Driving Change with John Hockley

Posted on: 1 February 2023

‘Driving Change’ features people within Golf who are doing exactly that – driving change, being innovative and adopting new ways of working to better the Golf industry. Hear from John Hockley – Course & Estates Manager at Gatton Manor Golf Club on how his 17 year long career in the golf industry has been shaped by working at a plethora of high-profile clubs, learning from highly knowledgeable Head Greenkeepers, and making good use of the fantastic content available at the British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association.

Could you tell us about the journey in arriving at your current job role?

Over the last 17 years within the golf industry, I have been very fortunate to work at several high-profile clubs. My first role within greenkeeping was an apprenticeship at The Wisley, a highly manicured site with exceptional standards. This was a perfect opportunity to work for a club with the finances to carry out all aspects of cultural practices, with a high-quality fleet of machinery. I then moved into my first supervisory role with Foxhills. Foxhills is a thriving membership club with high levels of foot traffic. This was my first insight into management of a course where you aspire to high standards of surface performance, whilst having to plan around members and guest. I left the industry for 5 years to run my own business after 3 years in this role, I then returned to an assistant role at Royal Ascot golf club. Following a 14-month period with the club I was fortunate enough to move to Wentworth. I initially joined Wentworth as an assistant, however after a 3-month period I was promoted to Deputy Head on the East Course. Working closely with a highly knowledgeable Head Greenkeeper that was happy to share his wealth of knowledge. This was followed by a 14-month spell working at Royal Cinque Ports, with a highly motivated team and course manager that is highly regarded as an industry leader. James Bledge really empowered his staff to push the standards, this was when I experienced a slightly more modern approach to team and course management. This was only a short spell on Links management, it was one of the most valuable experiences within my greenkeeping career. It instilled sustainable management values I had not experienced before. These experiences brought me to my current role.

What made you choose the your industry?

Prior to greenkeeping I spent 2 years working in landscape and garden maintenance. I was passionate about playing golf and my brother was already within the industry, he encouraged me to combine my love for the outdoors and golf into a career path.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I love producing surfaces that make membership happy, pushing my team to be the best version of themselves both personally and professionally. Delivering course improvements through both surface improvements and delivering on course projects.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is looking to follow a similar path in the golf industry what would it be?

Take every opportunity to learn from your peers within the industry. Utilise the free education opportunities through BIGGA and use this platform to experience tournament prep with clubs across the globe.

What improvements would you like to see in your industry?

I feel there is an under appreciation for the skills required to be a professional greenkeeper/groundsman. This under appreciation has led to a shortfall in salary structures within the industry, this is now having a huge impact on the younger generation looking at greenkeeping as a viable career choice.

Where is your favourite golf course and why?

My favourite courses is Royal Dornoch, I have a huge passion for Links golf. I feel it is true representation of what golf should be. Its bunkering and surfaces are second to none and you will never play the course with the same conditions. The weather has a much higher impact on the way a links course plays in comparison to a heathland/parkland course.

What do you believe is the most important aspect of your club?

Unity within the club to achieve the common goal. Golf is only one facet within a successful club, working closely with other departments to produce an exceptional experience for the members and guests.

If you weren’t in the golf industry what would be your dream job?

Property development.

Thank you to John for sharing his story, advice and insight into the golfing and greenkeeping world.

If you enjoyed this feature you can read more Driving Change articles here.

If you are driving change within golf and would like to submit your story, you can do so here.