Golf Hospitality Association highlights professionalism on and off the course

Golf Hospitality Association

One of the most important elements in the enjoyment of a round of golf is also one of the least predictable. While most golf hospitality workers – marshals, rangers, starters, etc. – do a good job of providing a quality experience for patrons, the manner in which they perform their tasks can be quite different from one course to another. Mike Abell of the Kansas City-based Golf Hospitality Association hopes his organization can bring some consistency.

“We are an association that espouses professionalism in starters, rangers, the golf course staff,” said Abell, who retired as CEO of the Carondelet Health Corporation after 36 years in hospital administration.

“I had to deal with many conflicts with doctors, nurses, patients, insurance companies, and the government,” he said. “I had to learn how to do that in a professional manner. That’s what I’m trying to teach here with golf. You can do what you need to do in a professional manner.”

The 77-year-old Abell “caught the golf bug” as a junior in college and has had a love for the game ever since.

“Fortunately, I had a good pro there who talked to me about etiquette,” he said. “He taught me how to play golf. This is the way everybody ought to learn to play golf. They ought to have somebody that knows the game. That’s what these marshals can do. They can do it very easy.”

After working as a marshal in the Tampa area before returning to Kansas City, Abell recognized the need for consistent training of golf hospitality professionals.

“I saw there was such a lack of that kind of training,” he said. “A lot of courses will just say ‘OK, you’re a marshal’. Other than a one or two-page memo, there was nothing about how to deal with patrons.”

Working with patrons can be the most difficult and important part of the job. Abell decided to combine his love for golf with his professional ability and developed the Golf Hospitality Association.

Since then, he has created a handy booklet that includes a description of the GHA and its goals, along with basic rules and terminology of golf, course layout, plus a “Best Practices” guide for “attitude and courtesy” and for opening and closing the course. The booklets are provided to members and have also been sold in pro shops, especially as a guide for beginning golfers.

One of the most important parts of the booklet deals with golf etiquette, an often overlooked aspect of the game, but one that is crucial to the overall enjoyment for patrons.

“In the countries across the pond, they make them have etiquette training before they ever get on the golf course,” Abell explained. “And that’s good. But, we don’t do that here, so I kind of try to point out etiquette in here. It’s one of the big parts for these marshals’ and rangers’ duties. They’re teachers. Etiquette is what they need to teach to people as they begin to play golf.”

Proper course etiquette can ensure that the course is properly maintained, the rules are followed, and the game is played safely, and with common courtesy towards others and a good pace of play, which can be a source of irritation for some golfers.

“Most people will look for a four-hour round,” Abell said. “They don’t like these five or six-hour rounds. That’s what’s driven a lot of people away from golf. They don’t have that kind of time anymore.”

When marshals have to deal with pace of play problems, they often don’t have the training in how to properly deal with people. The Golf Hospitality Association hopes to provide training and education in conflict resolution.

“The booklet was developed to show people how to deal with conflict situations,” he said. “You don’t have to be difficult to be a marshal. You can do it in a thoughtful and courteous manner. It is attitude and courtesy. They can do it very easy and people don’t even know that they’re doing it.

“That’s probably the biggest turnoff for marshals. They don’t like to approach people because they feel like it’s being conflictual. But, it’s really not if you’re doing it the right way. In fact, most people would appreciate it, especially somebody who has never been on a golf course before; they are going to appreciate people guiding them.”

“We want to make the game more enjoyable for every person that comes out,” he said. “We’re a professional group of people that espouse to make golf better for everybody.”

Despite the admirable goals of the GHA, implementation at courses has been slower than Abell would like, as membership is currently not at the desired level.

“We should have thousands,” he said. “One of the big stumbling blocks I’ve found is that the pros and general managers think we’re trying to organize the marshals on the course.”

One GHA challenge faces is they are a labor organization.

“Some of them are afraid that we might get involved between them and their employees,” Abell said. “That’s not my idea. We’re a professional group of people. It’s kind of a professional fraternity, if you want to call it that.”

He would prefer that pros and GMs see the positive value of having professionally trained hospitality associates.

“They may see it as a benefit instead of a threat,” he said. “If they’ve got good trained marshals and rangers out there, it takes away from pros having to deal with that themselves. It’s a very helpful tool and time saver for them because they’re not going to have people running into the clubhouse all the time. If the marshals do their jobs, that makes the pros’ jobs easy. It really does.”

Individuals and organizations can join the Golf Hospitality Association for a small annual fee, which gives them access to training expertise and the informative all-purpose booklet. Abell also hopes to eventually be able to provide marshals with professional certification.

For more information about the Golf Hospitality Association, visit its website:

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Article by Marc Bowman

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