Michael Long has been a Goswick member since 2013. But when Chairman Robert Cook asked earlier this year if he’d be willing to serve as the club’s finance director, he jumped at the opportunity to take on a leadership role at a place that has quickly become near and dear to his heart.
Recently, member Dan Miller had an opportunity to chat with Michael with the aim of helping all members begin to get to know him and his aspirations for Goswick.
DAN: I’d like to start by asking you how and when you started playing golf and, since then, what the game has come to mean to you. I’ve often found that if you know why someone plays golf, you quickly find out who they are and what drives them.
MICHAEL: There’s probably a lot of truth in that. I actually came to golf a bit later in my life. Up until I retired from full-time work in 2007, I just didn’t have the time — between my job and my commitment to my family — to devote to the game that it deserves. Golf demands time and patience and I had neither in my younger days. In 2011, though, I decided to give golf a go and — since I live in the Newcastle area — I joined George Washington. Then a friend of mine, (Goswick member) Phil Swinney, said that if I was going to get serious about golf that there was really only one course from Tyneside all the way to Scotland that was worth playing and that was Goswick. About the same time I bought a property in Bamburgh, so it seemed like it could be ideal. Well, I can tell you that I only needed one round to grasp what Phil had been talking about for years. Goswick is an absolute gem. I’ve since had the chance to play a lot of great courses such as Turnberry, Gullane and Dornoch. But Goswick is still in my top five. I have a smile on my face every time I come off the 18th green. It’s a special place. I became a member in 2013 and have been there ever since.
DAN: Well, you’re preaching to choir here. I think we all know just how fortunate we are to call Goswick our golf home. What do you enjoy most about the game?
MICHAEL: It just gets to you. You hit a good opening drive on the first hole and you say, ‘Surely I can hit 71 more.’ Or at least you think you can. It’s a great game to play as a team or a group. But really it’s an individual performance from start to finish. It’s all in your hands. And if you want to improve, you set your targets and you try to get down to an 18 handicap and then a 14. I’m playing off an 11 now, so my target of single figures is within my grasp. That’s what I’m aiming to do.
DAN: I’d say you’ve made very good progress in not a very long time. You must be an extremely disciplined person. Is that a trait you developed over the course of your career?
MICHAEL: Probably so. I became a qualified accountant when I turned 21 and worked in a variety of industries early on. Then in the late 1980s I became the finance director of a house building company, eventually taking over as managing director in the early 1990s. That experience led me to form my own house building company in 2001. I spent 20 years in that field and absolutely loved it. There are so many different aspects to the business and I had the opportunity to be involved in all of them. There’s not many other opportunities out there like that.
DAN: So now you bring that tremendous hands-on experience to Goswick. Why did you decide to accept the role of finance director?
MICHAEL: Truth be told, there’s always private clubs and charities crying out for financial help. And, ordinarily, that kind of responsibility wouldn’t have appealed to me. But meeting Goswick’s chairman and vice chairman changed my mind. Instantly, I could see we had the makings of a team that could achieve great things at Goswick. And I wanted to be a part of that. I could see that Goswick was becoming a club with ambition with a new drive and flair about it. It’s a very exciting time at the club.
DAN: What you’re talking about is change. And, for many people, change can be a bit of a scary thing. What would you say to members who are anxious about Goswick’s future?
MICHAEL: I would say that I hear them and I understand their concerns. Everyone on the board does. We have taken some steps toward this new future within the context of a larger plan. My feeling is that we need to do more to explain to the members where we intend to go and how we hope to get there. And we will. It’s very important that we encourage everyone to come along on the ride.
DAN: Is Goswick in a place where it can be, as you say, a club with ambition?
MICHAEL: Yes, absolutely. The club is currently in a strong financial position. Like many other clubs, we are riding the golf boom in the UK driven by — would you believe it? — COVID-19. Our aim is to continue that trend and move onward and upward. There are several ways we can do that. And there will be challenges. There always are. But I believe what we can achieve is limited only by our imagination.
As with all endeavours, it’s a question of risk and reward. To use a golf analogy, imagine that you’re standing on the 11th tee and you hit a cracking drive. Now you’re faced with a choice: Do you try to get as close to the hole as you can, but risk ending up in a bunker or going out of bounds? Or do you take a 7-iron and go halfway there and then hit another 7-iron onto the green? There are many different variables to factor into that decision. But the most important is to be able to see the flagstick. It’s the same for the board. You can’t make a good decision on what shot to play if you don’t know where you’re going.
My job is to help set the destination and to continue to develop the plan to get there, as well as build in the financial checks along the way to make sure we make progress without taking on too much risk. I truly believe we can keep the club fiscally strong yet also invest in the course and our facilities so that it drives continual improvement in the overall experience, for members and visitors alike.
DAN: What do you mean by ‘overall experience?’
MICHAEL: Well, first and foremost is the golf course. But there’s more to it than just that. If you’re a visitor who’s come a long way to get to Goswick, what happens when you get there? I’ve visited clubs where I get out of my car and it’s not clear where to find the toilet, and then when you do find it the door is locked with a keypad and you don’t know the code. But there have been others where the club secretary greets you at the door and lets you know how delighted he is that you’re there. They make it special for you. Those little details are so important. It’s what makes a visit to a golf club memorable. It’s why someone comes back without thinking twice about the price.
DAN: What’s clear is that while finance might be your core capability, you’ve definitely got your eye on the bigger picture at Goswick and its future. Knowing there’s an experienced hand at the rudder who’s committed to balancing continual change with fiscal prudence should help ease members’ concerns. I certainly feel more assured having had this opportunity to meet and get to know you.
MICHAEL: I appreciate that. And I know the board shares my belief that communicating with the members during this time of change — on a higher level than we’ve ever done before — is absolutely necessary. This is just the start.