff at the luxury resort.

Tell us about your upbringing

I grew up in Southend, in Essex, in a golfing family. I first picked up a golf club when I was five, predominantly because my dad, cousins, uncle, brother and grandad all played. By my early teens I was playing in a lot of England Golf girls’ competitions, off a two handicap by 15 and then at 17 I left school to just play amateur golf full time. That was when I realised that I really wanted to work in this environment. I knew I wanted to work within the golf industry so I began my PGA training when I turned 18. I was in the first year group on the Birmingham University foundation degree that ran alongside The PGA training.


I always wanted to be a Director of Golf, in management. That was my dream from the get-go. I liked the fact that with the PGA training you were learning a lot of different skills.

- Anna Darnell (The Grove) - PGA Professional

How did your career progress?

I always wanted to be a Director of Golf, in management. That was my dream from the get-go. I liked the fact that with the PGA training you were learning a lot of different skills. It wasn’t just about coaching – you had business development, golf club management and tournament organisation alongside the core skills that you used as a pro. PGA Members wanting to move into roles like golf club management back then was kind of unconventional. The great thing about PGA training is you get an overall experience of everything, so you discover what you like and what you don’t like. Then Members can advance themselves in those specialist ways if they want to.

How did you move into management?

When I joined The Grove in March 2005, I started in a golf sales management role with no people to manage, it was purely management of events. Then an opportunity arose when our Director of Golf left. The Head Professional became the Director of Golf and it created this movement, like a domino effect. Funnily enough, the first job that came up was the Head Professional role, which was mainly retail, instruction and shopkeeping. I thought I’d really like to go back into operations again, so that was my first bigger role of managing a team.

A year later, our Guest Services Manager left and rather than advertise that vacancy they gave it to me as a dual role, managing the whole operating team. So suddenly I had a lot more responsibility and work. It was a great learning experience for me. We also had a very good Director of Golf, an American called Spencer Schaub, who had been at a number of different resorts. He had a great operational background but also a commercial one. He gave me the opportunity as Golf Operations Manager. It was tough because I was managing a shop as well as managing massive teams of people. It was busy. I was working long days, weekends and unsociable hours, but it was a great learning curve. Spencer left in 2008 and the Director of Golf role became available but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. When Declan McCoughlin left in 2011, I knew I was ready – I’d been in the business for six years and I thought there’s no-one that knows the golf side of this business as well as me.

You’ve been at The Grove for 18 years. Could you have imagined that?

No, not really, I was very fresh-faced back then. I did have my sights set on that Director of Golf role – 100 per cent. Then, after a few years, I thought, so what’s next? I genuinely thought that I might have to move to a different golf club and do a General Manager role because it was something that I was very interested in. Looking back, I never realised that the owners saw the opportunity for me to jump into other areas of the property. There are so many transferable skills once you are in management. It’s about leadership. You don’t need to know all the intricate details about what everyone does beneath you. That’s why people are able to adapt and transfer those skills into completely different industries.

How does your current role compare to your previous Director of Golf one?

Straightaway, I was inclined to say that it’s really, really different, but actually it’s not. It might be different in size, in terms of the number of different departments and then having to manage the whole resort team of well over 200 people rather than around 50 when I was Director of Golf. But actually, when you think about the functions of the job, it’s revenue management, it’s people management, it’s people skills. Trying to be proactive and forward-thinking. It’s project-related work, it’s delegation – it’s also about looking at development of the team. It’s just on a bigger scale.

More PGA Members are moving into management. Why is that?

There are more young professionals who don’t want to go down the traditional club professional route. Right from the get-go they are thinking about other avenues to work in golf that they can do through the PGA training. There’s a lot of additional education that you can do through The PGA. It’s only when you learn all the different aspects of the industry that you realise what you enjoy doing and what you don’t.

What’s your advice for anyone just coming into the industry?

Try to widen your network and have a good circle of people around you who you can keep in contact with, no matter where your career takes you. The industry used to be so cloak-and-dagger. No-one really wanted to share what they were doing, there was an attitude of don’t talk to your competitors. Times are changing. We have a WhatsApp group within this region of General Managers and Managing Directors at clubs. We started it in lockdown and we were asking each other questions. Everyone now gives their feedback of what they’ve been doing and it’s great to have that shared wisdom and a second opinion.

Inspired by Anna’s story? CLICK HERE to learn more about the careers a PGA qualification will open the door to – and where in the world it could take you.


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