The typical perception of the PGA Member by the golfing masses is a ‘teaching pro’ who passes his or her time teaching golfers to play better golf and from time-to-time, getting out on the fairways and scraping together a semi-respectable round of golf that will avoid criticism from the club members, who support their resident pro at their respective club.
Well nothing can be further from the truth!
The PGA of South Africa’s membership is peppered with great and accomplished men and women. The industry offers hundreds of career options in almost every aspect of business – life-skills and opportunities yet to be exploited. We celebrate the pioneers who have paved the way and added credibility to careers in our industry. No man more so than Mike Leemhuis.
Straight away most ears prick up when his name is mentioned, but many are not too sure where and why they’ve heard his name before. So let’s take a little journey through his dazzling career in the game of golf. After matriculating from Pretoria Boys High, Leemhuis graduated from Wits University with a teaching degree and set out on an intended career in education. He became a teacher at King Edward VII School and enjoyed a couple of years there teaching history and physical education to a number of notables, including Wayne Player, Gary Player’s son.
His restlessness saw him move to the States and he decided to continue his studies at UCLA and later East Carolina University, while traveling back and forth from South Africa. Another strong motivating factor was Leemhuis’ American wife whom he met in the States and married in 1982. Ultimately, Leemhuis completed a Master’s Degree in Education, specialising in Sport Administration Management. His studies included advanced classes in Biomechanics (golf swing) and sport psychology which directed his career towards golf.
This is where the career path became apparent and the foundation was set for Leemhuis to significantly make his mark in the golfing industry. After taking up a position as the General Manager of Sports & Recreation at Sun City, he was exposed not only to club management, but also gained experience as the Tournament Director of the Nedbank Golf Challenge (five times) and he cut his teeth to the extent that he was approached by the PGA Tour to manage one of their TPC facilities in Washington D.C.
After serving as Director of Golf at the PGA Tour, Leemhuis took the reins as CEO at the famous Congressional Country Club which he guided to the number one position on the Platinum Clubs of America rankings, as well as presenting him with his grandest moment – the hosting of the 2011 US Open at the club. No stranger to the stresses and grandeur of an international event, Leemhuis claims that hosting major events is what excites him most about his career.
Currently, Leemhuis is the president of the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida which he finally calls home. Club management is where he has particularly excelled and his expertise become most contributory. He feels the key to successful club management is applying your skills to complement the ‘general’ in the title General Manager and being adept in the business administration of a club and proficient in finance, human resources and most prominently, leadership. All the skills required to manage the complex needs of ‘member-based’ and private clubs where Boards/Chairmen’s expectations require that the manager steer the club to success.
Leemhuis acknowledges that his membership and qualification with the PGA of South Africa was most certainly an early arrow in his quiver and helped direct his career to where it is today.
One of his greatest influences is Gary Player with whom he interacted with as a KES ‘Old Boy’ while he taught at the school, as well as teaching his son, Wayne. Their working relationship intensified during his tenure at Sun City and Gary Player’s positivity and tenacity still ring through in Leemhuis’ attitude and approach to life due to this inspiration. Another great influence and mentor is not a person, but an organisation: the PGA Tour. Leemhuis claims that he learnt more about club management and business in his very short term with them than anything else, as well as exposing him to the incredible people within the game.
Nearing retirement age, Leemhuis won’t retire, but would rather bide his time consulting and possibly dabbling in the recruitment space when he finally decides to step out of the club management business in the next few years. Golfers never retire!
When I asked him about success, he responded:
Success for me is getting up every day and doing what you love. I have found this in golf and club management. I love what I do and I get to do it every day of my life. It’s also important to me that you give back to the industry that has given you the opportunity to be successful. I strive to do that as well, day in and day out, specifically the mentoring of young golf professionals and managers in this great industry.
In an exceptional industry, we salute exceptional people.
– Written by Michael Scholz, The 40 Year-Old Rookie.