Table of contents
- Golf Journeys
- Founder - Mark Hawley
- Gold Coast, Australia
- Started in 2021
- 1 employee
Welcome Mark. What's your backstory?
I was born & grew up in Brisbane. From as early as I can remember, golf has been a part of my life. My parents tell me that I began swinging at a golf ball shortly after I learned to walk.
When I was 9, my family and I relocated to the Gold Coast, a change from Cleveland. I joined Club Banora Golf Club, located across the state border. At the age of 10, I secured my first job cleaning golf carts, which later led to a part-time position in the pro shop and a role as a teaching assistant for the junior golf program for children under 8. I had a wonderful childhood filled with outdoor activities like surfing, swimming, and playing golf.
Unfortunately, just after I turned 13 years old, my father's health took a turn for the worse as he was diagnosed with throat cancer. The chemotherapy severely impacted his throat, making it difficult for him to speak and unable to eat solid food. It resulted in several other health issues that left him at home, needing to be cared for. Although his physical body was losing strength, he remained strong-minded, staying positive throughout.
It was a difficult time, but reflecting on this period it taught me valuable lessons about resilience, self-awareness, and kindness. It showed how life can be unpredictable and the importance of having control over your thoughts and actions. Founders live in a world where the future is uncertain, and change comes fast, so I owe a great deal of knowledge and wisdom to my late father, Robert Hawley.
After completing year 12 of High School, I was awarded a fully-funded university scholarship by one of Australia's greatest golfers, Adam Scott. The scholarship included professional golf instruction, a golf diploma from the PGA International Golf Institute, and a Bachelor of Business at Griffith University in Sports Management. I also had the opportunity to spend time with Adam on tour, gaining valuable work experience at some of Australia's most prestigious golf tournaments, such as the Australian Open and the Australian PGA Championship. It was through these experiences that I developed a passion for event planning. I enjoyed it so much that I started organising my charity-raising golf tournaments. Whenever a professional golf tournament was approaching, I would eagerly put my hand up to volunteer.
Before launching Golf Journeys, I spent a decade travelling to some of the finest golf destinations worldwide as a Golf Tournament Director. During this time, I hosted golfers at prestigious events and worked for highly-regarded golf tour operators in Asia and Australia.
The creation of Golf Journeys stems from my desire to give golfers an unforgettable experience. I strongly believe in the power of golf to bring people together, as I have seen countless friendships and even relationships form on tour.
What is Golf Journeys?
Golf Journeys is dedicated to building a community of golfers who want to live life to the fullest and explore beautiful golf destinations. We accomplish this by creating Golf Journeys filled with one-of-a-kind experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.
We take pride in bringing together golfers who share similar interests on our tours, leading to the formation of new friendships. Participants may come from nearby or from all over the country or world.
Our offerings include Fins & Fairways for golfers who enjoy fishing, Grapes & Greens for those who appreciate fine wine, Invitational Golf Weeks for competitive golfers, and Golf Schools for beginners or those seeking to improve their game.
After jotting down over 30 potential names, only one stood out as the clear frontrunner: Golf Journeys. It represents what we stand for because we are so much more than just another operator getting you to your destination safely, our tours contain hundreds of touch points and memorable experiences along the way.
Before the name was chosen I knew I wanted a monogram as our icon, the golf flag in our logo is made up of the company's initials, it's clean and modern - I am a big fan of it.
How did you go about launching the business?
Our ethos from the very start was if it isn't broken, don't fix it. I drew upon my years of experience to put together destinations and itineraries that I knew the market would be receptive to.
Of course, a big part of our launch was that we first had to find a market to market to. This is why I approached Reuben Scheckter to become a co-founder. Reuben's company, Leadify, helps service-based businesses grow by providing them with a steady stream of potential customers (leads) through digital advertising. It just so happened to be by luck that he was a good friend of mine and was as keen on the idea as I was.
Reuben was also instrumental in pushing me to take the plunge and start Golf Journeys. If I were to advise others looking to start their own business, it would be to find a great business partner, as the journey of becoming a founder can be overwhelming. There are incredible highs and lows, but having someone that understands this can help share the load. The fact we are also opposite personality types is also a bonus too, as we often challenge each other's point of view, resulting in better decisions being made for the business.
