THE new general manager at The National Golf Club, Matt Corby, is undaunted after 100 days in the job he landed ahead of many high profile local and international candidates.
More than a few industry eyebrows were raised when Corby, 52, was appointed to what is arguably the biggest job in Australian golf.
After all, he was not part of the so-called ‘golf family’ and came out of left field after an impressive 30-year career in the racing and wagering industries, most recently running South Australian Greyhound Racing.
It was a leap of faith, to say the least, by both Corby and the powers that be at The National.
“I’m new to the industry so firstly you just need to get up to speed with culture and context that you haven’t been intimate with before coming on board,” the personable Corby says.
“We’ve had to look at a couple of things in terms of structure and staffing. There are some unusual challenges post-Covid with staff, particularly with The National. We have a lot of operational staff and quite often they’re the ones that are at the centre of the staffing challenge. They are more transient roles by nature.
“The other challenge we have with staffing is our geographic location. The cost of filling your car with a tank of petrol these days makes people think twice about the equation.”
Corby said The National was also looking at expanding its ‘footprint’ with another favourable merger always on the radar. Only 30 per cent of the club’s shareholders live on the Mornington Peninsula and the acquisition of the Long Island Club at Frankston has been a huge success.
“Now it is our most played course. It is now a magnificent course and when you think about its position in relation to Peninsula Kingswood it gives you a sense of the opportunity that exists to develop Long Island (further) if the will exists,” Corby says.
“And the last two years have certainly proved that the will exists.”
Reading between the lines, you suspect the club is looking at a friendly merger with Long Island’s neighbour, Peninsula Kingswood.
“We don’t start that journey with any names in mind,” Corby adds emphatically.
“We’ve certainly indicated that our long-term aspiration is to have an expansion of that (The National’s) footprint. It’s got to be on the right terms and it’s got to be the right fit. Was a merger to occur (with any club) it would have to be mutually beneficial to their membership and our own because both memberships would need to vote on.”
Corby rails at criticism that The National is a ‘facility’ rather than a club.
“I think it is very much a club,” he says pointing to the huge number of members who came forward to volunteer their services when the club hosted its first PGA satellite event earlier in the year.
“You get a sense of that spirit when 70 volunteers from within the club immediately jump to the fore. They were very much the oil in the engine for getting that tournament run and won. (But) I think the membership needs to be stoked and that applies to The National as it does with any other club.
“Passion and people are the basis of any club. It’s how you create a social and golf experience that engenders spirit within a club.
“We are renowned as a hospitality club and it’s very much about people. It’s not a chips and wedges venue. It’s very much about people stopping at the end of golf to socialise and break bread and I think that’s a very important part of club spirit. The other part of creating club spirit is to think about the member experience from the time they arrive at the club until the moment they leave.”
Like all clubs, storage facilities, locker-rooms, car park expansion, water and better use of the clubhouse space are problems faced by The National, especially given that it started as an 18-hole layout and has grown to 54 holes at the Cape Schanck site.
“Above all, you can’t roll the dice with water. That underpins everything you do.”
Other big priority for the game generally is getting golf into schools, Corby says.
“It’s a very competitive market for young minds. Golf Australia are on the right path in saying anything you can do to get people who are not otherwise involved in golf, and that includes women, children, to play the game – anything that gets a golf club in their hand. You don’t need to set the bar unrealistically high.
“Covid has given golf a big kick in terms of participation. The challenge now is to grasp that opportunity.”
The new GM at The National is certainly about the big picture and the welfare of the game. It’s early days but the club appears to have chosen wisely.