"The First 90 Days": Critical Success Factors for Rookie HP's

by Brian Dobak
January 2, 2011

How does the road begin as a rookie head professional? We’ve been busting our tail as an assistant professional for what seems like forever, and our hard work has finally paid off, but only to realize the hard work has only just begun! When we enter our new role as a rookie head professional, what are the critical success factors in the first few months?  Who better to ask for direction than some of the best in the business and just as I expected, they gave some great insight! Here is what we can learn from their contributions and I know that as assistant professionals, we can all take it home with us and hold on to it until we finally cross that threshold into our first HP job:

Learn About the Previous Regime

One of the first things we have to get in order is knowing the circumstances of the previous head professional. Finding out a little bit about how or why the club chose to go in the direction they did is crucial when we are officially on board. Take the perspective of Eden Foster from Maidstone Club in East Hampton, New York:

“I think a big mistake that rookie Head Professionals do is they try to make their mark too soon. If the former Head Pro was fired they should find out why he was fired and pay close attention to not make the same mistake. If the former Head Pro retired after a long career then it is important to keep things status quo the first year and start to make a larger impact the second year. Make a lot of little changes that first year. Things that most people may not notice but added up make a big change.”

Remain Grounded and Set Your Priorities

Something we should take heed to is our natural inclination to invoke excitement within ourselves during a very special event. The road as an assistant professional and striving to be prepared for our first HP job is long and many times arduous. The process of preparing, interviewing for, and attaining an HP position is quite difficult and sometimes seems like there is no end in sight. Finally, when we are successful and have earned our first HP job – this must be pretty exciting, I can’t imagine it being any other way. But from the perspective of Bruce Patterson at Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook, Illinois, taming that excitement is in our best interest:

“After just going through a long interview process I am sure you are full of excitement and vision on how you are going to make this job something really special. You have a long check list from all your education from the PGA of America and you are ready to attack all of them. This is where your first red light should go off. I think it is extremely important to begin by setting your priorities. You will need to work through them in an orderly fashion and restrain yourself from attempting to "do it all" at once. Pick the most important areas like staffing; it is imperative to have a competent head assistant. Determine your management style, learn how to efficiently delegate and develop a time management program for you to follow. Baby steps are first and foremost for steady growth.”

Trust Your Staff

When beginning your first tenure as a HP, it is important to draw out the leader in yourself that hopefully you had been cultivating as an assistant professional. If the situation calls for it, once you have put together your staff, trusting them is critical. Bruce Patterson briefly sheds light by noting this important aspect of your first months as a HP:

“It’s critical to not try to "do it all myself ". Learn how to allow your staff to do a project their way instead of my way. These were clearly the most difficult learning curves for me in the early months.”

Ask Questions

Another aspect of grave importance is asking questions. Many of us can get stuck in the thought process of, “Well, if I ask questions, it will seem like I don’t know what I’m doing.” That just simply isn’t true. Perception is important, however asking questions can do nothing but help you. Be humble enough to ask questions. Bruce Patterson says it best about his experience as a young HP:

“Don't be afraid to ask questions, especially from those that have experience. I some how had the foresight to sit down with two influential members and successful businessmen. My quest at the time was to learn from them some secrets of running a successful business. While I came away with many great ideas (the best one being, hire good people and get out of their way), what I didn't know was, I created two "fatherly" figures who felt "invested" in me and my success. Whenever they saw an issue brewing, they had my back. Bottom line: Get a mentor at the club and a fellow PGA member who you respect and your learning curve will be shortened dramatically, and ask a lot of questions!”

Get To Know Everyone and Help Others Keep Perspective

At Interlachen Country Club, in his first Head Professional job, Nathan Ollhoff paints a picture of the transition he went through as he stepped into the new role, as well as briefly describing what the first few months were characterized by:

“I was fortunate to start in January 2009 which for a club located in Minnesota, enabled me to get acclimated at a better pace. I remember very clearly being offered the job in late December and flying back to Seminole for a few final days of work, packing up all my belongings and driving north to start work as the HP. The long drive provided a lot of time to think and strategize. The first few months were filled with getting to know the staff, the membership, and the nuances of the club. Also, being an assistant so recently I felt like I could relate well with the assistants. My goal as a HP was and still is to help them keep perspective (because of the current environment) yet motivated each and every day."

Gene Mattare from Saucon Valley CC also builds on what Nathan explains about getting to know the membership:

Interact with your membership as much as possible. Be visible when necessary -particularly during the first year. Your staff will be watching how you relate to the members. This is a great time to establish your service philosophy.

Establish a Relationship with Your Vendors

From a retail standpoint, your relationships with the vendors are extremely important. You have to have them on your side and supporting your goals for the golf shop. Like your current staff, some will buy in, some may not, and that may be a green light to go in another direction. Gene Mattare briefly emphasizes this importance:

In your first 90 days, make a list of vendors that you will be using. Call the sales representatives and schedule appointments as needed. It’s extremely important to establish these relationships and nurture them going forward; your success from a retail standpoint depends on it.

As you can see by reading the perspectives of Eden, Bruce, Nathan, and Gene, there are quite a few bases to cover when arriving into a new HP job, especially our first HP job! Their pearls of wisdom should give you direction as you navigate into and through the process. For the next 4 weeks, look forward to exclusive content from some of the countries best Head Professionals as we continue forward through "The First 90 Days", a 5-part series on how to approach the first 90 days of our first HP position.