As a GolfTips Magazine Top 25 Instructor, and one of only 337 PGA Master Professionals in the country, John Hughes, Founder of John Hughes Golf, brings a unique perspective to the world of golf instruction. For Hughes, golf represents a microcosm of how we operate as business professionals. His instruction goes well beyond proper stance or grip. For the better part of four decades, Hughes has helped countless individuals improve their swing, while having more fun doing so and overcoming professional or personal challenges.
"Golf started off as more of a competitive and social release for me," Hughes said. "I played professional soccer until I was 20. When I was injured, I needed a new hobby. That hobby eventually turned into a profession. My golf career began in 1988 working at mom and pop golf stores. I sold clubs, worked behind the counter, and I started giving lessons to those who purchased clubs. In 1994, I decided to go all in and become a golf professional. I moved to the Charleston SC area and began working at a golf facility in Edisto Beach. I also started my PGA apprenticeship, and the education program that is required to gain full membership to the PGA of America. Along the way, I learned all the ins and outs of the industry. I worked tournaments, volunteered and, at every facility where I was employed, I’d teach as much as I could."
Hughes earned PGA Membership in 2004, as well as his Master Professional designation in 2004, while devoting his career to coaching and instructing full-time. In 2005, Hughes relocated to Central Florida while serving as the National Director of Instruction for Advantage Golf School. He helped grow yearly revenue from $200,000 to $3 Million, which resulted in Golf Digest paying them a visit. After Golf Digest shut down their school, they were searching for a new school to partner with to help resurrect their brand. Advantage inherited the license to operate as a Golf Digest school and Hughes went on to manage 55 instructors at 14 facilities throughout the country. When the recession hit, Hughes' boss encouraged him to think about branching off and doing his own thing. When the economy recovered, the tone changed. In September 2013, Hughes was hit with another curve ball. This time, he was let go and, for the first time in a long time, Hughes was forced to look at what to do next.
"I was overqualified for a lot of the available positions," he said. "A lot of businesses felt they couldn't afford me. That's when I decided to do what I do best, create a new private instruction brand. You reach a point like any athlete when you have to make a decision about your future and how you'll be involved in your sport."
As Hughes pursued his own business, he was faced with a series of challenges. For the previous 14+ years, he was associated with a golf school brand. Now on his own, he had to work hard to establish himself as his own brand. Making his efforts even more difficult to increase his exposure and market his brand was a nearly non-existent budget. With more top ranked instructors within 50-miles of Orlando than anywhere else in the country, Hughes had his work cut out for him.
"I was basically starting in the basement," he said. "Since I had no budget, I had to learn to do a lot of things on my own. For starters, I built my own website and learned all I could about SEO and other marketing techniques. I also went to a lot of networking events and, just by showing up, I received a lot of attention for being the only golf professional in the room. I also had friends bring me to charity events. I would further increase my exposure by offering to give away free lessons. Eventually, I started to gain some traction."
When Hughes landed at Falcon’s Fire Golf Club, things really took off. He finally had a place to call home and, with a refined business model that only focused on one-to-one instruction, Hughes found his niche, positioning himself for even more future growth. Along with exceptional instruction of golf’s fundamentals, Hughes' approach involves seeing the game of golf, and the lessons it can teach you about business and life, as more than just golf.
"Playing golf is no different than running a company," he said. "You have a new set of issues every day you step foot on that golf course. The golf course stays the same, but the environmental, atmospheric conditions, and your attitude change. From an emotional standpoint, golf will tug you in certain directions. It's up to you to stay level and to understand that golf is really a sequence of decisions based on the resources, skills, and opportunities you have control over. Your job is to make decisions using those things to your best advantage, without creating massive mistakes. Remember, there's no such thing as perfection in golf. The effort of striving to be perfect is perfection in and of itself. If you're getting close to 100% and you enjoy the journey, that's perfection."
Hughes shared that what he enjoys most about teaching the game of golf is getting outside, having fun, and working with his clients to overcome various challenges. Even with the same student, as Hughes explained, there's always a new challenge helping them overcome their problems and understand who they are as a person. "Golf really is a microcosm of life and business," Hughes said. "Clients will thank me for helping them with their golf skills, but they'll also thank me for opening their eyes to things they're not aware of within their professional or personal lives. For most of our waking hours, we're creating a skill set to solve professional problems to make lives as comfortable as possible. If these skills make you successful in your everyday life, then why not take these skills to the golf course? Things like preparedness and commitment play a much bigger role than you think."
Looking ahead, Hughes is focused on growing his practice at Falcon's Fire. With additional growth, he'll consider adding new programs and effective ways to deliver that content. On the docket are two books. One deals with how to improve your golf game with zero practice and the other deals with golf from a entrepreneurship standpoint. The latter will focus on applying the personal habits of highly successful people to the golf course. Hughes is also looking to start a video subscription service to capture the online market. He's modeling his platform after the emergence of online medicine and how providers diagnose and provide advice through video chats.
What advice does Hughes have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "The longer you hesitate, the less likely you're going to do it," he said. "Whether it's starting a business or a family, there's never a perfect time to do anything. At the same time, it's still important to be prepared and to think through all the possible consequences. Make sure you have a good support system along the way. You don't want to feel like you're on your own. Once you make the commitment to move forward, you can't give up and you must give it your best shot. If things don't go as planned, find flexibility and don't beat yourself up. Be your own best friend. Remember, it's not about people caring about you, it's about you caring about someone else's problem and doing your absolute best to help them solve their problem."
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