Ali Orchard knew immediately that she wanted to help the beginners who came to Topgolf Gold Coast to fall in love with the game but the Topgolf executives themselves weren’t quite so sure.
It was nothing against Orchard, a qualified PGA Professional and former touring professional who recorded 10 top-10 finishes in ALPG events; those guiding the fortunes of Topgolf in Australia weren’t sure they wanted an instructor on site at all.
Making golf lessons available went somewhat against their methodology of building an entertainment venue where golf is an optional extra.
They wanted the Topgolf experience to be devoid of any anxiety that might be associated with learning to play golf and instead simply let people engage in the game however they wished in a fun environment.
And then along came Ali.
Working initially in the golf services department, Orchard observed intently the debate around having a PGA Professional on-site and when the role was advertised she made her intentions abundantly clear.
“When Topgolf first opened there was no lead coach,” Orchard reveals.
“I asked if I could train in golf services and see whether I liked their culture and their atmosphere and through training in golf services I realised that this role could not possibly suit me more.
“Having fun, helping other people have fun and there’s golf involved. Wow.
“When I saw the job pop up for lead instructor I knew it was something that I wanted to seriously pursue.
“I didn’t really make it known that I was a PGA Professional and during that time they began to think that they did need to have someone and we finalised the interview process just as we were about to open.
“When I had the interview I knew that my profile fit well here because so much of Topgolf is geared towards people who may have never played golf before.”
With experience coaching juniors at Surfers Paradise Golf Club and beginner ladies at McLeod Country Golf Club in Brisbane, Orchard’s combination of personality, qualifications and local connections made her the outstanding candidate.
“Community is a key component for the Topgolf brand world-wide so it was important for us to when searching for the instructor position, that we found someone that was familiar with the Gold Coast lifestyle but also have the experience of competing and playing professional golf, and Ali was the perfect combination of both,” said Topgolf Australia CEO Kirk Edwards.
“Ali’s personality and experience suits the fun environment at Topgolf Gold Coast to a tee and one of her key attributes is the ability to bring about improvement for her students by customising her teaching methods to the individual’s personality, skill level and goals.
“Topgolf is everybody’s game and we see a wide range of demographics visiting the venue.
“The flexibility of having an instructor on-site like Ali, who can tailor her lessons to any age-group in a positive and fun environment, has been extremely beneficial to our lesson options.
“In addition to her in-venue lessons, we have also created a social campaign #TopgolfTips with Ali and these have been well received by our audiences, showing that there is an appetite out there for our visitors to hone up on their skillsets.”
Dad, ducks and degrees
One of four children whose father was the Head Professional at Gympie Golf Club in the north-west part of the Sunshine Coast, Orchard’s earliest golf recollections were not of hitting balls but of interacting with the local wildlife.
“My first memory of being out on the golf course with dad was when we were allowed to go around in the buggy at the golf club and feed the ducks,” Orchard recalls. “And then we would pick up pine cones for the fireplace.
“That was really my beginning of understanding what a golf course was.”
While Orchard’s two sisters and brothers continued to associate time at the golf course with feeding the ducks, Orchard soon gravitated towards her father Paul’s pro shop and an obsession with the game was born.
Now the Head Professional at Surfers Paradise Golf Club and earlier this year a nominee as the Queensland Club Professional of the Year, the mere mention of her father Paul makes Orchard’s emotions bubble to the surface.
Not only did Paul help to foster her interest in golf and help hone her technique but he and Orchard’s mother Sheree also displayed the benefits that come with an unrelenting work ethic.
“My dad is so special. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as I am to have the dad that I have,” Orchard says.
“He understands me. We will fight, don’t get me wrong, but once we get to the end result we appreciate what we did to get there.
“I’m really noticing a lot lately just how many people don’t have their dad in their lives and I say to people, ‘Share my dad’. He will be there for anyone. My friends will go to my dad so he is really special.
“He coached me as a junior but we fought. It didn’t really work but he was happy for me to go to one of his closest friends, Mark Victorsen, and see him. And if I was travelling too much to get lessons we would go to the range together and work on things.
“He was definitely part of the team but he wasn’t super involved.
“The other reason why I love him is his work ethic is unbelievable and it teaches me so much.
“Not only my dad but my mum as well, they both work so hard.
“I was lucky and so grateful that I could see that this was a team, that mum and dad both worked hard and that made it such a good way to grow up.”
Upon completing her schooling at Robina High School in 2008, Orchard joined the Queensland Academy of Sport before moving into the PGA International Golf Institute’s Diploma of Golf Management and Bachelor of Business (Sports Management) at Griffith University.
Under the watchful eye of her father, Orchard completed her PGA Traineeship in 2015 – becoming the first female to win the Pampling Plate, a Trainee match play tournament, – before embarking on life as a touring professional.
It was the fulfillment of a childhood goal but she quickly realised that the glamorous life she had envisaged was far different in reality.
“The whole time I was driven to play on tour so then to make that decision was hard but definitely what I needed,” says Orchard.
“I think you need to be super happy in what you’re doing. I thought that’s what it would be, to be travelling and playing and working hard on my game anywhere in the world, and it got to the point where it just wasn’t what I had envisaged.
“I travelled to China and America and put myself out of my comfort zone and I think the fact that I was able to make myself do it 110 per cent made the decision a little bit easier. I knew that I’d given it everything and it still wasn’t what I thought it would be.
“I probably came to that realisation in September last year and then by March I was able to say that I’ve stopped.
“I don’t think I’ll ever need to go back now. I’m 100 per cent confident that I’m not going to need that.”
Having joined the Topgolf Gold Coast team in March, Orchard is now determined to help shape the company’s success in Australia as it looks to expand to as many as eight centres around the country and also into Asia.
“I feel like I fit Topgolf well and I want it to be a big part of my life,” Orchard explains.
“Being the first instructor for Topgolf’s opening in Australia I want to be able to mentor and help and grow what we do at Topgolf throughout every Topgolf. Hopefully that in turn brings a lot of people into the game.
“If we do it right, then we can feed these players that have the potential and the passion for the game into golf clubs.
“Everyone that wants some type of help requires a lot of energy to make sure you engage and speak to them on the level that they are at.
“I think it definitely does have that potential to engage those people and then filter them through to any sort of golf club.
“We need to nurture them. That’s really important and why I want to make sure I can nurture other coaches when they come in.
“My goal in golf isn’t to be an elite coach. Sure, I want to help elite players and having played in some big tournaments I believe I could help them but that’s not my main goal.
“I want to work from the ground up and fuel this energy of new people that don’t think they’re going to play and actually get them involved and loving the game.”
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