Interview with Gene Mattare, GM at Saucon Valley Country Club

December 14, 2009

Prior to accepting the Director of Golf position at Saucon Valley in 1991, Gene was an assistant professional at the Chevy Chase Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland and the Head Golf Professional at Princess Anne Country Club in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is a graduate of The George Washington University where he lettered in varsity golf all four years and was named to the All Decade Team for the 1970’s. After graduation Gene coached the Men’s Golf Team at the university for four years prior to turning professional.

While in the Middle Atlantic Section of the PGA he served on the Section Board of Directors and was also President of the Section’s Virginia Chapter. Gene was named the Ping National Club fitter of the Year in 1997 and has been named Merchandiser of the Year in the Philadelphia Section of the PGA six times. He has also been nominated for the national award eight times. Gene assumed the additional responsibilities of General Manager at Saucon Valley CC in 2005. He has been gracious enough to lend his insights on golf operations to PIFG. Enjoy and at the end of the interview, feel free to comment on this entry or share your own knowledge on any of the questions asked!

What are some aspects of your position, that if you didn’t do them well, they would be detrimental to the operation?

I think in order to be successful in any size operation, particularly one as large and complex as Saucon Valley, you have to be extremely well organized. You have to be adept at managing your time, delegating responsibilities and clearly communicating your goals to the membership and staff.

What are the overarching principles of your operation that you want your staff to buy into and perform at a high level, and take with them when they leave?

I want each member of my staff to be exceptionally courteous and exceed each member and guest’s expectations with regard to service. I try to give each staff member experience in all areas of our operation so when they do move on to their own job they are comfortable in every aspect of a top tier golf operation. Again, weekly staff meetings and constant communication are very important in getting across our vision and mission.

What do you look for in a potential assistant professional? A head professional? And what kind of advice would you give a young assistant professional on his/her path in this business?

When evaluating a potential assistant golf professional I look for someone who projects a professional image, has good written and verbal communication skills, possesses a pleasant demeanor, and has the ability to play the game at a competitive level. Prior experience may be important depending on which position I am trying to fill. In a head golf professional, in addition to the above mentioned attributes, I am looking for a person with experience at different golf operations. As an assistant I would try to work for a number of highly qualified and respected head professionals who offer an opportunity to learn different aspects of a golf operation. I feel that merchandising, teaching and tournament operations are extremely important in rounding out a resume.

As complex as SV is, can you describe your general experience of having to oversee 60 holes of golf?

The more complex an organization or golf operation is the more organized you have to be. What I have tried to do at Saucon Valley is set goals for each department and then develop systems to attain those goals. If you break each area down to smaller, more manageable components, it makes running a complex organization much easier. Take the Golf Shop. We do close to $1M in sales annually. What I try to do is floor-plan the shop by looking at the available space and fixtures and then determine which vendors we will use in each area. I then buy to the fixtures we have. For example, we have five cabinets that hold either six or nine colors of solid shirts. I buy six colors – not seven or eight. I know how many shirts it takes to fill each cabinet. It makes buying far less complicated. The same applies to slacks, shorts, clubs, etc. Buy to the space and fixtures you have. I also assign vendors to each staff member. One assistant may handle Peter Millar, a belt line, a headwear line and perhaps a shoe line. It is that person’s responsibility to know those lines inside and out. We have monthly presentations at our staff meetings where the line is shown and discussed by a sales representative or the person assigned to the line. This keeps everyone involved and up to date on the selling points of a particular garment or accessory. Sales reports are examined to determine a line’s viability: Did it sell through? What was the profit margin? Was the line discounted? What were the member comments? The bottom line is: running any successful operation is a team effort. You simply cannot do everything yourself and be successful and in order to be successful you have to be able to communicate your vision to the appropriate people.

Do you hire assistants without college degrees?

I would not hire an assistant or head professional who does not have a college degree. I think it is extremely important. You are dealing with a highly educated clientele and you have to be able to converse and communicate with them on a higher level.

Some clubs don't have an assistant professional hierarchy, i.e. First Assistant and/or Second Assistant and so forth. Do you buy or sell the hierarchical concept for assistants? If you buy it, why? How might it potentially hurt an operation?

I treat all assistant professionals as equals; however, due to the fact that there is some difference in tenure, as well as the fact that two are full-time and two are seasonal, there seems to be some rationale to having a "head professional/first assistant”. I also believe that designation helps an assistant when applying for a head professional position (a position as the sole head professional or director of golf). I divide the operation into areas and assign an assistant to each area, for example: women's 18-hole events, men's tournaments, nine-holers and juniors. Each has the responsibility for a particular group so there is accountability. I do the same with the golf shop, one person has a men's line, women's line, golf bag line, shoe line, etc. It keeps everyone involved and, again, accountable. I cannot stress enough that organization and delegation is key to a successful golf operation. The larger the operation, the more organized you have to be to satisfy the demands and needs of your membership. I do not feel a hierarchical organization hurts an operation at all. In fact, an organization that does not demand accountability hurts an operation more.

How do you draw the line between being your direct reports friend and their boss?

I have always treated my staff with respect. We all get along extremely well, however, you have to be able to lead and in some cases discipline. That can be difficult if you are too "friendly" with your direct reports. I try to separate business from personal.

It's easy for many to assume that once you're a PGA member, a head professional position just falls in your lap, and that simply isn't the case. When an assistant of yours works hard for a lengthy period of time and achieves his/her Class "A" status, and asks you "What's next?" What would you explain to them?

I would say make a list of what you would like in a head professional position: what type of club (private, resort, etc.), how large an operation, what geographic area of the country, etc. I would try to help him/her determine the best "fit" for their particular needs and talents. I would then explain that the talent pool is quite large and you may have to interview with numerous facilities before the right fit for both the professional and the club is found. I would tell them not to get discouraged as there are usually close to 100 applicants for the better jobs. I would encourage continual education and professional improvement, as well as networking. If a move to another type of operation would be in their best interest I would encourage them to consider that option.

During your different experiences, how have you approached and handled the ebbs and flows of the fluctuating wants and needs of the members and guests?

I have always tried to anticipate our members' needs. You have to constantly try to improve yourself as well as your operation. There is an old saying that those of us who dare to teach must never cease to learn. I first heard that from Bill Strausbaugh, who was my sponsor for PGA membership. Those are words to live by.

As hosts of the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open, can you describe the role you and your staff played before and during the event?

I have had the opportunity to be involved with the three most recent USGA Championships we have hosted at Saucon Valley: the 1992 and 2000 U.S. Senior Opens and the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open. My staff was involved in assisting with player registration, coordinating practice round tee times, staffing the practice range, coordinating player bag storage, assigning caddies (we used five SVCC caddies during the Championship – more during practice rounds) and handling sales in the golf shop. In all USGA events you essentially turn over your facility to the USGA Championship Committee the week of the tournament. We had regular member and guest play right up to the Sunday before the Championship. We had our third course, Weyhill, open during the event with starting times filled from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM every day of tournament week. The day after the Championship concluded we hosted an outing for four of the major corporate sponsors. It was then back to business as usual. It was an exciting week for the entire staff, albeit an exhausting one.