Ever wanted to be your own boss? Well, plenty of Brisbanites are. In our latest regular feature, we profile ordinary people who have taken the plunge and started their own business. This week, the spotlight is on professional golfer Jay Simpson…

Jay grew up with an opportunity on his doorstep that most kids would never have. Now the 32-year-old is spreading the love.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up with a golf course on my back doorstep,” Jay remembers. “My dad was a fairly good golfer… I took Dad’s golf clubs out for a couple of afternoons when I was 12 and basically got hooked on it. Dad lost his golf clubs and became a caddy!

“Having that golf club at my back doorstep at a young age was such a fortunate thing for me. I remember going through high school and my teachers would tell me I needed to concentrate more on my schooling, because golf’s a hard thing to make a living out of. They said I needed to stop reaching for the stars and concentrate on something I could fall back on. I didn’t want anything to do with that, because I was determined to do something with golf.”

Jay eventually achieved his dream of becoming a golf professional, completing his PGA traineeship at Brookwater Golf & Country Club. For a while, he lived the life of a touring golf pro. But eventually he decided to start his own business, First Swing, and focus on his other dream — making golf accessible for a new generation of kids.

“I played on tour and I loved it, but the travel becomes monotonous after a while,” he explains. “You start to get sick of living in hotels. I was fortunate enough to meet my wife and start to settle down, which meant I had to stop living out of a suitcase and plant my feet on the ground. I played full-time in 2011 and had a pretty successful year, built my earnings up, and then decided I wanted to pursue my idea to get more kids playing golf. First Swing is about non-traditional pathways and getting people to play.

“The big thing for us is to create more juniors and more members for golf clubs. Golf clubs are closing down because members aren’t joining. People get the wrong perception of golf that it’s a man’s sport, a rich sport, an expensive sport; people think you can’t go to a golf club and learn how to play unless you’re a member and you’ve got your own golf clubs… we’re taking all those preconceptions away.

“You don’t need to be a member of a golf club, you don’t need your own golf clubs. All you have to do is turn up, see us, learn how to play, and we’ll put you on a journey towards becoming a member of a club and playing golf for life.”

Much like Auskick, the successful Aussie Rules program that has indoctrinated a new generation of AFL fans, First Swing visits schools to show kids how fun golf can be. We know what you’re wondering, though — aren’t golf clubs a little dangerous to have at school?

“We’re lucky that we use equipment that’s modified,” Jay explains, “which allows us to teach at schools. Kids are comfortable in their school, so why not teach them there? Obviously, taking real golf clubs and real golf balls to school would be a complete no-no. The teachers and the principal would have heart attacks! But we use modified equipment, which makes it a lot easier for our program to run.

“The kids love it. It’s an opportunity to play a sport they wouldn’t normally get to play at school. Obviously a PE teacher can teach them how to play rugby league and cricket and AFL, but golf is one of those rare sports you don’t really get an opportunity to play at school. It’s important to give these kids something different to play.

“There are a lot of obese kids these days, and there are a lot of kids who don’t necessarily want to run around a football field chasing after a ball with another 20 people on the field. They want something a little more low key. And parents want to look for a sport that’s non-contact! So our answer is golf.”

It’s a sad fact that most sports don’t prepare their professional players for life after competition. As part of his PGA traineeship, however, Jay studied business and sports coaching, which helped set him up well for this phase of his life.

“That’s a beautiful thing that golf has,” Jay says. “It has the ability to give you enjoyment as a recreational sport, but it also becomes a career and a job for life. It’s a sport for life! The problem for most professional athletes is that you can only play rugby league or whatever until you’re 30 and your body gives up. Whereas with golf, you’re lucky… I’ve learned these different skills, and I’ve got a couple different paths. I can go play, I can teach, I can run a golf club. I’ve got so many different options. Golf just keeps on giving.”

It’s just as well that Jay is passionate about golf. He needs to be. He spends at least 12 hours a day working on the business, a state of affairs he says most small business owners will relate to.

“If I wasn’t doing at least 12 hours a day and putting every waking second into First Swing, then it wouldn’t be where it is right now. If you own your own business, you really do have to commit. There are no days where you just work from 9 to 5. It just doesn’t happen.

“There are surprises and challenges every day. You have sleepless nights sometimes, wondering if your ideas will work. And I think the biggest challenge I’ve found is finding decent staff. It really is! It’s a challenge to find people who are motivated and want to get out there and give it a go. There are a lot of people these days who just work to get their paycheck. We’re about more than that.

“We’re looking for people who are passionate about what they do and passionate about improving the lives of young people who would rather sit on a couch than go outside. We can change that person’s life by getting them off the couch and getting them outside to play a sport. We can put them on a healthy and active path.”

First Swing teaches golf to people of all ages, from 3 to 93. For more info, visit firstswing.com.au.

Do you know a local small business achiever? Tell us about them in the comments below!

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