01 Aug 2022 | Women and girls |

Connecting with culture: how Cusick got Chinese-Australian women into golf

by Golf Australia

Garth Cusick with some happy students.
Garth Cusick with some happy students.

Our July Visionary of the Year winner has been chosen...

Congratulations to Garth Cusick, Founder and head coach of The International Golf Academy Australia in Melbourne for his multi-faceted approach to attracting and retaining Chinese-Australian women in golf.

Garth has won a $500 Drummond Golf voucher and is now in the running to win up to $10,000 worth of products from the latest Callaway REVA product range, designed specifically for women. Our overall Visionary of the Year will be voted upon and announced towards the end of the year.

Here’s Garth’s story...

Having both lived and taught golf in Beijing, China, PGA Professional Garth Cusick knew what it was like to reside in a foreign country. This empathy nurtured the creation of the International Golf Academy Australia.

“It all happened quite organically,” Cusick recalled. “A Chinese couple who were interested in learning golf realised I spoke Mandarin. They made me aware that there was a large population of Chinese-Australians in Melbourne who were somewhat unable to participate in sport or leisure activity due to a language barrier. I remembered that feeling of isolation when I was unable to communicate overseas, and that is how my business model was born.”

Cusick based his Academy at Eastern Sward Golf Club, a 9-hole public course in Melbourne’s south-east.

From starting small with a broader target market of people from a Chinese speaking background, seven years on, Cusick’s golf coaching business has expanded to fourteen 2-hour classes per week, 85% of participants being Chinese-Australian women.

Cusick wishes to share his story in the hope that he may inspire others, especially those people connected with a community, to become a Community Instructor and run a beginner women’s clinic to bring people together.

“The trick is to have an awareness and understanding of your local market and clientele,” said Cusick. “You then need to tailor a package that speaks to them.”

Knowing his target market, Cusick set up an account with WeChat, the Chinese messaging app, and began promoting golf programs where players learned on-course.

With plenty of available tee times and knowing the benefits of getting beginners on-course as early as possible, Cusick approached the Eastern Sward Golf Club to establish a mutually beneficial relationship; one that has evolved over time.

“In the beginning, I simply bought tee times from the club and worked this into my fees,” he said. “As time has gone by and my clientele has grown immensely, we now have an arrangement that benefits all.

“Having course access is a great asset to have as a coach. To be able to market ‘you will learn with real golf balls on a real course’ is a powerful tool.

“On-course lessons have also helped me overcome an unexpected challenge. We do offer a mentoring program where Eastern Sward members accompany beginners on-course. However, the appetite of the Chinese women for this was surprisingly very low to non-existent. I have since learnt that when translated, the word ‘mentor’ in Chinese is not something of learning and a gesture of generosity, but more so of ‘owing’ someone. A cultural difference I was not aware of. So being able to teach students on-course has helped with this, as they not only learn skills, but course management.”

Data tells us women prefer their experience in a group setting, so they were naturally drawn to Cusick’s academy.

“Attracting women to my program has been an integral part of the business’ growth,” he said. “They are a great marketing asset - one woman will bring a friend, and that friend will bring a friend and so forth. My business has therefore grown through these referrals.”

In addition, Cusick cleverly provides a weekly prize to his students for the best photo uploaded from a clinic to WeChat.

“Because of the connection with this community, 85 percent of my students are now Chinese-women aged 45-60. It is now important to focus on the intricacies related to this demographic and provide the perfect service for them.”

Cusick is very big on customer care and through this ethos has implemented several initiatives that ensure his beginner golfers feel welcomed and nurtured.

“My academy provides a ‘full-service’,” he said. “This means that from the moment someone enquires about signing up, first arriving at the club and progressing into club membership, all facets around a beginner’s experience has been thought through and clear, concise information is provided.

“We have developed video and written information on WeChat, and I have hired some Mandarin speaking women to answer all enquiries. Information gets as detailed as what you should wear, what to expect at each session and what to expect upon arriving at the club. For beginners, everything is new, and a terrific attention to detail gives clients confidence that you offer a great product and will provide a welcoming experience.

“Upon arriving to the club for the first time, each student is met by one of our Mandarin-speaking women in the car park who walks the beginners to the session (ensuring they point out amenities on the way).

“I also constantly ask for feedback and survey my students on a regular basis – what did they like, what are their concerns?”

Recovering from the Covid-lockdowns, Cusick now finds himself nearly back at the point where demand is more than he can meet.

“My next step is to expand the business by engaging Community Instructors," he said. "This provides such an excellent opportunity, especially as several Chinese women, who have gone through my program and have progressed their golf, are keen to be involved.

“I believe that the most important aspect of coaching is the rapport, understanding and trust you have with your student. So, to have Chinese-women who have been through the program and who new students can relate to, will be fantastic.”

The academy has worked closely with Eastern Sward Golf Club to provide a pathway into membership, having revised offerings to suit the influx of new women’s needs.

“Whilst some women are joining the club, or elsewhere, it is evident that that membership is not for everyone and there are alternative ways for clubs to generate revenue," Cusick said.

“Because most of my students now come as groups of friends, there is a large appetite for regular but social play. Women are wanting to continue to play and enjoy golf, but in their own friendship groups.”

In this instance, social groups are offering an alternate source of revenue for the club.

The success the International Golf Academy has had in engaging large numbers of Chinese-Australian women can be put down to Cusick’s attention to detail in every facet of a beginner’s golf’s experience.

“If the sum of poor experiences equals more than a person can say, ‘I love golf’ then we have lost them. You don’t get many second chances, so you need to ensure their first experience with golf is great!” he said.

Key Learnings and Advice

  • “You don’t get many second chances, so you need to ensure their first experience with golf is great.”

  • “Have an awareness of your market and deliver a service accordingly.”

  • “Understand the culture you are working with.”

  • “Think of all facets around a beginner’s experience with golf. Everything is new. A terrific attention to details gives clients confidence that you offer a great product and will provide a welcoming experience.”

  • “The most important aspect of coaching is the rapport, understanding and trust you have with your student. Look to engage someone who may have a connection with a specific community of people. It is much easier to teach them how to coach beginners than to teach someone to be culturally relevant. Community Instructors are a great asset to expand and grow your clientele.

  • Get into Golf is a great platform to use to run beginner women’s programs

  • Learn more about Visionary of the Year and read other monthly winning stories here.

  • Nominations for the remainder of the year are still open. Click here for the nomination form.

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