Interview with Ray Cutright from Idle Hour Club

April 19, 2011

Ray Cutright is the Director of Golf at Idle Hour Club in Macon, Georgia. He has served in a leadership capacity at both the section and national levels since 1977. He currently represents District 13 (North Florida, South Florida, Georgia Sections) on the PGA Board of Directors. In addition to serving as President of the Georgia Section ending in 1997, he has picked up along the way recognition as Central Chapter Golf Professional of the Year and Teacher of the Year as well as Georgia Section Golf Professional of the Year, a Bill Strausbaugh Award, a Horton Smith Award, Merchandiser of the Year Awards for both Private and Resort, Section Golf Professional of the Year, and a National Horton Smith Award. Needless to say, Ray is a legend in the Georgia Section. We are proud to have been given his time and insight into how assistant professionals can sharpen our tools and advance in a todays challenging environment. We hope you enjoy.

How do you know you're "ready" for your first HP job (Is it a feeling, does somebody tell you, do you wait until your next in line)?

We see and talk about mentoring constantly in our Association. I had the fortune of finding a young PGA Professional when I was a teenager who took me under his wing and taught me from the very beginning. He had been a good player and also had the fortune of working under a great golf professional himself.

Because of this, my philosophy has been to hire young people who are good players and love the game but also understand that golf is a business that revolves and grows from others playing and enjoying the game.

From the beginning, I make it clear that we must have a plan and there is a final goal of becoming an independent “stand alone” golf professional. When I feel like they can make it on their own, we begin the process of building a resume to prepare for the opportunities that become available. I tend to push from my end much harder than they do. It’s always good practice to interview for a position when the opportunity presents itself so they need to have all the tools in place.

Bottom line in my opinion is finding a successful professional to help you chart your course from the beginning. In this very competitive world, it is sometimes difficult to find someone who is willing to share but I have always found it to my advantage to hire my weaknesses and go from there. I believe I will become a better professional and person by hiring and developing my assistants to be better than I am. I have learned a lot from them over the years too!

Planning, training, and educating yourself along with timing should create the “right time!”

Can you describe your experiences as an Assistant Professional and what you learned?

You always hear stories from professionals about how it used to be when we were coming up in the golf business. It definitely was different compared to today but not necessarily better. I was raised to believe it took sixty to eighty hours a week to do the job. Because of that, I have learned over the years to teach my apprentices about time management and “visibility” at the right times. We have become so business correct over the past thirty years we have forgotten who we are. The wonderful thing is that it’s not too late if we are willing to honestly evaluate ourselves on a regular basis and pay attention to our facility and customer needs.

Fortunately my mentor, Butch Hansen taught all of us from the beginning that people skills were essential in our profession. They included playing with as many different players possible, greeting, listening, and focusing on the customer at all times and anticipating their needs to create the ultimate experience every visit. He believed, and I still do today, that everything falls into place after that. The business component is easier than ever thanks to all the technology. Get out there and be available, visible, and receptive to your customer’s needs. Increased competition makes it even more important today. There are no buttons or advertisements that will take the place of personally exceeding customer needs every time. It takes a consistent commitment to do it though and we are in a society of quick fixes. Step back and look at successful professionals over the long term. They remain focused, educated, visible, attentive, consistent, and excited about making productive change!

Can you reflect on the transition (first 6 months to a year) from AP to your first HP job and what it was like?

Even though I thought I knew everything, I had to be on my own to realize what an important part of my life Butch played. Even today, I remind him that things would be different if he had not been there.

My first head professional position was in Toccoa, Georgia in 1976. It was a nine hole semi-private facility in the north Georgia mountains. I had been at three upscale private clubs with Butch since age fifteen so this was foreign to me. It was one of my best experiences ever and it taught me that we are in the people and relationship business first. To this day, we still have life long friendships from this position.

I was the man! All of a sudden it was myself, my wife, and a few part time high school and college boys. I was in front of the line of fire and Butch wasn’t there to lean on or shield me. I had to develop and execute the plan everyday and when it failed, adjust. Fortunately, Butch had tested me and given me enough rope to keep moving forward.

What are some aspects that if you didn't do them well, it would be detrimental to the golf operation?

