MAROOCHY RIVER Golf Club general manager Charlie McGill still remembers having less than $50 in his pocket when he arrived from his native Scotland to start a new life in Australia.
That was 33 years ago.
Of course, today he has a few more bob in his pocket along with the Golf Management Australia (Qld) manager of the year award.
McGill’s extraordinary journey began when he left school at 16 to start work as an apprentice patternmaker in a Scottish shipyard engineering plant.
“When I was 23, I thought there had to be something better than what I had in Scotland,” he said.
“I remember wandering into the Australian Consulate in Edinburgh and was told there was a shortage of engineering patternmakers in Australia.
“Three months later my wife and I arrived in Brisbane.
“There wasn’t any work in Brisbane, but there was a job in Maroochydore.
“I had no idea where Maroochydore was, but we came up and rented a house and by the time we had paid the bond and everything else we had less than $50 between us,” McGill laughed.
McGill began work at the Mallet Foundry and worked his way through the ranks to production manager and eventually general manager.
In the same year he arrived, 1983, he joined Horton Park Golf Club.
“I soon got involved and was on the board for 10 years including four years as club captain,” he said.
“While I was club captain I had set up a lot of the procedures and saw it as my duty to keep the members informed. I had everything at my fingertips and because I was a member I knew what they expected.”
In 2005, the Sunshine Coast council took an interest in the 53-hectare Horton Park golf course site in the heart of Maroochydore.
When negotiations between council and the club started McGill was offered the job as golf operations manager and he waved goodbye to the foundry.
In 2010, McGill took over as interim general manager following the resignation of the previous manager.
“Six months later the club decided to advertise the position through Dixon Wohlsen because they wanted transparency,” McGill said.
“There were five candidates on the short-list, including me, and I got the job.
“When I took over the council was putting pressure on the club and because they wanted to resume the land.
“After 18 months, a resumption agreement was reached by both parties, which gave council the prime piece of land in Maroochydore in which to build the CBD and allowed the club to stay in their Maroochydore location until the new course was ready for play.
“The club received $42m in compensation from the council.
“The negotiation process was tough, but interesting and I wouldn’t swap the experience for anything. I learned a lot, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”
The upshot was the club purchased a parcel of land in Bli Bli, eight kilometres from their existing site, engaged Graham Marsh to design a golf course and the result is the magnificent Maroochy River golf course that boasts 1150 members.
“During the relocation, our biggest challenge was maintaining two golf courses,” McGill said.
“As the contract stood, once the holes at Bli Bli had 90 per cent coverage, we were then responsible for the maintenance of them so the superintendent and his staff were looking after two golf courses for the last 18 months.
“We had a couple of our staff at Maroochy River full-time and people going from maintaining Horton Park in the morning to going to Maroochy River in the afternoon to get it ready for opening day. The staff did a remarkable job maintaining both sites.
“We had people going from maintaining Horton Park to Maroochy River to get it ready for opening day.
“It wasn’t easy, but we promised the members we wouldn’t drop the maintenance standards as Horton Park had a reputation for being a good, well-conditioned course.
“We kept our promise and Horton Park was in great condition until the day we walked out.”
Nine months down the track and Maroochy River is receiving rave reviews.
“Most golfers love the course and food and beverage, gaming and general club revenue is up,” McGill said.
“Wednesday and Saturday competition days are attracting 280-290 players and 40,000 rounds were played in the first six months.
“We have just finalised the fixture book and Sunday social club numbers are up 30 per cent on what they were at Horton Park,” McGill said.
“Clubs are coming from outside the Sunshine Coast because they just want to play a new course.”
McGill envisages more of the same going forward, but is mindful of keeping the members happy.
“We want to continue servicing the members well and give them a quality golf course to play week-in, week-out.”
When asked about receiving the manager of the year award, McGill’s response is quick and concise: surprise.
“I’m honoured to receive it because there are a lot of good managers in the golf industry,” he said.
“But this is a team effort. Since taking over the role, all past and present board members have been very supportive of me and my staff are second to none.
“Knowing you have a good board and good staff with you certainly makes life easier and I’m sure the club has a great future ahead of it.”
A keen golfer, McGill honed his skills at Lochgelly Golf Club not far from St Andrews.
“I played at St Andrews many times and my best score there was a 77 (off the stick),” said McGill, who plays off six.
When McGill isn’t working or playing golf he enjoys going out to dinner with his wife and having a quiet beer. Aside from that, Charlie enjoys watching soccer and darts on television.
“I love watching soccer and darts,” he said. “But I can’t get enough of the darts.”