Profile: Hollinbury and Waterhall golf clubs’ manager Maria Nolan15th October, 2012 by Jenny Yu
Maria Nolan is the general manager of two golf courses. A very aware, proactive and professional manager, Maria has found her experience, can-do attitude and clarity of thought to be in demand in an ever-changing industry.
She mixes business experience with a real love of golf and people. Her management style and views on golf could be linked to McGregor’s theory Y. This will have been very evident to anyone who visited Stanley Park Golf Course during her two years at the helm. The young staff were given responsibility and trust, and in response had respect for their seniors and the motivation to do a thorough professional job.
A little utopian it may seem, but it certainly worked.
Maria has recently found a new home in Brighton with Mytime Active, the charity that runs 19 pay-and-play golf facilities in the UK. She is currently responsible for the management of Hollinbury Park and Waterhall golf clubs, running both courses and all employee, marketing and budgetary requirements, and reporting centrally to Mytime Active’s headquarters.
Mytime Active’s success and sustainable approach is achieved through recognising the importance of customer service, marketing effectively and by ensuring golf removes barriers wherever possible.
Before relocating 300 miles south to Brighton, Maria was the general manager for Mack Golf (at Stanley Park) and prior to that she spent five years managing a golf facility in her native Iceland. An experience that has provided essential insight to aid her success in the UK.
Maria spoke of her experiences in Iceland and the difference in golf compared with the UK. “Golf is a wonderful sport, it is a family sport and a life sport, all should be able to enjoy it and that is very much the way of things in Iceland,” she said. “Families join golf clubs. There is a massive focus on junior golfers. There are no pay-and-play courses, all regular golfers are members of clubs and we have lots of nine-hole courses of good quality.”
Ladies actively participate in the sport in Europe and the family feel is evident: in Switzerland, for example, over 33 per cent of golf club members are female, compared to about 10 per cent in England at the last count (England Golf members’ questionnaire in 2010). And Switzerland is seeing growth in membership numbers in all categories; there are no restrictions or old fashioned attitudes as the game doesn’t have the historical roots found in other countries.
Maria has seen the effect of the European approach and brings the positive aspects of this experience with her. “In order for golf to be sustainable we must not lose generations of potential golfers; it is widely suggested we have lost two generations in England,” she said. “We have a large drop-off in certain age groups. We need families.”
She sees the constraints put on golf club managers and professionals but considers a longer term view is needed to be taken. “We have some excellent professionals and managers in the industry, in many cases they are required to prioritise today’s money that comes from the adults. I understand this fully but what we are trying to do is find a balance where we ensure we are promoting golf to all and providing opportunities for the youth to take it up and have a pathway to continue in the game. Golf must be fun; juniors must be nurtured and not seen as a hindrance,” she said.
“The knock-on effect of this is the parents become more engaged and take up the game or at least are more part of the club, it becomes the community it should be, the juniors then age and remain loyal to the clubs that welcomed them, in the meantime their social circle are made aware of the facility through our ever developing social platforms and the juniors become ambassadors.”
Maria suggests that short courses could be developed to bridge a gap for juniors. She highlights that if golf was more accessible, far more people would at least try it. Iceland is awash with nine-hole courses and sees lots of juniors take up the game. Cheshire-based Pryors Hayes Golf Club, for example, recently set up a new ‘blue’ course, in which tees were set forward to allow juniors to reach par fours in two. It also provided a fun and different challenge for the adults.
Accessibility is key. When people talk of barriers without seeing physical ones it can be hard to relate. A members’ lounge that visitors can’t enter? Children having lessons whilst mother waits in the car? Strict dress codes? Silence and stares as you walk through a clubhouse? No group coaching? These things exist in golf and it may be that we either don’t see it or we don’t realise the potential negative impact it has. Maria is carrying out selfless management and ensuring long-term sustainability.
She is respectful of clubs deciding their own path and accepts different courses offer different products for different people’s tastes. However she does seem very aware that, as an industry, golf is changing and when the main demographic that exists (over 45, male) continues to grow older, there may well not be people to take their place. We must work smart as well as hard.
Maria would like to see a shift in perception of golf and welcomes the work of England Golf. She stated: “Golf is fun, it is nowhere near as expensive as its perceived to be. Golf needs to be made more attractive and accessible; it is a life sport and offers value to society. We need to see more juniors on the TV and we need as clubs to promote golf locally to our youth and to our schools. Golf was added to the school syllabus this year and this is a very welcome boost. These approaches will help clubs.”
Customer service is of vital importance given the revenues courses must achieve and the reliance on new visitors being converted into returning ones. Continuous development must occur in facilities and plans must be made and measured to ensure progress is being made; the use of existing technologies will help save time for committees and add other benefits. Maria champions the benefits of effective marketing and is addressing this in her new role through traditional routes and more current endeavours such as social media and email marketing.
In summary, Maria has worked within the UK and European golf industry. She has found different benefits in both industries and fuses them to the benefit of her employer and customers. Accessibility and creating opportunity for all are key drivers that she sees as essential for long term sustainability; we must maintain valued traditions but not allow ourselves to be old fashioned in our approach. It is hard to disagree.