Blog #2 Auf einer Runde Golf mit...

Blog #2 On a round of golf with...

Stefan Kirstein, managing director of the Mainz Golf Club

 

What does golf have to do with 73 ice teas? How do you actually become the managing director of a golf club? And how do you transform a landfill into one of the most beautiful and challenging golf courses in the Rhine-Main area? Stefan Kirstein, managing director of the Mainz Golf Club, answered these and many other questions for me during a round of golf.

 

 

Stefan, when did you start playing golf and how would you describe yourself as a golfer?

 

My father was a golf trainer at the Osnabrück Golf Club and my mother managed the pro shop at the Oldenburg Golf Club. For me that meant: if I wanted to see my parents, I had to go to the golf course. I really started playing golf at the age of seven. The funny thing is that back then you couldn't start earlier because the golf club didn't allow it. I also played tennis and soccer, but I spent most of my time on the golf course. This was also noticed when my father had to pay a bill one month for the 73 ice teas I had consumed in the clubhouse. In 2000 we moved to the Mainz region, my father became a national coach at the DGV [German Golf Association] and I became a member of the Rheinhessen Golf Club. I actually had the ambition to make money playing golf, but that didn't happen. Today I am an occasional golfer and enjoy playing with my son. I would like to change the rules of golf so that - like in tennis - you have a second serve. Maybe that's why my favorite form of game today is the scramble.

 

Who do you think is the best golfer of all time?

 

That's difficult to say because it doesn't do justice to the different generations. Tiger Woods has certainly achieved incredible sporting success and contributed enormously to the popularity of golf. But of course there are also legendary players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead who achieved great things in their respective times. Just think of how the material, especially in the golf clubs, has evolved. Also worth mentioning is Bernhard Langer, who continues to play incredibly good golf to this day, primarily thanks to his enormous training and discipline. The same goes for women, of course, and it's nice to see that women's golf is becoming more and more popular.

 

What do you pay particular attention to in your golf outfit?

 

It is important to me that the clothing restricts the game of golf as little as possible. I would even like to go one step further: the clothing should support the game. Of course, the outfit should also protect against external conditions such as wind and rain. In summary, you can say: a functional outfit is the most important thing for me. All the better if it looks good too.

 

Aside from the Mainz Golf Club, where else do you like to play?

 

The Mainz golf course architecture is spectacular, but personally I also really like the opposite. I'm a fan of American golf course design, i.e. more park-like facilities. Worth mentioning here are the south course of the Seddiner See Club and the Frankfurt Golf Club. For a good day on a golf course, I need well-maintained greens and perfectly cut fairways. What I want to say is that the quality of the space also plays a big role and not just the location. But of course big names like Augusta, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews “Old Course” or Valderrama have an almost mythical appeal.

 

How do you become manager of a golf club?

 

There was no master plan! After studying business administration, which I had already started while I was an active golfer, I got the chance to do an internship at the Mainz Golf Club. I then became club manager and have been the managing director since 2013. What qualified me was definitely the combination of business administration and golf expertise.

 

What are the special challenges?

 

It is important that you enjoy working with people and develop a feel for the diverse clientele here in the club. As a managing director, you are on the one hand the interface between the member and the club, and on the other hand you are the leader who has to lead the team of employees and of course has business responsibility. Because at the end of the day, the club has to be successful.

 

Since when has the Mainz Golf Club existed and how did it begin?

 

Exciting! The club has existed since 2007. The Budenheim architect Udo Ries had the idea of ​​building a golf course on a former quarry and garbage dump site. From the start it was an exciting and ambitious project with many challenges. There were a few teething problems and perseverance and patience were certainly required. A golf course is nature and takes time, because a course has to grow into it. The natural product golf course becomes more beautiful every year. At first it was a 9-hole course, because today's hill was still a landfill back then. It has now become a beautiful and very unique 18-hole course.

 

The Mainz Golf Club is a GmbH & Co. KG and not a registered association. What is the reason?

