A full member since 1980, Mark Gibson was recently awarded Life Membership of the PGA of Australia. Here he reflects on his beginnings in the game, his greatest influences and the two mantras that have served him well.
I’ve had a pretty long career as a PGA Professional and when you see the people that are the icons of the game – the people that motivated you, that mentored you – they’re the people who have been awarded Life Membership. You’re in a group of people who I would consider have been very special to golf and to receive that honour did choke me up a little bit. When you look at someone like ‘The Von’, or Kel Nagle, ‘Thommo’, Charlie Earp, Alex and David Mercer, they’re very special people who have contributed so much to the game so to be held as a peer of theirs is an incredible honour.
I started caddying for my dad when I was about five. I used to push the buggy for three holes, sit on the bag for a couple and then push it a bit further. My mum was born in Edinburgh so she had golf in her family and she gave me a voucher for a lesson for my sixth birthday. Before I left for school that morning I asked her to organise it so that I could use it that day. I came home from school and she took me out to the golf club and a PGA Member by the name of Reg Want was our Professional at Coolangatta-Tweed Heads Golf Club.
Mr Want was a great player. Today he still holds the record for the most wins in the Queensland PGA so here I am in 1964 having a golf lesson with a guy who was brilliant, well mannered, well dressed… He was an inspiration. I couldn’t have been more excited by meeting someone. That was my introduction and he was the perfect mentor.
Mr Want’s first apprentice was Charlie Earp and I was Reg’s last apprentice. Even when I went to visit him about three weeks before he passed away and I had my own business by then, he was still Mr Want.
When I was 11 he asked my dad whether I could have the day off school to caddy for ‘The Von’. The Von was playing Coolangatta-Tweed with three businessmen and we got to our 17th hole, which was the eighth and he said, ‘Son, get a dozen balls out of my bag.’ So I pulled out a box of Penfold Aces on the tee of this 143-yard par 3 and he said, ‘Give me a 9-iron.’ He hit a 9-iron onto the green. He said, ‘Give me an 8-iron.’ He hit an 8-iron onto the green. Seven-iron, 6-iron, 5-iron, 4-iron, 3-iron, 2-iron. ‘Son, get me the 4-wood.’ The 3-wood. Driver. He hit 12 balls with 12 different clubs and every single one of them finished on the green. I was awestruck.
I started my traineeship at the end of 1975 and I have met so many inspirational PGA Members. People you can admire, people who are motivational. We are blessed with the stock that we have of PGA Professionals. The role that they played in getting me motivated, I have to pay it forward. I have to do the same thing for the young kids that I encounter.
Mr Want was going to retire so he asked me to stay on as his Assistant for the last 12 months of his career. When I finished with Mr Want, Charlie Earp rang me and said he needed me to come and work for him for a period of time because he wanted to go overseas for an extended holiday with Margie the following year. So I went and worked for Charlie for 18 months or so. My first pro job I went to Gladstone in Central Queensland and was there for almost five years. That was the toughest joint I’d ever been to in my life. Then I went and worked with Ian Triggs at Keppera for just over a year and then I got the pro’s job at Pine Rivers north of Brisbane and was the pro there for five years. From there I went to Caloundra and was the pro there for five-and-a-half years.
It was during my time at Caloundra that it became clear to me that I wanted to teach full-time. I was doing a lot more teaching than I was being a club pro and I just knew that I wanted to teach full-time. Then I came back to Royal Pines as the Head Professional for five years from November 1994, I went to Lakelands Golf Club for seven years and then in 2006 came back to run the teaching facility here at Royal Pines, and I’ve been here ever since.
I love teaching and every lesson I give I try and give it so that it’s the best lesson that person’s ever had. Whether they’ve had previous lessons with me or not, I want the lesson they have with me today to be the best lesson they can have ever.
I always wanted to teach because I’d been inspired by Mr Want and by other people who were great coaches that I’d run into. I went to a camp that was sponsored by Rothmans and Ron Luxton was the coach that was employed by Rothmans. I always wanted to coach and it crystallised a little bit in early ‘76. I went to my first trainee event at Coomera Golf Club and I had a 7.10am tee time. Being your first event you don’t want to get penalised for being late to the tee so I walked down to the first tee with the group in front of me. This guy walks onto the tee and hits this tee shot with a sound that I’d never heard and with a ball flight that I’d never seen. And that was Greg Norman. The immediate thought to me was, Christ, I hope I can teach good. I’d never even fantasised about hitting it that good.
There are two things that I live my life by. I’ve got a saying on my desk that says, ‘Those who dare to teach, must never cease to learn.’ I’ve lived by that every day since it went on my desk in 1990. The second one is, ‘People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’ If kids know that you genuinely care about their future and their golf, I don’t ever have an age-gap problem. There have been challenges with a few of them but I don’t think I need to change what I’m doing to deal with them.
The PGA of Australia has given everyone the opportunity to have the knowledge to be a good teacher but I do think a lot of it comes back to your ability to communicate it. I enjoy teaching people who are new to the game, I enjoy teaching club golfers that want to improve because they’re the ones that really enjoy the game.
One of the greatest things you can do as a coach is to listen. I don’t only ask students what they want, I watch their reactions to what they’re doing. That’s pretty important. You’ve got to keep your eye on the student and read them. They’ll give you the best information without even mentioning it.
I had seven weeks of lockdown last year where I didn’t get to come to work. I said to my wife when I went back that I don’t think there’ll ever be a time when I don’t do some coaching. The wife and I travel well together and there are a million places we haven’t been yet but I’m always going to want to teach. I’m always going to want to get out there and enjoy it. After that seven weeks I knew there’d never be a time when I don’t coach.
I’m not helping people as much as I’m helping the game grow. It’s the game that I really love. I want people to enjoy the game and let’s be honest, is there any greater way to make a living than sharing the game that you love in the fresh air and sunshine of the Gold Coast knowing at the end of the day you’re happy to go home, knowing that in the morning when you wake up you’re happy to go to work? Tell me I haven’t got it better than most.