PGA Fellow Professional Stuart Disney is the Director of Golf at Mendip Golf Club in Somerset. The multi-award winning coach has only one goal in life – to introduce and support as many people as possible, from all walks of life, to play golf.
What is your day-to-day role at Mendip Golf Club?
I look after member’s 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 keeper’s as course manager and I am the development chairman for the club.
What were your key goals when you were trying to develop your business at each of the facilities that you have worked at?
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.
What has been the most beneficial development experience for you?
Many moons ago I spent a week with the brilliant John Jacobs. I sat with him at the practice 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 coaching with his wife in the shop. 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.
The fact that John is no longer here, it does not stop me from forever thinking about those words from that week. I make notes on every single lesson that you do at the end of the day so that you can learn something from it. 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.
What was your greatest challenge in developing your coaching business and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges was to get more people playing 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 that’s what I did when I was working at Teignmouth Golf Club. I did a lot of work in the community. That gave me a little bit of confidence that golf is for all and there are no barriers to how we get people involved in the game. It was an ‘old school’ adult learning centre down in the town. I 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 hit the airflow golf balls across the room. Some of those aspiring golfers actually joined the club and it was from that moment I thought we can break down these barriers, we can actually put golf into a different market place. That inspired me to do more community work with county sports partnerships, who actually came to me which was really nice.
What has been your greatest coaching success story?
The one I am most known for in the area is disability coaching or inclusive coaching. In 2016 The PGA in the South West awarded with the Development Coach of the Year award for my work in disability and inclusive coaching. I am also particularly proud of being Somerset’s Participation Coach of the Year in 2018 for the amount of golfers we got at the club, playing golf across the whole spectrum; juniors, ladies, and we did that through outreach, community-based work as well as working with the members at the club to bring their friends in to help us get more golfers playing the game more regularly.
How do you engage with new customers who may have never considered playing the game before?
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? 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 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. 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. We have to ensure that there is no ridicule or laughter otherwise that golfer will not want to continue that journey. I’ve seen from assistants in the past that sadly they have not engaged with that person at that level.
What are your current goals and aspirations for your coaching and how are you going to apply this to your business?
We have a project that I am heading up at the course developing two new holes and a driving range. I instigated an indoor studio when I first arrived and I have now been asked to have input on the design of the new driving range. I want the driving range to be constructed and used by our members, but more importantly, I want more people coming to our very remote club to engage with the game of golf itself. This may be through fun, beginner lessons, weekend coaching or family-based coaching. If I can inspire them to practice more at the facility then the club itself and all aspects of my business will get better, the club as whole will benefit. You can’t just look at it as coaching. How does it link to other aspects of the business. I want our club to be seen as the centre of our community so that we get more golfers.
What key tips would you give to any new coaches?
Talk to other coaches and never lose sight of what other coaches have done in the past. There is so much technology 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, never bamboozle a client with numbers from a launch monitor.
If you could meet yourself as a trainee, what advice would you give yourself?
Listen more and ask questions to peers and mentors. I have a fabulous mentor in PGA Master Professional Alan Walker. I have asked him so many questions over the years. PGA Business Relationship Officers (BRO) Justyn Branton comes out with so much information. Ask experienced PGA Professionals, whether you agree with them or not, some of the most important things to ask are around things you don’t necessarily agree with. This challenges you and your preconceived ideas. Just go and ask as many questions as you can.