All customers want to be “wowed” on a regular basis. The leader must be visible and the staff trained to make sure they are greeted properly on every visit. I see too many operations with an atmosphere of come in and register and go play with no staff interaction. In this day of less play, interaction is the key to the customer returning for the next round or purchase. They are looking for a reason to be supportive and loyal!

Learn names, LISTEN, write notes, send emails, work the first tee, or walk the practice tee and give a few tips. Work ahead and develop routines, programs, and promotions that draw the customer to the golf course and your staff.

What are the overarching principles you stand by as a golf professional and would like to see assistants stand by?

I always remember in addition to my personal character, morals, and ethics, I am an employee of the facility and because of that, certain rules apply. We start by addressing all customers as Mr., Mrs., or Miss. Times have changed and there are many who do not prefer that title so I have softened there but only when a request is made. Even though human nature tends to make us favor certain customers, it’s essential that everyone is treated the same, especially in the application of rules area. We are in a business where first impression is extremely important so I impress appearance at all levels, eye contact, and firm handshakes. I believe in asking a lot of questions to make sure the facility and customer needs are being met on a daily basis. This tends to create an atmosphere of being over prepared, which I like. ANTICIPATION in any profession is a gift that goes a long way in making an operation special. I teach my staff to react and create experiences for the golfer so they come to play and leave excited.

What do you look for in an Assistant Professional?

Hunger! I want my assistants to come to work everyday on a positive note and absorb everything they can to reach for their ultimate goal of becoming a head professional. The golf profession is not for everybody and I believe it’s best to lay it out upfront as far as my expectations and their expectations. I had the privilege of being around Davis Love, Jr. for quite a while and he was the best visionary I have ever seen. You laid out the plan and worked on what it took to reach your goals. The road wasn’t always perfect but you adjusted and kept going. I have to know this person is willing to do whatever it takes everyday and has the capacity and desire to grow and challenge me on a regular basis. I have learned so much from the assistants that have worked along side me. It’s fun and satisfying to see an assistant who loves the profession and game as much as I do!

What kind of advice would you give a young apprentice that aspires to one day be a HP?

Whether we like it or not, the opportunities to become a head professional are lessening daily and I don’t see it getting better soon. Most apprentices have their view of what it takes to be a head professional but when the time comes, because of lack of training, education, finances, business skills, and people skills, they are not ready. To be successful, it must become a way of life. You must be willing to give all you have along with a well thought out plan of progression to start with. Developing life mentors is so important because as you progress, there will be situations, issues, and goals you need help on. I believe you must have people who have been through the golf professional life to keep you on track. Never be afraid to seek advice, ask questions, and constantly evaluate your long-term goals. I see very few successful professionals who are not totally emersed!

For an AP that might feel limited in his/her role, what kind of advice would you give them?

It’s always best to discuss your situation with your employer first. There may be some communication issues or the operation may not be set up for you to work outside your job description. Take some time and make a list of the areas you want to grow in. Ask your head professional for some time and discuss your goals. Even though your present position may not change, you open the door to challenge the present and exceed the job expectations.

The education and instruction opportunities produced by our Association are the best out there. Seek advice from other professionals who have been successful in the roles and fields you aspire to excel in. We have been moving toward specialization but I believe it’s good to get a taste of it all early. Time has proven that nothing is forever and situations change. I never dreamed I would leave Sea Island as the Director Of Golf to become a traditional golf professional again.

Constantly grow, train, dream, and educate yourself.

Due to the cost of running any facility, I believe the professional who can do it all will always have opportunities.

What are some ways you think assistants can stand out at their facility?

Great question! I am a firm believer that first impressions are so important. They can start by learning names and greeting every customer the way they want to be, by name. Anticipation is priceless! In my view, it’s my idea of reading minds and providing services that the customer remembers. I always tell my assistants I hate name tags because I want them to stand out so much that everyone knows who they are. Even though all facilities and situations are different, there are staples if well done will go a long way. As a team, sit down and list the areas you want to excel in. Once you do that, keep referring to and performing that list better than anyone else.

How do you think assistants can be better "salesmen" in their golf shops?

Product knowledge is essential in selling any product. They must stay current on what’s out there in the marketplace and listen to their customer’s needs. With so much access to information in the equipment and instruction venues, your customer will challenge you. Be proactive and stay out in front of them by studying and telling them before they tell you. By doing this you let them know you are the expert and interested in their well being.

