Sarah Walton - My PGA story

Sarah Walton - My PGA story


Sarah Walton, the first female PGA Member to achieve the PGA’s Director of Golf qualification, talks about the career path that led her to her most recent appointment as a teaching professional at North Sound Golf Club in the Cayman Islands

How did you first get into golf?

I didn’t pick up a golf club until I was 18, as I played competitive badminton when I was growing up in Lancashire. A friend took me to a driving range when we were supposed to be revising for our A Levels and it kind of went from there. I played a few pitch and putt courses and a local municiple, then I eventually joined a club, Green Haworth, a little 9-hole club in Oswaldtwistle, when I was 19. I later moved to Accrington Golf Club a couple of years later and got my handicap down to single figures soon after that.

I played for the Lancashire women’s ‘B’ Team in 2001 and then I made the first team in 2002 when we won the National County title. I won the British Ladies Mid-Amateur Championship in 2003 and played on the amateur circuit until 2009 with my last game as an amateur representing Lancashire in the National County finals where we won the title again. I was working full-time at the Post Office and then as a self-employed driving instructor, as both jobs gave me the flexibility to play golf and still earn a living.

What has your career path been to date?

I turned professional in 2009, and although I knew I wasn’t quite good enough to play professionally, I was already teaching as a driving instructor, so I started the PGA Foundation degree. I was attached at Accrington at the start of my training but moved to Lytham Green Drive GC as a teaching professional just before my final exams.

I qualified as PGA Assistant of the Year in 2013 and started to look for jobs while I was waiting for my results. I applied for Head Professional job at Kington Golf Club in Herefordshire. I remember going to the interview and the course was four feet under snow. I had prepared quite a detailed PowerPoint presentation about why I should get the job, but the interview room didn’t have a power socket or a projector, so things didn’t start well! Fortunately, I had printed off some copies of the presentation, so I just had to hand those out to the committee. Thankfully, I got the job!

Kington is a small private members’ club, and apart from the greens staff, caterer and myself everyone else were volunteers. Everyone mucked in and it provided the opportunity to see all sides of the business. On the back of that I studied for the PGA’s Director of Golf qualification and became the first women PGA Professional to achieve that status in 2015.

I stayed at Kington for four years and started to think about my next move. I was looking more towards more managerial roles at that time, but Joe Kelly, the PGA’s Business Relationship Officer, gave me a heads up about the head professional’s job at Belton Park Golf Club. He told me about the club that it would a great opportunity for me, so I submitted my CV and I was invited for an interview and started in September 2017. Belton is a very busy private member’ club and my role was much more of a traditional Head Pro’s role with coaching, running the retail operation, custom fitting and club repairs and so on.  After Covid hit, like many people, I decided that it was time for a change and began looking for new opportunities at the beginning of last year.

What attracted you to applying for the job at North Sound?

I was interested in experiencing a different lifestyle and culture and the opportunity to work for a privately-owned club within a global organisation, rather than a member-run committee, appealed to me. I saw the position of Golf & Teaching Professional at North Sound advertised on the PGA’s jobs board and I thought it looked like an amazing opportunity, so I thought ‘Why not?’ I left Belton last September and started at North Sound in October.

Describe the club, the course and its facilities…

North Sound boasts the only 18-hole course in the Cayman Islands. It’s a par 71, 6,605-yard championship layout, which is fun to play with excellent greens and fabulous ocean views. We have a growing membership of over 440 and are open to the public seven days a week, with no restrictions, though members have priority to book in advance. We have an aqua driving range (using floating range balls), two large practice putting/chipping greens, and a small pitching green with a bunker. The club is a popular hub for members and our open-air bar and grill provides a very social atmosphere and can accommodate up to 200 people.

What does a typical working day involve?

Managing the tee sheet, organising and running tournaments, general administration and coaching – both individual and group lessons. I also have taken on the responsibility for the buying and merchandising of the shop and the associated administration that comes with inventory control.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

Being part of a great team.

And the most challenging?

Getting stock onto the island is a long process and we have little control over the timescales involved. It takes approximately a month from ordering, to the product getting here and clearing customs. With Covid and the difficulty in getting hold of stock, I am quickly learning that you have to be very organised and plan much further ahead than I did when I was working in the UK. 

How has your working life been impacted by the pandemic and how challenging has it been to work under Covid restrictions?

Face masks have been mandatory in the Cayman Islands prior to my arrival, so we need to wear those in all indoor settings like the pro shop. But we are lucky that our F&B service is outdoors, and the weather is more conducive to eating outdoors, so we haven’t been impacted in the same way as the UK.

The main effects of Covid are on the number of visitors to the island. Strict travel restrictions were in place until late 2021, and even though the restrictions have been eased, fewer people are coming to the island than did in 2019. However, the number of members and the rounds that members at the club are playing has increased, so the tee sheet is busier than ever.

How would you describe your coaching style?

Relaxed and player lead. It is very important to understand what each person wants out of their lessons. Whether it’s a quick fix because they are just lacking a little bit of confidence and just need pointing in the right direction, to people who have come with a very clear agenda on their long-term aspirations. We have always got our own preferences, but ultimately you have to listen to what that person wants. Yes, you can lead and guide them if you believe there is a way forward that is maybe different from what they thought, but it is down to us to listen to what they want.

How easy has it been to settle into the local community and what are the best parts about working/living in the Cayman Islands?

This is one of the friendliest places that I have ever been to, and all the staff at the club have been most welcoming, so settling in has been an easy process.  It’s a very small island, so everyone knows everyone else, making it a very sociable place. As you would expect with a Caribbean island, it’s very laid back and you just have to go with the flow. And, oh yes, the winter weather is amazing!

What advice would you pass on to other PGA Members who may be interested in working abroad in general, and the Caribbean specifically?

Reach out and do your research. I spent a bit of time with Sam Carr, my BRO at the time and Matt Davies, the PGA’s International Regional Manager, helping to prepare for interview and to find out a bit more about the job and working abroad. I was also lucky enough to have the opportunity to bend Eddie Bullock’s ear and, as ever, he was most helpful.  

I have a lot still to learn about living in the Caribbean, but the older I get, the more I understand that there are lots of people who are more than happy to help you and to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  Embrace the culture and lifestyle that exists in the country, otherwise what’s the point in relocating? Grasp opportunities when they come along, life is too short, and every opportunity is another learning experience.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

For the first time in my life, I can answer this question – right where I am!


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