Justyn: Describe who you are and your current role>
Stuart: My name is Stuart Disney, I am a PGA Fellow Professional at Mendip Golf Club I am also the Director of Golf at the club as well. I look after members wishes, needs and wants, this includes running a retail shop, along with an indoor studio. As part of my role I look after the Green Keepers as course manager and I am the development chairman for the club.
Justyn: Focussing on your coaching business, what were your key goals when you were trying to develop your business at each of the facilities that you have worked at?
Stuart: My philosophy has always been to get more golfers playing more golf more regularly. I always wanted to have a client base as broad as I could get with no real specialist role such as coaching elite players. For me it’s about creating golfers, putting them on the fairways and getting them to enjoy their golf so that they stay as customers and members for life.
Justyn: Over your career what has been the most beneficial development experience for you?
Stuart: Many moons ago I spent a week with the brilliant but sadly no longer with us John Jacobs, I sat with him at the practise ground at his golf club and he said to me on the first day “Sit down, shut up, watch, listen and take notes” and that is what I did all day. At the end of each day he would reflect on his days coaching with his wife in the shop and he sat there and he would ask himself the questions “What did you learn today?” One of the biggest things that came out of it was the simplicity of it, because one of his phrases to me was “If you can’t explain it to me simply you do not understand it” and to this day that has always been my mantra. It’s got to be simple for somebody to understand it. The fact that John is no longer here, it does not stop me from forever thinking about those words from that week, sit down reflect, make notes on every single lesson that you do at the end of the day so that you can learn something from it and the fact the approach to it was always centred around the address position, he would never teach a bad grip if somebody had a ball flight problem he would always trace it back to the address position. He wouldn’t try and think he could work with that poor grip which we see quite a lot now a days; poor grips and poor address positions as you are trying to get the club to do something which bio-mechanically it cannot do, because of a hold or standing position or poor alignment. It was his insistence of perfection at the start which in my opinion gave him the foundation to be arguably the greatest teacher that ever walked this planet.
Justyn: What was your greatest challenge in developing your coaching business and how did you overcome it?
Stuart: One of the biggest challenges was to get more golfers playing more golf and I am not really a naturally out going person. I am quite shy when it comes to putting myself out into the open, but I did when I was working at Teignmouth Golf Club, I did a lot of work in the community at a community centre for adults. That gave me a little bit of confidence that golf is for all that there are no barriers to how we get people involved in golf. So it was an old school adult learning centre down in the town and did a six week course in the evenings with airflow golf balls and plastic clubs, we took down little gym mats for people to hit from and we wacked the airflow golf balls across the room. Some of those aspiring golfers actually joined the golf club and it was from that moment that I thought that we can break down these barriers, we can actually put golf into a different market place. Over the years that led me to doing more community work, working with County Sports Partnerships, who actually came to me which was really nice, they put me in touch with disability groups in the Exeter area and through Active Devon and that work it was really now that whole philosophy of more people playing golf, I could actually get out into that world. It was not just working with existing golfers it was about bringing new golfers in. The existing golfers really liked, as it get them a sense of being able to welcome more golfers into the golfing family, so from a shy guy to getting involved in community based projects really developed the skills I needed to succeed.
Justyn: Talk to me about a great coaching success story you have had and the reasons behind it
Stuart: The one I am most known for in the area is disability coaching or inclusive coaching and in 2016 the PGA in the South West awarded me PGA development coach of the year for the work that did and that I still continue to do in disability inclusivity coaching. I am also particularly proud of being Somerset’s participation coach of the year in 2018 for the amount of golfers that we got at the golf club, playing golf across the whole spectrum, juniors, ladies and we did that through outreach, community based work as well as working the members of the golf club to bring their friends in to help us get more golfers playing more golf more regularly.
Justyn: On your own reflection, what do you think have been the keys to your success as a coach?
Stuart: To always listen. To never have a preconceived idea to what a golfer should do and to: A) listen to their limitations, their physical limitations, is one of the questions that I always ask them. I think as a coach you should listen to them more than you actually talk and the simplicity of it mustn’t be overlooked. If you can’t get the message across simply you simply do not understand it. I always remember one lesson I gave when I was a Torquay Golf Club many years ago, a lady wanted to improve her golf but sadly she had lost her husband, she did not want to cancel the golf lesson…. so for the next hour she just talked about her husband and I listened at the end she said that was wonderful, she paid for the lesson and is still a client to this day because what I did was listen.
Justyn: How do you go about trying to engage with new customers who may have never considered playing the game before?
