Head PGA Professional at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club since 1997, Richard Hatt could be excused for shirking the responsibility of cleaning the club’s fleet of golf carts. Instead, he remains as dedicated to every aspect of his wide-ranging role as he was the day he started.
“I want to be hands on,” he says. “I’m always keen to be involved with the club – every part of it. Otherwise, it’s time to go.”
Over the course of nearly 30 years, Hatt has become an integral part of The Royal Melbourne Golf Club. His passion and dedicated service from him acknowledged in a recent release to members, as the club announced his contract extension.
The quality that makes him an invaluable asset to Australia’s Sandbelt gem, Hatt’s unwavering passion has underpinned everything he has done since taking on a role at Royal Melbourne – and even long before – as he went about forging a career in golf.
“Growing up, I would eat a golf ball,” he recalls. “Mum would drop me off (at Peninsula Country Golf Club) and I would go round and round and round. I’m obsessive by nature and I instantly got hooked on it.”
His love for the game blossoming at that early stage, Hatt worked alongside the Head Professional at Peninsula, David Good. There, he got his first taste of working in golf; helping with repairs, running members’ competitions and lending a hand in the shop.
Inspired to take a role as a Trainee (now PGA Associate) Professional once he finished school, Hatt worked closely alongside Good for two years at Peninsula.
“I went to him, worked for him and he was a great mentor. He taught me golf, I played non-stop and he helped me fall in love with the game.”
Gradually making a name for himself, Hatt was sought out by Royal Melbourne legend and long-time Head Professional, Bruce Green, in 1993. The beginning of a long and flowering relationship – and another invaluable mentorship – it all happened in the space of one conversation.
“He said, ‘I’d like to offer you a job,’ and I thought amazing,” Hatt recalls.
“I asked, ‘When do you want me to start?’ and he said ‘Tomorrow!’”
The next day, Hatt set his clubs down on the practice fairway and gave his first lesson at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
“I started doing lots of coaching – like a lot. My biggest day, I did 18 lessons in one day.”
With a fastidious attention to detail and imbued with a desire to help every golfer improve, Hatt Began collating lesson notes. Documenting every student’s development, Hatt – who still coaches most mornings – has amassed quite a collection.
“I’ve kept every lesson book since 1993. My wife thinks I’m crazy, but one day I’d love to sit down and work out how many lessons I’ve actually done.”
By 1997, Hatt was made co-professional alongside Bruce Green, a partnership they shared up until Green’s retirement in 2018.
Immediately, he was put to the test on the world stage as he helped to co-ordinate the hosting of the 1998 Presidents Cup.
“We were negotiating merchandising rights with the PGA TOUR and all of those sorts of things,” he recalls.
From there, it was a continual process of learning, development and expansion of his skill set, as Hatt – under Green’s watchful eye – came into his own as a Head Professional.
“Bruce taught me how to engage with the members,” he says. “I learned a lot from his guidance from him.”
It is the strength of this relationship with the club’s membership – along with his perception of his own role – that has been the foundation of Hatt’s success at Royal Melbourne.
“We’ve got around 2,300 managers here. They’re the members,” he explains. “We are here for them and they’ve got the say.”
In an era when most golf clubs are transitioning to managing their own golf service and retail, Royal Melbourne has maintained a club and contract arrangement with Hatt; one that continues to inspire him and his team in the pro shop to strive for excellence.
“We live and breathe it,” Hatt said. “At the end of the day, it’s my staff, my shop and how good or bad I go is up to me.”
“One of my great strengths is that I never do I come in and don’t want to do something different,” Hatt says. “Every single day.”
“I’m thinking up harebrained ideas all the time – what can we do to entertain these members and look after them? I’m always looking to make it interesting for them, I’m driven that way.”
For Hatt, this process lasts long after each member walks off the 18th green.
From putting his staff through a merchandising course, to hand-wrapping Christmas gifts for members and even developing a manual for how the Pro Shop should be arranged at all times, he understands that little things amount to a premium experience for everyone at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
“It’s that engagement and making it exciting for members to come to the club. We respect where we are and are trying to be the best at everything we do.”
His unwavering drive was highlighted throughout the COVID lockdown period. Hatt was prepared to reinvent himself and his business, dedicated to providing the best-possible service, as well as ensuring the safety of his staff.
Immediately taking action once the doors were closed, Hatt thought outside the square. He and his management team created an online store for members, ran quizzes that engaged up to 400 people at a time, sent out newsletters and provided online coaching and playing tips to engage the community while the fairways were vacant.
“It was a disaster, but we made it an asset for us,” he said. “We did a lot of things that we normally wouldn’t do and it gave us a good kick-starter.”
The value he places on his people shone through, too – as Hatt managed to retain every member of his staff.
“I never lost one staff member through the whole time. My goal was to keep them all.”
“The easiest option might have been to let them all go and save the money, but I couldn’t let them down.”
His tireless flexibility is on show once again as the club embarks on an extensive project to install an underground car park and revamped storage area under the existing practice fairway.
Although the practice facilities have been largely closed since November last year, Hatt has implemented a range of solutions.
“It’s the same principle. We’ve had to innovate.”
Increased bunker clinics and golf schools, as well as a transition to a new member-integration system have typified the adaptability, but Hatt is most excited about the changes being made inside the pro shop and launching a new experience for the members.
“It’s going to be brand new for the members. We always want to make it exciting for them to come to the club.”
For a man who wears a number of caps every day to help enhance the experience of every golfer he meets, the one he wears the least is actually playing golf.
“I don’t play as much as I did in the past,” he says. “There’s always something else busy that’s happening.”
Not that it particularly bothers him; Hatt gets great joy from immersing himself in golf in other ways.
“I still feel like I’m playing golf when I’m talking golf, thinking golf and living it,” he says. “I still absolutely love the game, even after all this time.”
That love, combined with a genuine sense of care has ensured his longevity at Royal Melbourne – something that Hatt is grateful for every day.
“It’s a passion. It started as a passion and became a job,” he says.
“I never really see it as a job though. I never have.”