John, who gained his CCM in 2013, began his career in the golf industry as a management trainee at Carton House, where he worked his way up to the role of Golf Operations Manager after 2 years. John then spent time in two other golf resorts in Ireland as Director of Golf– Mount Wolseley Resort and Moyvalley Resort, later joining Rathfarnham Golf Club as General Manager. John is currently the General Manager of The Island Golf Club.
In this Q&A John tells us how he manages the demand of overseas visitors at the club and what has had the biggest impact on his career.
When and why did you become involved in the CMAE?
I became involved as a member of the CMAE very early in my career. I was keen to learn as much about the industry as quickly as possible. Learning on the job is one thing but it is very beneficial to put some structure on what you learn from day to day work. I found it very helpful to meet other managers and hear that they faced similar challenges to the ones that I faced and to share ideas with them. To this day, one of the most enjoyable parts of every education event that I attend is meeting my colleagues and friends in the industry and sharing ideas. I think that the support structure that CMAE provides is invaluable. We are always there at the end of a phone if somebody needs to bounce an idea off us or to discuss a challenge.
The Island Golf Club is in high demand with overseas visitors; how do you manage the conflict between visitors and members and what tensions does this create?
The Island is very fortunate to form part of overseas visiting golfers’ itineraries. It is a wonderful course that provides a genuine links challenge. The Members at The Island are very proud of the course and take great pleasure in meeting our visitors on the course as they play or in the clubhouse when they have finished their round. It is a source of great pride that somebody has travelled thousands of miles to come and play “their” course and their interaction with our overseas visitors forms a huge part of the welcome that visitors experience at the Club. Our Members recognise the importance of this revenue stream for the benefit of the Club, but we try and strike a balance to ensure that our Members have good access to the course. There are occasions when the demand for visitor golf can put pressure on casual times for Members, but we work hard to keep the balance between visiting golfers and ensuring that our Members can access their course.
You joined the golf industry early in your career and have worked your way up from a management trainee to General Manager of one of Irelands top clubs. What were the biggest gaps in your knowledge when you first entered the industry and how did you fill those gaps?
I have done courses that cover the main elements of management throughout my career so far but one area that I continually work on is the area of leadership. Frequently, people end up in management positions without formal training on how to lead people. It is a very specialised skill and vital in our roles as managers. Alongside all of the management functions that we carry out, leading a team of people in a common direction is fundamental to the future success of any operation. Sometimes we can get lost in management accounts and meetings and it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is up to us as managers to set standards, set an example and lead. I keep management and leadership books by my desk or close to hand at home and dip in and out of them as often as I can. I don’t think anyone can say that they have mastered the art of leadership and I will keep working at it until the day I retire. In many ways, it is the most exciting and enjoyable part of the role as General Manager of a Club.
Who or what do you feel has had the biggest impact on your career? Did you have a mentor?
I saw both my parents work hard without excuses when I was growing up and this influenced me, and I have tried to carry this attitude forward in my own career and do my best and work hard. Nothing can replace hard work and a good attitude, and it is a point that I make to young staff when they are starting work with us – you can’t just flick a switch in 10 years and become a hard worker with good attention to detail. It has to start with the job you are doing now, no matter where you see that in the overall trajectory of your career. There is an expression “we are what we repeatedly do” that I heard a number of years ago and have found to be particularly effective. Try and do things well all the time so that it becomes habit rather than effort. I have been very fortunate to work with some people who positively influenced my career. David Fleming was my first boss in the golf industry at Carton House and was an excellent role model for me to learn from.
What enticed you get involved in the CMAE’s education pathway and how proud were you when you passed the CCM exam?
I have always been passionate about education and have worked throughout my career at formal education to try and continually develop my knowledge of all aspects of the job I do. When I heard that there was a qualification for Club Managers (CCM), I immediately contacted Michael Walsh in the Irish Golf and Club Managers’ Association and some of my colleagues in Ireland to find out more. Michael and my colleagues were very helpful in getting me on the right path to sit my exam. It is always hard to sit down at the end of a day’s work and get the books out to study but I found it stimulating as I wasn’t learning abstract theories – I was reading about my day to day life in club management. The exam was tough, and I was delighted when I got the phone call to say that I was successful. I am keen to keep progressing and I know that our colleagues in the USA have higher qualifications in club management that I would love to see coming to Europe someday soon.