Now well-known on social media, Michelle Holmes started her path to teaching junior golf at her own academy after spending a year as an assistant golf professional. While it wasn't easy at first, Michelle's perseverance, determination, and commitment to her passion led her to where she is today.
Here is her story:
Tell me a bit about what you do in the golf industry and your experience.
I have a kids golf academy here in Virginia, and we opened it in 2011. When we opened the academy, I knew my passion was going to be kids golf, but I was also teaching adults back then too, and I had no idea what it was going to grow into. Since 2011, we've gone from one location to now three locations, and we've gone to a 100% student base of junior golfers. We have everything from kids that come in and use golf as an extracurricular activity to kids who have dreams of college golf or beyond. So, we really take kids and families on a lot of golf journeys, and it's really about whatever golf journey they want.
I think something that's cool and unique about our program is that we are 60% female students. You don't see that too often. I think it helps that we have four full-time coaches. Two of the full-time coaches are female: myself and my sister. My sister is a golf professional as well. She is the Director of Instruction at one of my locations.
I think one of the biggest mistakes I made as a young instructor is that I thought that everybody who came in the door wanted to be the next Tiger Woods. And I soon realized that I really needed to sit down and spend some time talking to these families, especially when they come in the door and they're trying to get their child into our program. I need to say, "Hey, what is it that you want from me?" Just to make sure the instructor, the player and the parent are on the same page. The mission of Michelle Holmes School of Golf is to create experiences that encourage kids to play the game forever. We really just want to give kids a positive golf experience. That's our number one goal. I think we have created a lot of good golfers because of that simple mission
And we're very highly involved in the tournament side of things. We run about 75 junior golf tournaments a year, and we run them for organizations like US Kids Golf and the PGA and Virginia State Golf Association. As far as the tournament side of things go, we realize how much pressure kids are under these days and we realize what a tough role parents have. Parents have to be parents, parent-caddies, parent-coaches, parent-teammates, etc. That's not an easy job. So, we're really just trying to educate the parents as best we can and make sure that the whole family is going on a positive golf journey.
When were you first introduced to golf?
I grew up in Ireland. My dad introduced me to the game at 10 years old and just fell in love with it, and came up through the junior golf ranks and had a pretty good junior career. Then I got offered a college scholarship to play golf for Campbell University in North Carolina. I pretty much always knew I was going to go into the coaching world. I had an amazing junior golf coach, Charlie McGoldrick, who has since passed. Looking back, even at a young age, I kind of saw what an impact he had on people's lives. I think I just always knew I wanted to do that. A defining moment for me is when I was about 13 or 14 years old and I was playing in a club competition. I remember standing on the ninth tee box, and one of the lady members said to me, "Hey, do you want to play on the LPGA Tour when you grow up?" You know, a typical question to ask me. And I remember saying "No, I want to do what Charlie does." So I think he always had a huge impact in my life. I just think that he was the first person that made me realize that what we do as coaches really does matter, and it really does help change lives and impact lives.
I played four years at Campbell University, then graduated and went into the LPGA program. When I finished playing college golf, it was really a tough time mentally for me and I don't think I hit any golf balls for about a year after that. From when I was 13 years old up to when I graduated at 22, my whole purpose of golfing was to be a competitor and to go out on the golf course to win. So, once college golf was over, as a golfer, I didn't really have a purpose anymore. If someone asked me to go out and play nine holes for fun, I would kind of look at them and say, "What do you mean go play nine holes for fun?" I'd never done it for fun. So that kind of brings me back to my mission. I want to make sure these competitive golfers aren't just getting wound up in the competitive side of things. Instead, they're appreciating the game for everything it throws at them.
Michelle tried out a few different jobs in the golf industry but realized they were not exactly what she wanted. So, she turned in her notice and decided she wanted to teach full time and do it her way with the Michelle Holmes School of Golf.
I started out Michelle Holmes School of Golf with a business plan of "I want to teach full time, I'm going to call it Michelle Holmes School of Golf, and I'm going to open a Facebook page." And that was in 2011. It was a rude awakening because that first month I think probably had about 10 students. So, we printed hundreds of brochures, walked each neighborhood, and just initially handed brochures to anybody who would look me in the eye and talk to me. We went into the school career days and I would drag my sister with me and make her do all the presentations. And then the other thing we did is we invited all the Girl Scout groups and Boy Scout groups and just invited them over to the golf course for a free hour. We just hoped that they would enjoy that experience and go home and tell their parents and say, "Hey, we want to go back there." Fortunately, it's worked out and now we've grown our program to three locations and we see over 500 kids through the year.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
Well, I always say that I've never woken up and said, "Oh my god, I have to go to work." Never once have I had that feeling. I think for me, it's just seeing the journey unfold for the family on a daily basis. Yeah, I love those moments where the kids do something and they can't believe they've accomplished that. I think just seeing a family grow together, especially when I'm dealing with the competitive golfer. It is a roller coaster of a journey, and it's being part of that for the kids and helping the kids and parents navigate through that.
What obstacles have you faced in the industry?
I feel like I haven't had to face too many obstacles in the golf industry. But in saying that, you've got to remember that after a year of being an assistant golf professional, I just really went out on my own and I kind of made my own path.
I've worked for US Kids Golf. I direct the Hampton Roads Tour here in Virginia and I direct some of their state championships, and I'm a director of their world championships. I also work for an organization called Virginia State Golf Association. And maybe I've just been lucky, but I actually think being a female has helped me and I definitely don't think it's hindered me in any way. I just feel like those two organizations have been very encouraging, very welcoming, and they've been two great organizations to work with.
I get that question a lot. And it's always a tough question for me because I feel like I've had so many positive experiences. I just feel like women in the industry have never been stronger. I mean, Suzy Whaley is the president of the PGA and it just doesn't get any cooler than that.
How do you think the golf industry benefits from having women in leadership positions?
Even with people like Suzy Whaley, surely when younger professionals like you or me see that, we start to believe that can be us. And as far as getting more girls into golf, I think younger girl golfers are more comfortable with female instructors. So, I think that's huge as far as the growth of the game.
What are your future aspirations in the golf industry?
What I would love to get more involved in is using my social media page to educate the parents on how to do a better job of a parent-caddy, parent-coach, all that kind of stuff. I would like to see myself delve a little deeper into that down the line in doing parent-caddy seminars. If things stay the way they are now, and I do this until I am 85 years old, I just hope I can have an impact on people's lives, where kids can look back just like I can look back on my junior golf coach and say, "Yes, they made a difference in my life."
What words of advice would you give to women just starting their career in the golf industry?
I would say the one thing that I look back on my career that I'm glad that I did very early is that I knew what my passion was, and I went after that. So, decide what your passion is and don't let anything stop you. Keep your eye on the prize and the reason I'm saying that is because when I became an assistant golf professional, I could have easily done that for five or six years. I was only a year into my LPGA training, and I was like, "No, you know what, I'm going to stop doing this. I'm going to start my own junior golf program." So, I think once you know what your passion is, go for it, and don't let anybody stop you.
Can you believe it's already August? There has certainly been a slight drought of blogs, which matches the actual drought in New England. Our golf course has done nearly 20,000 rounds since opening on May 11, so we've been quite busy!
I am happy to report that we hosted our first ever GolfHers girls clinic and have now moved to small groups classes for GolfHers. We had 19 girls in the first group, 26 in the second, and have now added more dates for 10 girls each for more one-on-one instruction. Very exciting!