PGA Professional John Kelly is striving for further success at The Island

PGA Professional John Kelly is striving for further success at The Island


If it were possible, John Kelly would strive for more than perfection as he looks to make the Island Golf Club the best in show.

Kelly looks after all areas of the North Dublin links facility as general manager, and he explains how it’s no longer a PGA Professional who looks after the shop, it’s about what goes on in the office, the course, the kitchen, the restaurant and the relationship between the committees and staff in the golf club.

John Kelly is approaching the one-year anniversary of his appointment as General Manager of The Island, one of the premier links courses in Ireland, which is regularly ranked in the top 12 courses in the country.

After a career spanning more than three decades in the golf industry, including 26 years as Director of Golf in St Margaret’s and four years as General Manager in Malahide Golf Club, moving to The Island was a step up in class. But it is a challenge Kelly has embraced and after settling in he is now ready to make the club a force to be reckoned with worldwide.

“It’s great, it’s a different golf club to anywhere I have ever been,” said Kelly, who has to delicately balance a thriving membership and large visitor contingent. “It’s a world-renowned golf course and the quality of the course is fantastic but it is a members golf club first and foremost and that is the key for me.

“The club has been a member’s golf club since 1890 and the traditions of the members side of it are massively important. Making sure the members are proud here and that they are proud to bring their friends here and say, ‘this is my golf club’ and that they have the best possible facilities to enjoy every day is one of the key areas for me to manage.

“Mixed in with that we have 7,000 guests a year who come to play and enjoy the golf course. So, we have to ensure they get value for their money and that the facilities and course meet their expectations.

“The needs of a golfer whether you are a member or a guest are closely linked of course. You want to go out on a good quality golf course, enjoy your game and hopefully play well so my role is very busy as we aim deliver a world class service on a world class golf course at all times.

“Here at The Island the goal is to always be improving the quality of the course and the service and one of the challenges we face, like all other hospitality business, is staffing. Retention and training of staff is great but you have to have them in the first place and ensuring we have adequate staffing levels to deliver on our promise is important.”

Kelly has overseen the appointment of Keith Murray as head greenkeeper which looks a shrewd move and he has confidence that Murray can bring the golf course forward to fulfil his vision as the best in the country.

“I would always aim high,” Kelly continued. “When I came to The Island I wanted to make it the best golf course in Ireland with the best quality, condition, service and best everything. I’m very ambitious with my thinking, I know what good is and want to bring that to The Island so both members and visitors can enjoy it. The most important thing is the golf course, without it we are nothing.

“The plan is to get the golf course perfect and the first part of that was getting a new greenkeeper, we have Keith Murray now, who is the best young greenkeeper in Great Britain and Ireland in my mind. He has made a lot of changes and he has a very solid plan for what the course needs to be. He has a fantastic work ethic too. We want more fescue with an overseeding programme ongoing. We want to be the best in Ireland and then the world.”

Kelly’s official one-year anniversary will come in October and it will also conclude the first year of a five-year improvement plan that involves all areas of the golf club. A perfectionist as a golfer, Kelly is no different when it comes to managing an elite golf facility.

“After a year I know the golf club and we have some very good people working here who have bought into the vision and also believe we can be the best in Ireland. We never stop striving for perfection, that’s me as a person.

“I was a perfectionist as a golfer, which is a flaw, but you try to be perfect as a manager. I look at things in fine detail and use data to analyse everything. We are always learning to try and improve and match other clubs who might be better than us in certain areas. This is a five-year plan realistically but I am very happy with what has been achieved in my first year.”

A board member of The PGA, Kelly feels that golf clubs should be eager to employ PGA Professionals for any management or director of golf roles they may have, believing the three-year PGA Training Programme gives any aspiring pro all the necessary tools to thrive in the management side of the golf industry.

“I have a very keen interest in The PGA and it has changed dramatically since I started. Nobody knows the game better than a PGA Professional because of the training that we get, it is continually adapting to the changes in an industry.

“You have to love golf and anyone who joins The PGA loves golf. You start at the bottom and do your time in the shop and in that time you learn what goes on in a golf club and look at every aspect. It’s no longer a PGA Professional pro who looks after the shop, it’s about what goes on in the office, the course, the kitchen, the restaurant and the relationship between the committees and staff in the golf club.

“As a PGA Professional you’re in the business and you’re learning, you don’t finish now when you have done your three years training, you can become a golf club manager or move in any number of other directions so these are courses I would absolutely recommend.

“Nowadays you don’t just need you to be one thing, you need to know the whole business and then you have to be willing to work hard. You get to work in a great industry and go anywhere in the world, and I’m delighted to be involved in it.”


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