Professional help: How Nudgee navigated a time of change - PGA of Australia

Professional help: How Nudgee navigated a time of change

In the midst of a two-year project to build 28 new holes across the 36-hole facility in Brisbane’s northern suburbs, Nudgee Golf Club lost 19 of 20 critical workdays during February due to rain.

And then the coronavirus pandemic struck.

The club closed its doors on March 23 and arrangements had to be made for some of those carrying out the civil and irrigation works on the James Wilcher design to be granted access from New South Wales into Queensland, with specific health plans developed for the workplace to enable construction to continue.

“Whilst it’s been difficult, we’ve been able to operate and move forward, which has been fantastic,” says Nudgee Golf Club General Manager and PGA Professional Darren Richards.

When people were permitted to play golf again demand drastically outstripped supply and with only 18 holes to utilise, Nudgee made the decision to move to ‘members only’ with a request made to the membership to be considerate of others in how many times a week they played.

Richards’ operations know-how and understanding of the wants and needs of members enabled the club to prosper while navigating an all-encompassing time of change.

In a challenging environment the benefits of having a PGA Professional in a management position at the club have been countless.

The golf industry’s willingness to share expertise and encourage learning was a defining aspect of Richards’ introduction to the career of a PGA Professional. 

“Don Gregory was a great mentor for me, giving myself my first golf job at Pacific Golf Club as a junior,” Richards explains.

“In typical Don style he said, ‘If you’re going to be here every day you may as well be useful and work for me’.”

Since then Richards has been building a bank of golf knowledge that equipped him with the skill set required to navigate such unpredictable winds.

A traineeship under Hugh Dolan at The Brisbane Golf Club was followed by five years out on tour before 10 years at Indooroopilly. The role as General Manager at Ipswich Country Club was next before his latest position as General Manager at Nudgee.

Richards was named the 2019 PGA Management Professional of the Year for the way in which he guided the club through the course reconstruction in the wake of land resumption by the Queensland State Government.

He has needed all of his expertise to manage the variety of issues thrust his way the past six months in addition to pro-shop operations at the club bring brought in-house.

“Certainly my golf knowledge in being able to run a pro shop at the same time as being under Government restrictions was needed more than ever before,” Richards admits.

“Luckily that’s my background and I was comfortable explaining to people what we were doing and why we were doing it.

“Understanding what golfers want at their club, having the background to be able to be flexible in the way we played the golf course and then to run the pro shop at the same time was a challenge but having done it before provided a sense of calm across the management team that it was going to be OK.

“It’s definitely been a huge advantage being a PGA Member as the GM at that time.”

For the first time since the coronavirus struck Nudgee returned to 27 holes on the weekend of August 1, paving the way for an expansion from 224 players to 334, all of which were eagerly snapped up on that first Saturday.

That came as 14,000 square metres of turf was laid and marked the opening of the new sixth hole on the East Course, the club expecting that there will be as many as an additional eight new holes for members to play by the end of the year.

In the midst of such upheaval and ever-changing operational procedures, Richards has seen opportunity.

Nudgee is one of a large number of Australian golf clubs to have experienced significant membership growth in the past five months and intend to continue some of the innovations born out of necessity.

“We’ve been looking as an industry as to how to make golf quicker and playing in groups of two certainly had that affect here at Nudgee,” Richards says.

“We’ve been having competitions every day and playing in twos on Monday morning we regularly had groups finishing in three hours. That’s something we’re looking to continue even when we’re back to full capacity.

“With our course configuration at present we’ve got the ability for members to play six holes and they love that, to be able to come out and play six holes, have a drink with their friends and be home in less than two hours.

“The golf industry can be slow to adjust at times but I really hope that the experience and the interest we have seen the past few months encourages us managers to try new ways of doing things.

“It’s a great opportunity for golf as a whole to capture those people, impress them with your service, impress them with your facilities and get them back more regularly.”

Main image: Nudgee Golf Club

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