Listen and speak when the opportunity is right. When they get your total focus, the response usually equates to a sale of some kind. In any case, you have gained their respect and interest.

What are some strategies that you think assistants can use to develop their teaching skills?

Teaching is a funny part of our business. Like playing, we have tended to move away from it as we all try to survive in the business area. We need to understand these two components are the key relationship building tools we possess as PGA Professionals. I mention this because most operations do not consider playing and instruction as priorities. Consequently, an assistant has to make an effort to develop their teaching skills. In my opinion, all golf professionals must develop basic skills if only to fix someone on the first tee on Saturday morning. My advice to all entry level instructors is to understand the basic fundamentals of pre-swing, swing, and golf ball management. From there, it’s easier to focus on what makes the pupil create the swing motion and ball flight they do. If there is no one on staff at their facility, they need to find instructors in their area that will allow them to observe lessons and hopefully some discussion time. PGA education is dedicated to improving the instruction field so they should use this opportunity because it involves printed material and “hands on” opportunities. Most important, develop a teaching routine: structure the lesson, understand the fundamentals, and stress to the student to follow your working plan for improvement. Every opportunity to read, observe golf swings and successful instructors should be taken.

Teaching is an acquired skill developed over time. If it’s fun for you, you will get better. If your students have fun, you will prosper!

With all of the hats many assistants wear, what kind of advice can you give assistants to better manage their time at work?

Determine the staples and do them when they need to be done. Even the ones you don’t like! The sooner it happens, the more time you have to devote to the golfers, playing, teaching and visibility.

I do my office work after hours or early in the morning. Emailing can be done during off hours so other than phone calls or a few meetings, I don’t like to be in an office……the customer can’t see me! Remember, we must be available when the golfers are there.

One of your assistants has just achieved his Class "A" and asks you, "Whats next?", what would you tell him?

We have been working on this long before they achieve this goal. Because I want them focused on becoming their own man from the beginning, we work on the transition of an apprentice to a Class A member regularly. It’s unlikely they will get their own job first time out but very healthy for them to go through an interview process. We have spent time on preparation which involves appearance, written materials, and product knowledge, skills, and practice interviews with me. Lots of what if’s and anticipation questions!

As I mentioned, first impression is often the only chance they get so we have to be ready!

When opportunities arise, we discuss them and decide what action to take.

Do you buy or sell an assistant professional heirarchy (First Assistant, Second Assistant, etc.)?

Really, I don’t. I look at our operation from a team view and we determine what has to be done and who will do it. Since my goal is to make all our assistants ready to be on their own, I make sure each one of them experiences what it’s like to be the leader and team member in various project situations such as events, budgeting, creating financials, merchandising, developing an activities calendar. Their desire, skill level, and ability to finish a task determines who gets what. I personally make sure I am asking questions and giving them the tools they need.

We are always a team whether we succeed or fail.

What staffing model do you use at Idle Hour?

I can’t say I have a consistent model because customer needs and staff skill level change. Since we develop a SIMPLE business plan annually, the goals we have for our operation, customer service, and staff growth are in place. It’s up to me to make sure we follow the plan and stay on track to achieve the goals we set out to accomplish. I like my staff moving so I tend to keep it lean in the golf shop and have them promoting the game in some form: playing, working the first tee, and teaching. Basically, areas where they come in personal contact with the customer.
You can give the same plan to ten people and a small percentage will execute it exceptionally! We will adapt if needed to be exceptional.

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

I have had the privilege of working in many types of environments over the past forty years. Golf professionals work long hours and I have found it much more productive to have an atmosphere that is fun for the customer and the employee. I always let my staff know what I expect and ask a lot of questions to help them develop their own thoughts and views on how things should be done.

My mentor, Butch Hansen was extremely tough but I knew he would do anything for me. He constantly challenged me to reach for more and supported me when I dropped the ball. Kind of like when I was a little league coach…..learn, practice hard, play hard and I am satisfied. I still hated to lose though!

I make sure I spend enough time with all staff. I listen and keep them current on my expectations. I want them to know I support them always but it’s essential they perform at a level that excites other staff and our customers. Most important, I want them to see me giving it 100+ percent always.

Thats all from Ray, hopefully you have been able to get some great perspective on your position as a golf professional and how you can sharpen your tools going forward.

Thanks, Ray!