Whitelaw’s pathway to Aronimink Golf Club General Manager

Whitelaw’s pathway to Aronimink Golf Club General Manager

04/07/2024

Andrew Whitelaw talks about the journey that has taken him from being an apprentice in Scotland to his current role as general manager of Aronimink Golf Club – one of America’s foremost private members’ clubs and host venue for the 2026 US PGA Championship – and reveals what he has learned along the way.

How did you first discover golf?

I lived right next to Longniddry Golf Club in Scotland, so it was natural for me to take up the game. We had an amazing junior section with six of us from the same age group all becoming PGA Professionals. The competition and the camaraderie in the group was certainly a major factor in me choosing to set out on the path to becoming a PGA Professional.

What attracted you to working overseas in the first instance? I grew up and had my primary school education in the Far East, moving home for senior school when I was 11, so I had always travelled and the lure and excitement of doing this again was in my blood and was always something I wanted to do.

What qualities do you think got you the job at Aronimink? From my conversations with the club’s board, they were very keen to leverage my international experience, my experience of hosting professional tournaments and my passion and experience in building team culture and service excellence. This was key in terms of my fit for the club and vice versa. 

What is the management structure of the club? During the peak season, we have a team of over 220, reducing to 120 in the offseason. I have 10 direct reports who have departmental management support, including our management-in-training programme. I report to the president of the club, and we have a number of club committees, typical to US clubs. All the parts work in sync with each other.

What changes are being implemented to the course and facilities in preparation for hosting the 2026 PGA Championship?

The course is already of championship standard, so the changes are not major, the focus will be on changing fairway lines and adding some new tees. A big area of focus is on clearing mainly dormant areas around the course that will be used to accommodate the necessary infrastructure and ensure the smooth flow of spectators around the property.

What challenges will the course present to the big-hitting tour players?

Aronimink is a traditional classic Donald Ross design. The course length – 7,237 yards, par 70 – won’t be of too much concern to the players. The challenges will come from our greens complexes, particularly when green speeds are up and the surfaces are firm. Some of the pin positions will also present a good challenge. The rough will be extremely difficult and we hope to have the course play hard and fast – if the weather cooperates. This combination promises to make Aronimink a strong challenge.

What have you learned from past experiences of hosting high-level tournaments? In my experience, good communication and having a strong team in place are the pillars for success. We’re pretty solid on both of these fronts and I’m really looking forward to working with the team at the PGA of America.

What does a typical working day involve?

We are entering phase two of our redevelopment programme, so currently my day starts with a meeting with the architect, builder and owner’s representative. I have a monthly breakfast with a group of members to talk about plans and what is going on at the club, which has helped me get to know so many members. No two days are ever the same, but making time to meet and talk with members is a constant every day.

What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your job?

Over the last two years, we have recruited a dynamic team, and the mentoring, training and development has been really rewarding. It’s been great to see the team bond and develop together.

The biggest challenge now is time management – with the new season, our next project getting underway, planning for The PGA and budget time alongside the day-to-day running of the club and being available for the membership, the days absolutely fly by!

What qualities do you look for when hiring a PGA Professional for a role?

As a professional, I always look for colleagues with a passion for playing the game and building relationships, which is crucially important in terms of member relations.    I also think it is important to continue to develop professionally, to be innovative and not be afraid of change.

How important has your PGA training and qualifications been in helping you to develop your career?

It’s been absolutely critical. Once I qualified, so many doors opened up for me to travel and use the skills I learnt to become a PGA Professional. The PGA Director of Golf qualification definitely helped me progress from being a teaching professional into a more managerial role, which in turn allowed me to develop skills to take me into my current position.

What did it mean to you to become a PGA Advanced Fellow and how important is the Excel pathway?

The PGA Advanced Fellow status was a great recognition for all the years of development, growth and experience I’ve had throughout my career. It was a real highlight for me receiving this status. I think the Excel pathway has been an excellent initiative and is another step in career development and upskilling to move on to bigger and better opportunities.

What’s the best piece of management advice you’ve received?

The first is to listen carefully and to understand what you’ve been told before you reply. The second is not to be scared to try something new and fail. It’s a bigger failure never to have tried at all.

What are the most important technological and management tools that you rely on?

I am a great believer in using technology for effective business management. Our club management software is key to optimising our budgetary, financial and operational planning and management. Our service survey platform, Happometer, shows us where we are excelling and where we need more focus. The data from these surveys shapes our training and allows us to reward our high performers.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out?

I’ve always tried to challenge myself to learn and improve even when I wasn’t sure where it would lead. Try to imagine yourself 20 years from now, set the bar high and don’t stand still, keep learning, keep networking, don’t be afraid of change, keep moving towards the goal, and remember to have fun along the way!

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