KING OF THE HILLS:
Craig Palmer is loving life as The Hills director of golf and has big visions for the course.
The Hills director has the X-factor
Source: The Southland Times
Craig Palmer has one of the best offices any golf fan could imagine. Nathan Burton caught up with The Hills director of golf during last month's New Zealand Open.
Exclusive and exquisite, Michael Hill's formerly private golf course on the outskirts of Arrowtown is a rare place.
Amongst the rolling green hills, the sculpture and the award-winning clubhouse is Craig Palmer's office.
The 30-year-old is well aware of the special position he has achieved.
"I'm very grateful. There's only so many opportunities like this in the world. Generally, guys wouldn't have an opportunity like this until they've been in the profession for quite a number of years and I'm lucky to get in here so early and have Michael's support. Hopefully, I can make the most of it."
Palmer, the son of a golf professional and a member of the NZPGA for the past seven years, went to high school in Timaru and played amateur golf for Aorangi before shifting to Dunedin and playing in a successful Otago team alongside the likes of New Zealand Open winner Mahal Pearce and Millbrook professional Ben Gallie.
After meeting the builders of The Hills clubhouse he started working on part-time as the resident professional before being employed fulltime in September. Now it's Palmer's job to develop the golfing business at The Hills.
"It's very exciting ... They haven't had a golf professional before I came here ... I get to play a big role in how the golf side of things is developed," Palmer said.
At present there's a Sunday haggle for members, and another club day the first Thursday of every month. Outside of the Open and a CureKids fundraising tournament in November, that's about it.
Palmer hopes to add many of the sorts of tournaments found at other clubs. In the future he'd like to see another professional event added to the calendar.
"The clubhouse is up and running great with the food and beverage, and the spa's running really well. I really want to work hard to develop that club atmosphere ..."
Before this year's Open, the membership stood at 82.
Annual subs, which allow a family unlimited golf and cart hire, and access to the spa and clubhouse, runs at $8889 plus GST, or $740 a month.
Once Michael Hill's private domain, The Hills was touting for business during the Open, with hopes of increasing its membership.
"We've decided to be a little less secretive about that now. The majority of people think that the course is closed off, but we do have green fees players coming in here and the membership is growing," Palmer said.
"The green fees are high, but the people who come here and pay that $500 certainly get looked after very, very well.
"We are constantly trying to add value ... My goal is to get to the stage where we offer the very best golf experience available in the world. I think that's achievable ..."
And Palmer rates Mr Hill as a special boss. By way of explanation he relates a story about the jewellery magnate.
Palmer was out playing with the members one day just before joining the club fulltime when he was summonsed to the clubhouse by a greenkeeper.
"I threw my clubs in the back of the cart and they took me back to the clubhouse. I was thinking `gee what have I done, I haven't even started and I'm in trouble'. I ended up sitting down in the clubhouse and having lunch with Michael.
"We talked for about half an hour and he told me where he saw my career going and said that he'd do everything he can to get me where I wanted to be.
"He's inspirational. He handwrote me a letter and gave it to me on Christmas Eve saying he thought I had the X-factor to go a long way in life."
Palmer had the letter framed and has it hanging in his office.
"It's just a constant reminder to me that I can achieve big things and I've got the support of a pretty amazing guy."