Damian MacPherson has been at the forefront of golf development in Hungary, having worked at a number of facilities in the country and helping to nurture the sport’s growth over almost 20 years.
IGPN spoke to Damian to find out more about how he ended up working in Hungary, how the country has developed during his time there, and what advice he can share for those thinking of working outside of their comfort zone as a PGA Professional…
IGPN: How did your career as a PGA Professional first begin?
Damian: My career as a PGA professional started as a summer job at Pike Hills Golf Club in York. During the summer I looked in to the opportunities for a career in golf and later in the year I enrolled in to the PGA training program as an Assistant Professional at the club.
IGPN: How did you end up in your current position?
Damian: After 12 years playing professional golf and experiencing the European Challenge Tour, I decided that the lifestyle was not for me – I think many professional golfers have experienced the same thing and made similar career changes.
I had the opportunity to move to Hungary in 1998 to take up a position as the Head Teaching Professional at the Budapest Golf Club. I think I was lucky to get involved in Hungarian golf from its early stages of development. Soon after I became the National coach for Hungary and worked as a consultant for the PGAs of Europe in Serbia. Later I moved to become Director of Golf at the Old Lake Golf Club and played an active role in developing the golf club in all areas related to golf. It was a great learning experience and this provided the knowledge and experience to make a move in to club management. After spending 10 years at the Old Lake Golf Club I had the opportunity to take up a position of General Manager at the Pannonia Golf Club.
This was a real challenge to find a way of turning around a golf course that had been struggling over the previous years. It was important to optimise expenditure without sacrificing the quality and to find innovative ways of developing the business side. This was a tough environment to manage a golf facility and in the end we achieved our goals, this gave me a great insight in to golf club management in this region.
With this experience and knowledge of club management in Eastern Europe I was looking to move on and get involved in a new project and to be able to shape the development of a golf facility from an early stage. I was approached by the owners of Zala Springs Golf Resort (www.zalasprings.hu), this is the newest Robert Trent Jones II design in Europe and when they asked me to take on the management I jumped at the chance. The golf course and facilities are amazing and it is certainly one of the best new golf courses in Europe and with the signature of Robert Trent Jones II on the door makes it something special in Eastern Europe but especially in Hungary.
IGPN: Explain a bit about your business that you run now…
Damian: I am responsible for the management of all golf related issues at Zala Springs Golf Resort and certainly the Robert Trent Jones II brand has its advantages as it is a very powerful brand in World golf and is very attractive for golfers in the surrounding countries and further afield. This is the first full year as the clubhouse and 18 holes opened fully in September 2015.
With the brand comes a great deal of responsibility as we have to ensure the highest level of service and provide a great pre-golf, during golf and after golf experience to all are guests 7 days a week.
We have to work hard to promote the facility through our networks and to develop partnerships and co-operations during this year to promote ourselves to make sure the Zala Springs Golf Resort is recognized in the golfing community. We have already been accepted in to the World of Leading Golf and this provides a great platform for us to network with similar facilities in Europe. We are also looking to attract PGA professionals with groups for teaching breaks to Zala Springs to make use of these world class facilities and give their students the opportunity to play on the RTJII course. We will have an attractive package for the PGA professionals so they can introduce something different something special for their clients.
We have to explore many avenues that generate revenue for the golf facility and for this type of Resort we need to attract golfers from the surrounding countries.
With a new facility it is important to plan ahead and with my team we have put together our business plan and strategy for the next 5 years to give us a direction for our development.
IGPN: What would the biggest tip you could give a PGA Professional looking for a new job or trying to develop themselves and their skills?
Damian: Be open minded and make every effort to develop your knowledge and skills through further education and then to use this knowledge in a work situation. I would summarize in 4 words: LEARN, USE, ADAPT and GROW.
IGPN: What do you look for when you are hiring PGA Professionals?
Damian: When I am looking for a PGA professional I make sure his qualifications and experience fit the position or will fit the position that he grows in to. I look for PGA professionals that are pro-active, looking to develop their knowledge and skills and that are more outgoing and certainly they need to be sales orientated. These are the character traits that I believe you need in Eastern Europe.
IGPN: What does being a PGA Professional mean to you?
Damian: It means that I am a member of an Association that represents excellence in the golf industry and is respected worldwide.
IGPN: Using your experience, what advice would you give to a trainee/assistant PGA Professional just starting out their career in golf?
Damian: I would advise that in the world there are so many opportunities available for young qualified PGA professionals especially in developing countries and to think on a global scale.
IGPN: How important is it for PGA Professionals to strive to continually improve their skills, knowledge and development in general?
Damian: In this fast moving world that we live in I think we need to continuously strive to evolve and further develop our skills and knowledge to keep up with the moving times. If you can specialise in something within the golf industry I believe this can also provide and open up other opportunities. Based on my location and previous positions I have become an expert on golf in Eastern Europe and feel that I have all the skills and knowledge to develop and manage golf facilities in developing countries. If we do not develop we will be left behind!!!
IGPN: What was the biggest challenge you faced when deciding to work in another country?
Damian: I think the biggest challenge was of the unknown especially with Hungary being in Eastern Europe.
IGPN: What was it like moving to, and working in, a new country where you had to learn about the culture and the language?
Damian: It was a challenge initially but also very exciting to experience a different country with its culture and to learn more about its history. The language was the key factor for me, once I had learned the language I was able to understand a lot better the culture and the mentality of the people and get more involved in the everyday life.
During my time in Hungary I have had the chance to meet many people from all walks of life and through this many long term friendships have developed. I married a Hungarian and my son is now 9 years old and I certainly see my future very much in Hungary. I feel that I have been accepted by the Hungarian people and I am very proud to be involved in the development of golf in Hungary.
IGPN: What would your advice be to someone looking to work abroad?
Damian: Try to do a little bit of research and then I would say go for it. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and I think working abroad provides a much more varied role in golf and that there are so many positives to gain from the experiences that will help you in your future career development.