There are few aspects of the operations within a golf club that Mark Harrison has not been exposed to in the past 20 years.
When Pelican Waters first opened on the Sunshine Coast, Harrison was employed in the pro shop and with encouragement decided to undertake the then PGA traineeship.
He transferred to Twin Waters to take over the coaching academy and after a time out of the industry returned to Pelican to work in “outside services”, essentially cleaning and maintaining golf carts and working as a marshal to keep pace of play steadily moving.
There was a stint running a golf simulator business at Hervey Bay around his duties as a dad before an opportunity to head up the golf operations at Dalby Golf Club two-and-a-half hours west of Brisbane brought all the skills he had accumulated into one all-encompassing role.
“When I did my interview with Gavin (Kirkman, now PGA chief executive) for the traineeship, way back in the day, I said back then that I was sort of leaning towards golf management,” says Harrison.
“PGA Professionals weren’t really represented in those jobs at that time. You were the golf pro and that was it. You didn’t really have much of a say in what the golf course was doing at the time.
“It’s good now to be able to get into that and have a say in how the course is presented and how it runs day-to-day.”
First under Tim Gall at Pelican Waters and then Stephen Hutchison at Twin Waters, Harrison saw first-hand the value a PGA Professional can bring to a management position. For the past six months he has worked alongside another PGA Professional – Maryborough Golf Club General Manager Kurt Watts – in his role as Golf Operations Manager, the pair working together to guide the club through a challenging period of constant change brought about by COVID-19.
Completing a variety of management courses through the PGA’s ACE education portal has enhanced Harrison’s skill set but even he admits the key to managing golf operations the past two years is flexibility.
“To get and retain casual staff has been a big juggle, especially since I’ve been here at Maryborough. It’s crazy trying to cover some shifts,” Harrison admits.
“That’s where I’ve had to cross over and do a few shifts in the shop when I’ve needed to.
“The other day I opened the pro shop at 6.30am, gave a golf lesson at 9 and from 11 until 2 I was in the bar covering a bar shift.
“That was a pretty random sort of day. Do a bit of everything and then go into the office to do some paperwork, rostering and banking.”
A rejuvenation at Dalby saw the club named Club of the Year (Under 400 members) at the 2021 Queensland Golf Industry Awards and, in conjunction with Watts, Harrison has big plans for Maryborough.
Improvements to the golf course, clubhouse and operational systems are all on the wish list and Harrison believes that with their broad knowledge base he and Watts can elevate Maryborough to new heights.
“These days it’s got to be treated as a business. It can’t just be a member course, you have to be trying to make money,” says Harrison.
“What we did at Dalby was to encourage social golfers and then just let them play.
“They could play in a group of eight, have their music, buy a couple of cartons of beer from the club and go around and have some fun. That’s $800 per group right there, but you have to educate the members as to the benefit that ultimately means to the club.
“Don’t yell at them for doing one or two things wrong, ask them how they’re enjoying the course and make them feel welcome.
“That generates the revenue you need to then make the improvements around the club that will benefit the members more than anyone.”