 

Nowadays I see golf as a leisure activity. This is about a service that must be subject to certain business conditions, comparable to other leisure products. Continuity is an important success factor, which is easier to ensure in a company like ours than in a club. We have innovative shareholders and short decision-making processes, which means we can react relatively quickly to market conditions. This does not mean that every golf club has to be a society, quite the opposite. But every golf course must position itself clearly.

 

How big is the facility and what does it mean to manage this area sustainably?

 

The facility covers approximately 90 hectares, and water management is certainly one of the core issues for sustainable management. We have many groundwater lakes on our property that are used as biotopes. We are subject to strict requirements regarding flora and fauna; inspections take place regularly in order to meet these requirements with regard to sustainability.

 

How many employees does the club have, and how many of them are exclusively involved in the care and maintenance of the facility?

 

We employ a total of 30 people, seven of whom are permanent employees who are solely responsible for greenkeeping.

 

In times of climate change, there are also critical voices towards golf courses. How do you respond to criticism?

 

Despite all the justified criticism, we still have to put the benefits of our golf course in the foreground. It's about finding the right balance between creating more living space and green oases with high local recreational value in an urban environment like Mainz. As already mentioned, our facility was created on a former quarry and landfill site. Many such systems lie idle and are not used. We have created a unique local recreation area here. Of 90 hectares, not 10% are used intensively, the rest of the use is exclusively extensive. A habitat for bees has been created on our site, the wall lizard has found a new home here, there are deer, foxes and a wide variety of bird species. A public hiking trail runs through the entire complex, and places to relax have been created with the clubhouse and the restaurants there, which are also open to the public.

 

What about water consumption, which is also often criticized?

 

We do not use expensive drinking water to irrigate the system. During the rainy periods of the year, surface and groundwater is stored, which we reuse when necessary to irrigate the system. Basically, we only use water to keep nature alive and to avoid major damage. Golfers' awareness of this topic has also increased significantly. In the hot summer months, brown and dry fairways are also accepted and therefore do not need to be watered wastefully.

 

While the number of golfers stagnated between 2012 and 2019, the sport experienced increased popularity during the pandemic: the number rose significantly in Germany [from 640 thousand in 2019 to 670 thousand in 2021]. How did you experience this time and is this development also reflected in the Mainz Golf Club?

 

The development in the Mainz golf club has its own boom. Since it was founded in 2007, the number of members has steadily increased to currently 1,600. We therefore had lasting growth and no stagnation - apart from an artificial stagnation when we decided not to accept any new members temporarily during the pandemic. What we have seen during the pandemic is a sharp increase in the total rounds played per year. In 2019 there were 45,000 laps and in 2020 and 2021 there were 58,000 laps. That's an increase of 29%. The explanation for this is logical, because due to the pandemic, members had more time for outdoor activities. Unlike vacation trips, playing golf was still possible, and the trend towards working from home certainly played a role.

 

There are still certain clichés attached to golf: 'Golf is only a sport for rich people', 'Golf is more of a sport for older people' or 'the golf course is about networking, not sport'. What do you think about that?

 

Golf isn't cheap, but it's worth the price. Golf is one of the few sports that is completely self-financed. If I go swimming and the swimming club has to run the swimming pool itself, the membership fee and the price of entry would be significantly more expensive. This also applies to football, tennis and other sports.

On the second point: Yes, many of the golfers are older because they generally have more time for this sport. The real luxury in golf is time.
And on the last point: Of course there is networking on a round of golf, but I am also observing the trend that smartphones are deliberately not taken on the round because people use the hours to switch off. I also see that golfers use the game to spend more time with friends and family or simply enjoy nature. I think golf offers a lot more than networking if you put your mind to it. Golf slows down.

 

Let's look into the future: How do you think golf will develop in the next ten years?

 

I believe that the golf target group will position itself even more clearly and differently in the coming years. There will always be those who play their 18-hole round because they have the time; There will be those with sporting ambitions who will focus on tournaments and improving their handicap; Then we like to have those for whom fun plays the main role on a 9-hole round or on the short course. Golf will therefore have to open up to a larger target group. As a golf club, we have to adapt to this new type of demand and continue to have the right offer in our portfolio in the future. I'm looking forward to what's to come.

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