They came to the PGA’s IGI program from contrasting angles but Matthew Olson and Paul Sainsbury are now key figures in the future direction of one of Australia’s most prestigious clubs.
Matthew Olson had dreams of wheeling and dealing in the world of high finance; Paul Sainsbury sought to find solace in the skies as a pilot yet a shared love of golf has seen their careers intersect fortuitously at famed The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney.
As Assistant General Manager and Director of Golf respectively, Olson and Sainsbury represent a new wave of administrative staff in Australia’s golf clubs who, with the help of the PGA’s International Golf Institute course, are bringing a variety of skills and unique approaches to enhance the experience enjoyed by golf club members across the country.
Yet it could have been very different had Olson finished the final four subjects of his studies in banking, finance and commercial law at the University of Southern Queensland and Sainsbury not listened to the sage advice of a customer at the Drummond Golf store at Taren Point in Sydney’s south where he worked.
Head for Business
As the son of a CPA (Certified Practising Accountant) raised in Toowoomba west of Brisbane, Matthew Olson’s fascination with numbers saw him complete 20 of the 24 subjects needed to complete his degree until reality hit like a bolt of lightning.
“I was hating what I was studying. Absolutely hated it,” Olson recalls.
Encouraged by his parents to pursue a career that he would actually enjoy despite the advanced nature of his studies, Olson took up the invitation of a friend to head to the Gold Coast at the end of 2002 to chase an opportunity to work in sport via Griffith University’s Bachelor of Business in Sports Management and Golf Practices as supported by the PGA of Australia.
A latecomer to the game who was playing off a handicap of six when he started the course, Olson got through the theoretical aspect of the study comfortably before deciding that he would attempt the professional year so as to complete his Traineeship.
He spent a total of seven years working with famed PGA instructor Gary Edwin on building a game that could at the very least allow him to compete in professional events but just as he looked set to become a bona fide professional, disaster struck.
Playing in the 2008 Futures tournament at Catalina Country Club on the New South Wales South Coast, a flared 8-iron on the 17th hole during the second round was ultimately the difference in passing and failing his playing component.
“I had an 8-iron into the hole into the wind and I hit one of those flared-type shots and ended up in a bunker,” Olson says. “I ended up leaving a couple in the bunker and made triple and that was it.
“If I’d made a bogey or par on the hole I would have graduated that year but the failure taught me a lot about myself and developing resilience.”
A short stint travelling Australia and playing tournaments while living out of a caravan further developed the resilience required to be a success as a professional until a fateful phone call from Mark Bath, whom Olson had completed his traineeship under at Gold Coast Country Club set him on a new career path.
Two years out of his PGA Traineeship Olson was serving as head Professional at Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast before taking the role as Golf Operations Manager under Tim Gall at Pelican Waters on the Sunshine Coast.
“There’s no way I would have got to where I am without particularly Mark and Tim,” says Olson of the two men who influenced his development in golf club management.
“Their mentorship has meant everything to me and hopefully one day I can do that for some other young guys coming up.I hope I’ve kind of done that with Paul since we’ve worked together.”
After 15 months at Pelican Waters and with his young family very much settled on the Sunshine Coast, Olson made the decision to apply for the newly-created role as Director of Golf at The Lakes and was appointed in February 2014. In July this year he was promoted to the Assistant General Manager position serving under General Manager Andrew Kirkman.
Since completing his traineeship Olson has also completed a Masters in Business Administration specialising in finance but credits the PGA’s IGI program with setting the course for higher learning.
“The IGI gave me the grounding to light the fire,” says Olson.
“It was the beginning of the search for information and provided the basis for me being successful in those earlier roles and if you’re not successful in the earlier roles then you don’t get to the bigger jobs later on.”
One door closes, another opens
Two experiences relatively close together convinced Paul Sainsbury that being a 19-year-old off scratch did by no means guarantee that life as a successful touring professional awaits.
A player of promise coming through the grades at Bankstown Golf Club, Sainsbury toured England and Scotland for six weeks under an initiative founded by the late Ray Harrison and promptly won the Moray Open in his first start on foreign soil.
A week later he played alongside future European Tour winner and Ryder Cup representative Andy Sullivan and watched the Englishman shoot two rounds of 5-under as Sainsbury himself played the first two rounds in a combined 3-over.
“That certainly highlighted to me how good you had to be to make it on tour,” Sainsbury recalls.
The other reality check came in equally brutal fashion when a regular customer at Drummond Golf gave the eager shop assistant some friendly advice.
“I had a very good piece of advice from a customer of mine back in 2011 who said to me that for every Adam Scott there’s a hundred thousand other battling pros trying to do the same thing,” says Sainsbury.
“I’d heard stories of guys who had slept in their cars and drove to tournaments and tried to pre-q on a very low income base and that turned me off the idea completely.
“I didn’t want to be that person that slept in their cars and tried to pre-q for events and didn’t have a steady income.
“It was certainly a reality check and one could say quite brutal but looking back at that piece of advice now, it was very accurate and for the best.”
In January of 2011 Sainsbury had his first look at The Lakes when he shot 76 in The Lakes Medal and two weeks later wrote to the club enquiring about any employment opportunities; three months later he started as “a cart boy”.
Twelve months on he began a traineeship under the experienced eye of former head professional Wayne Spruce but it wasn’t until Olson’s arrival in 2014 that Sainsbury was encouraged to add some business acumen to his golfing ability via the IGI.
“Without Matthew I probably wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in now. It was all very lucky how it unfolded,” he says.
“Matthew suggested that I should look into doing some further education and a friend of mine had done the PGA IGI course and recommended it so I did some research and thought it would be a great course to undertake.
“It provided me with some very good frameworks as to how golf clubs are actually run. The traineeship touches on that briefly and the PGA is improving that education with its current trainees to the point where that education is almost more of a focus than the playing, which I think is great.”
At just 26 years of age, Sainsbury’s elevation to the position of Director of Golf at The Lakes in July of this year is quite remarkable but one that is well deserved according to the man who preceded him in the role.
“Paul is an exceptional young person. To be 26 and be the Director of Golf of this place is an amazing achievement,” says Olson.
“He’s one of the hardest working human beings I’ve ever come across, particularly for someone of his generation.”
All of which leaves the board of The Lakes Golf Club with two enthusiastic and hard-working individuals familiar with all aspects of the business who help to reinforce the directive of encouraging a younger membership at one of Australia’s most revered clubs.
“When I got this job at The Lakes I was the right person at the right time,” says Olson, 36. “The club wanted to get younger, Andrew was 37 I believe when he got the general manager’s job here and he had been the GM at Royal Queensland prior to that which is just amazing.
“That’s the way some clubs are trying to go. They want to get young, they want to have completely fresh views on how to manage the facilities because it’s been proven that the same-old same-old approach is not working.”
Adds Sainsbury: “Our entire management team is quite a young one and that really brings to the club a sense of freshness.
“It’s a clear direction of where the club wants to be in five years in line with the strategic plan and I think it brings a really good dynamic to the club.
“It brings a sense of enthusiasm and some fresh ideas to a lot of things that need to be addressed.”
Story by TONY WEBECK for The Professional, Official Magazine for the PGA of Australia