Stuart: Beginners coaching is often overlooked from a business perspective. The value of a beginner coming through the door for the first time. How do we get them? How do we engage with them? Often in a group situation, so I have often targeted little groups of either ladies, seniors or silver surfers and I have always had the approach that they don’t need to do anything in this initial journey the initial steps. All they need to do is to arrive at the golf club at a time wearing something suitable so decent footwear. It is then my job to sell the fun element of golf, giving them some form of technique but not making a technical game because at the end of the day it’s just a bat and ball game. So allowing that person to experience something with friends is a great one, if it’s not with friends then that person still has to be able to enjoy it. If they hit it great and if they don’t then we have to ensure that there is no ridicule or laughter otherwise that golfer will not want to continue that journey if they are ridiculed in any way shape or form. I’ve seen from assistants in the past that sadly they have not engaged with that person at that level, golf is not an elitist sport, I don’t care what anybody says it’s not, its just a sport that they want to play, they aspire to want to do it. So community based work was brilliant from that scenario, you go there, you don’t know what their backgrounds are but you have to find about people. As I said before it about listening, it’s not about the necessarily wanting to be world champions.
Justyn: We often hear that getting established members at a club to have lessons is a problem, do you recognise this?
Stuart: I don’t think it is a problem, because today and for the last six weeks I have been running a seniors group coaching session, from 10 to 11, I have never put a restriction in numbers to it and they pre book their place in it, it started of as six people, it’s now 6 weeks in, grown to 18 people paying a fiver for an hour of guidance. I emailed all the members, any body who wants to learn a little bit about golf, asking them questions, “Do they want to improve their bunker play?” or “Do they want to improve their tee shots?” “Do they want to improve their putts?” I sell the reason not the technique, so I stand there and I present to them little ideas and off they go and they do it. And some of these guys and one in particular has massive anxiety issues and he is known at the club as being grumpy, but he is not. When you get to know him, because everybody has a back story, when you get to know him and today was the third time he came, it was only his third golf lessons in 30 odd years of playing the game of golf. So that is somebody who does not engage in golf lessons at all and the last three weeks he has played the Wednesday roll up at the club and for the last two he has won it. He has put it directly down to a little bit of help and I’ve not actually altered one single thing from a technical perspective, I have just give them ideas and thoughts and often just freed their minds up.
Justyn: What are your current goals and aspirations for your coaching and how are you going to apply this to your business?
Stuart: We have a project that I am heading up at the course developing two new holes and a driving range. Now we have never had a driving range at this club we have always had outdoor facilities, I instigated an indoor studio when I first arrived, I have now been asked to have input on the design of the new driving range, so how I see my personal goal is that I want the driving range to be constructed and used by our members, but more importantly how I can get more people coming to our very remote golf club to engage with the game of golf itself. Now they may just be lots of beginner golf lessons, lots of fun theme based evening coaching, weekend coaching, family based coaching. If I can do that and inspire them to be practising and using the facility then at the club itself all aspects of my business is only going to get better, I will sell more, the club as a whole will benefit, so you can’t just look at it as coaching but how it links to the other aspects of the business. So I want to see this full to the final stages and have it open, that will allow me to get a bigger team of professionals to engage with our local community and bring them back to our club. I want our club to be seen as the centre of our community so that we get more golfers.
Justyn: What key tips would you give to any new coaches?
Stuart: I have so many thoughts on this, one of the biggest ones is to talk to other coaches, never lose sight to what other coaches have done in the past, because you are probably not reinventing the wheel. There is all sorts of technology that is out there, but it’s your own knowledge base that’s key. Some of the finest coaches out there don’t actually need any technology at all to coach, you need to understand ball flights and the impact factors linked to those and if you can’t as I said earlier to put it simply you don’t understand and never bamboozle a client with numbers from a launch monitor.
Justyn: If you could meet yourself as a trainee, what advice would you give yourself?
Stuart: Listen more, ask peers, mentors. I have a fabulous mentor Master Professional Alan Walker, I have asked him so many questions over the last few years. The PGA staff Justyn Branton comes out with so much information, ask experienced Professionals, whether you agree with them or not some of the most important things to ask are around things that you don’t necessarily agree with as this challenges you and your preconceived ideas. Just go and ask as many questions as you can.
Justyn: Who would be in your ultimate four ball and why?
Stuart: Ben Hogan, because I would love to see him strike a golf ball, I have seen the swing many times but I would love to ask the question, how and why he worked so hard. John Jacobs so that I could get the great man to critique Ben Hogan’s swing and somebody from the modern era who I think has changed the face of golf is Tiger Woods, erm and I would get John to critique the swing and what we could learn from it, that would be a brilliant experience for me.