The second step of launching Golf Journeys was our product offering. From the outset, I wanted our Golf Journeys to be completely unique, with flexible booking terms, accessible to a wide variety of golf travellers and aligned with our mission to connect like-minded golfers and create memories that will last with them for a lifetime.
Our first tour was to King Island. A place where enthralling golf is played along the roaring southern ocean. Many travellers just come for the golf and miss a lot of what else is on offer. So I set out to design a tour that celebrated not only the golf but also the produce, the culture and the down-to-earth country hospitality of King Island. A lot of hard work and sleepless nights went into the creation of the itinerary, but thanks to the help of some wonderful King Island locals, we ended up with an incredible tour.
The third step in launching Golf Journeys was attracting like-minded golfers to the tour. Although the process of perfecting our promotions and sales approach took several challenging weeks, our efforts paid off as we sold out our inaugural Golf Journey to King Island.
The King Island Golf Tour now runs every year and sees golfers enjoy; golf at some of Australia's best courses, limited release single cask King Island Whisky, a chef's selection degustation at Australia's best fine dining restaurant, King Island beef from paddock to plate and so much more.
How have you grown the business?
We are growing at an incredible pace. Now in our second year of business, we already have 5x our community and tour offerings from our first year. And we've been able to achieve this completely bootstrapped.
Anyone who has ever tried knows hard and lonely growing a business can be. But being patient and persistent is key to growth. It can sometimes feel like you are taking 1 step forward and 3 steps back, but if you keep walking forward, you will get to a point where you will look back after a year and be amazed at how far you have come.
Without a doubt, hard work is the biggest driver of growth in a business, but I also have to recognise the fact that I have been incredibly lucky too. I'm grateful to be born into a country with so many opportunities, grateful to be surrounded by leaders who inspire me and grateful to my mum, who always believed in my vision and supported me by putting a roof over my head while I invested everything I had into making Golf Journeys a success.
What have been some of your biggest learnings along the way?
The biggest learning curve for me was how to handle new leads. I come from a background of handling already loyal customers, when I was at the golf club, people knew me, and when I worked for other tour operators, the clients knew me.
When we started getting our first leads, I was on the phone with people who didn't know me from a bar of soap. It was terrifying, not just because they didn't know me and I had to figure out how to build trust, but also due to the amount of effort and care I put into each tour. There was certainly an element of fear of failure running around in my head.
But, like with anything you are not good at, you try until you succeed. A very big ad budget went into the first few tours, which we have now streamlined into a well-oiled machine. What we now spend on ads to find new customers is so incredibly small that nearly all the package costs go directly into the experiences themselves.
What's your biggest selling offering?
We have benefitted from all of our Golf Journeys selling out before tour departure. Right now, it's January, and we are currently sold out up until June.
Our itineraries are tried and tested by our team, which means playing the golf courses, testing the experiences & staying in the hotels to ensure they are up to our high standards. This takes time, so our current focus is to plan 2 years in advance to ensure we have a steady stream of Golf Journeys to provide to our growing community.
What's next for you and your business?
Several things are happening internally, such as expanding the team, building our own online social space for our community of golfers, and some very exciting new collaborations and partnerships, which I can't say too much about right now.
What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
Rich Dad Poor Dad - Robert Kiyosaki
What digital tools do you use regularly?
Pipedrive - Our CRM for client management.
Discord - We have customised Discord to use for internal communications.
Sendgrid - For transactional and marketing emails.
TicketTailor - Ticketing software to handle online payments and bookings. We've customised this majorly using Zapier and Python code to make it work for our industry.
Any podcasts, websites that help you run your business?
The Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett
Any quotes you live by?
“The price of greatness is responsibility" (Winston Churchill)
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." (Dalai Lama)
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost)
What do you love and hate about being a founder?
I love creating memorable moments and seeing our community of golfers living their best lives on tour.
Hate is a strong word, but I certainly dislike the stress.
What do you do to look after your mental health?
Long walks, netball, group fitness classes and gym.
Sum up what it means to be the founder of a business.
Highs, lows and responsibility.
What advice would you give to other founders?
The people you choose to surround yourself with will be paramount to your success.
Don't chase money. Find something you are passionate about. You will live a much more fulfilled and enjoyable life.
Make your goals so big that they excite & scare you at the same time.