'You Have to be That Change' : The Motivational Story of Grace Hurley, PGA
By Lisa Goulian Twiste
Grace Hurley, PGA(Photo by Russell Kirk/GOLFLINKS)
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 2023 issue of PGA Magazine.
When Grace Hurley attended her first PGA Merchandiser of the Year Conference in 2017 and saw the three national winners, she turned to a colleague and said, “I’m going to win this award in five years.”
This may have been a lofty aspiration for Hurley, who had just started her first golf merchandising job after a few years in the hard goods sector. But with a lot of hard work and determination, she made her dream come true – in exactly the amount of time she predicted.
“I didn’t know much about merchandising at the time, but I’ve always been a self-starter,” says Hurley, PGA Director of Sports Retail at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and the 2023 PGA Merchandiser of the Year for resort facilities. “They gave me a blank canvas to be creative and do what I wanted, so I hit the ground running and, with the help of our staff and support of management, have been able to grow a small operation into a monster.”
Even the way Hurley landed the Ponte Vedra job is a testament to her bright personality and sense of confidence. After traveling the country from 2013-17 as a golf ball certification specialist with Titleist, she was running an event at the resort when she noticed the Ponte Vedra golf shop was looking for a buyer/merchandiser. Though she had never worked in the soft goods area, Hurley went to Jim Howard, the PGA Director of Golf at the time, to see if he’d consider her for the position.
“He ended up hiring me and one of my first objectives was to grow the women’s business, which consisted of one rack and a small 60-unit display,” Hurley recalls. “They let me be creative, and now women’s is about 40 percent of the shop and we’ve grown sales over 100 percent.”
Golf wasn’t always a passion for Hurley, the daughter of a ski industry executive who grew up spending winters in Utah and summers in Washington state living on a 36-hole golf course.
“I was around golf all the time but didn’t like it at first because all my friends were playing volleyball and team sports – and I was by myself,” she says. “Then one of my neighbors who became my best friend started playing (golf) with me, and we fell in love with the game and spending time at the golf course.”
After joining her high school golf team and winning multiple state titles, Hurley played for the University of Idaho while enrolled in the school’s PGA Golf Management University Program. She was also able to complete internships at Langdon Farms in Portland, Oregon; Gozzer Ranch in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and TPC Boston (Massachusetts), while concentrating on teaching women and juniors.
Hurley graduated in 2013, the same year she was elected to PGA membership, and joined Titleist, traveling across the U.S. merchandising the company’s golf ball line.
“This literally brought me into thousands of golf shops; as I would see great displays and cool brands, it intrigued me,” she says.
Hurley has been nothing short of a dynamo at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. Her background as a PGA Professional and teacher, as well as her tournament experience, has allowed her to unite the golf and retail operations, creating synergies that have helped the club prosper in both areas.
“I was able to do clinics with the women and PGA Professionals to bring both the retail and teaching components of our operation together, gaining loyalty within the membership,” she says. “I also do all the tournament gifting and am involved in the day-to-day running of the golf operation.”
Hurley was promoted to Director of Sports Retail in 2019, overseeing the golf, tennis and gym retail facilities, as well as the complete renovation of the interior of the golf shop in 2020 - including all new fixtures and hangers. She has increased sales by running with certain displays and themes that capture the Ponte Vedra market.
For example, a lot of the members attend the Masters each year, so she does a themed display where they can grab an item or two to bring to Augusta. With so many members being into fitness, she carries an array of hoodies, T-shirts and other athleisure products, and with such a strong base of college football fans, she can always sell team colors in logoed and non-logoed goods.
“I think, too, it’s the relationships with members and guests – as well as my and my staff’s friendly and fun presence in the golf shop – that has led to our success,” she says. “Members will come to me and say, ‘I need to get my wife a birthday present’ or a junior will need something to give as a Christmas present.
“And through the five years I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to know many resort guests and their kids, who come back year after year, not only wanting to stock up on the latest seahorse logo gear but to come in and catch me up on their lives and hear about mine.”
Hurley, who was named the 2021 and 2022 North Florida Section Merchandiser of the Year, makes no secret of the fact she already has her sights set on a second national Merchandiser of the Year Award. But her more immediate goal is to solidify her own staff – which already includes a talented golf shop manager, receiving supervisor and sports merchandising assistant – and mentor others in the industry. In December, she was named Vice President of the Northern Florida Chapter of the North Florida PGA Section, and she looks forward to working with PGA Professionals in her area, while also passing along her enthusiasm to the greater PGA of America.
“There’s an expression, ‘If you want things to change, you have to be that change,’” she says. “I think the golf industry is being reinvigorated with a lot of young professionals coming in, and I want to help build a brighter future for those who want to be in our industry.”