Donald Crawley, the Director of Instruction at The Boulders Golf Club in Arizona, explains why leaving Yorkshire for a new life ‘across the pond’ proved a good move all round.
How does a boy from Harrogate end up becoming one of the most respected golf teachers in the US?
I turned professional at 16 in 1974 and started out working at Oakdale Golf Club and then Pannal Golf Club, both of which are in my hometown of Harrogate. Three years later I joined the late great John Jacobs at Delapre Golf Complex in Northampton. I started off as one of John’s many assistants, but about three years into the job, John asked me to go out to Las Vegas for what was supposed to be a three-week posting at one of his golf schools.
While I was there John also recommended me to a group of club pros in the Chicago area, and I was offered a teaching position at a high-end private club, Exmoor County Club, which was about an hour north of Chicago. After a brief phone conversation, I took the job unseen, flew from Vegas to Chicago, leveraged that into other seasonal teaching jobs and played the South American Tour one winter.
Two years later, aged 23, I was appointed Director of Instruction of the John Jacobs Golf Schools in the States, a position I held until 2003. John was my mentor and dear friend of 42 years, and I am forever in his debt for giving me the opportunity to come to the States. It is fair to reveal that John never owned or operated the JJ Schools, but being his representative in the US certainly helped my career.
Since then, I have run my own teaching company, GolfSimplified, which operates all over the US, but mainly in Scottsdale, Chicago, and three clubs in Michigan. I am a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher (since 1999), and as well as being an overseas member of The PGA of GB&I, I’m also a Class A member of the PGA of America.
What does a typical working day involve these days?
As Director of Instruction at the Boulders – which is a 36-hole resort with a thriving academy – a typical work day starts with me setting up my academy teaching area, and then teaching five or six one-hour private lessons, plus a two-hour playing lesson out on the golf course. Many of my clients come for a two- or three-day intensive personalised school with me, so it’s great to have that continuity.
At the end of the day I answer all my texts and e-mails, book future lessons, and write personal summary lesson notes to every student. I work 60 hours week, 45 weeks a year. Across the US, very few golf teachers rack up more hours than that.
How does the role of the golf coach differ in the US compared to the UK?
Coaching is no different in the States. Help people to play better golf, and you’ll stay busy. I was impressed on my recent trip to England to discover how many club pros have an indoor swing studio attached to their shop. We have less of those in the States because golfers tend to follow the sun to find the good weather for playing and learning. I teach outdoors, using video in every lesson, and sometimes ball monitor technology such as Trackman or FlightScope.
How would you rate the strength of the golf industry the US in 2019?
The golf industry has been on a decline in the US for several years, but because the economy is in relatively good shape we are having a good year. Rounds are up, but it is harder to capture the same dollars per golfer per day. Personally, I’m as busy as ever, perhaps because I have a national recognition, a strong return business, and keeping the instruction simple and practical. I have observed that many instructors tend to complicate matters, and rely too much on technology, which often confuses the average handicap golfer. People only come back if they are improving, or at least enjoy the learning experience.
What are the best and worst parts about working/living in the US?
The States is so vast that living communities vary depending on the region. I find it convenient for travelling – good road network, easy domestic flights – but mandatory health insurance and the cost of schooling/college can make it expensive if you have a family and children in tow.
What advice would you pass on to other PGA Members who may be interested in working in the US?
Anyone aspiring to work in the States will find it very difficult to get a work visa unless they are married to an American citizen. I was lucky to get my work permit and resident alien card before I married and became an American citizen.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’ll be 66, so hopefully I’ll still be teaching, but probably doing maybe 40 hours across a four-day week rather than the current schedule.