Finding Your Niche In A Golf Operation

by Brian Dobak
May 3, 2010

In the previous article, we talked about how important it is to be capable of wearing many hats if you want to be a Head Professional or Director of Golf. This week’s article revolves around our natural inclination towards one particular area and becoming an expert at it. The best definition for a “niche” in the terms of which it will be spoken about here would be a path for which a golf professional is best fitted. How do you find your “niche”? Do you actually find it yourself or does it find you? All of us are different and all of us will gravitate towards different interests. It’s said the golf business revolves around long days and little money, so you better find a way to enjoy it. Well if that’s the case, one way to do that is by developing a niche.

Start thinking about what you enjoy doing and what you don’t enjoy doing. What are you naturally good at? On what do you focus best or most enthusiastically? What must you be dragged away from doing? In terms of a golf operation, do you have an eye for fashion and are you fashion oriented, are you a born salesman (Merchandising)? Do you enjoy starting a large project from scratch, building it, and seeing it through (Tournament Operations)? Do you have an eye for numbers and breaking them down and building them up (Operations Budgeting)? Do you love to help people and teach in some way (Instruction)?

How do you know what your passion is? How do you know which hat is your favorite hat or which hat you wear the best? Questions are timely but they will only get you so far. The best way to figure it out is by doing, which will take time and patience, possibly years. During your path as a golf professional, put yourself out there and try different things. Try your best to tailor your experiences to aspects of the golf profession that you haven’t experienced much of. Dabble in all of the responsibilities that come with being a golf professional. Get a taste of what it is like to merchandise a golf shop, run various size tournaments, and build different kinds of teaching programs for different demographics. Go south for a winter and try something new, volunteer, get involved with your section, and most effectively, ask your head professional if you can try something new. You will soon develop a passion or strong interest for something in particular. After a while, you may figure out that everything is your niche and that you are a wearer of all hats! But you will most definitely conclude that at least one thing is your niche. Once you do this, you can start committing yourself to a certain path in this business and the sky is the limit.

The most well known niche in the golf profession is probably teaching. There is arguably no other area in a golf operation that requires as much interest and passion than does teaching. You have to want to spend eight to ten hours outside teaching, not everybody can do that. You have to want to build and keep up with teaching itineraries for dozens, some times even hundreds of students, and not everybody can do that. Teaching requires passion, and not everybody has that passion to make their teaching career successful. Mike Shannon, a Sea Island Instructor and Top-50 instructor, has certainly found his niche in teaching the art of putting. One observation of his “Laser Optics Putting System” and you’ll see just how passionate he is in the engineering phenomena of putting.

How about merchandising? Not everyone enjoys juggling relationships with many vendors and dealing with “hounding” sales representatives. Not every one enjoys sitting in a vendor van for an hour while taking a sales pitch from rep that seems like all he’s interested in is making his sales quota for the month. Not everyone enjoys handling the accountability that comes with changing out fixtures and maintaining a very well kept and organized golf shop. Not everyone enjoys building and maintaining an open-to-buy budget. Take any of the past PGA National Merchandisers of the Year like Mike Harmon at Secession Golf Club or Brian Gerard at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Although largely political on the national level, clearly they did something right to be successful in their merchandising operation, and it stems from their passion to sell and grow their business.

How about tournament operations? Some people turn away from the logistical nightmare that a tournament can possibly be. Some people have a hard time directing others and managing the flow of participants in order to execute a 244 player, double shotgun outing. Some people find that familiarizing themselves with all of the rules of golf and having the book nearly memorized is tedious. But ask Slugger White, PGA Tour Tournament Director and he’ll tell you what having a niche is all about.

In conclusion, according to Romans 12:6-8, "We have been given different gifts for doing certain things well. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If you have been given great leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously."

Yes, wear many hats and wear them well, but you will also likely fit into a specific niche that interests you most. Dabble in everything that a golf professional position has to offer and you’ll find your niche, it's only a matter of time and patience.