Following a 12-year period travelling the world on the tour trucks of both Mizuno and Callaway, Mark Duncombe is now enjoying success with a trio of businesses.
Mark Duncombe’s trio of business interests – Pro Golf Products Ltd, Gatwick Golf Studio and Custom Golf Works Sunningdale – are a real step away from the tour life he was long accustomed to.
Taking up the game at school, Mark completed his PGA training in 1999, working at the likes of Tilgate Forest for Doug McClelland and Holtye, in Sussex.
However, it was at the turn of the decade that Mark found his feet when a position at Callaway came about.
“I quickly realised I wasn’t good enough to play full time, but I’d always been a player who enjoyed the performance side of the sport, and, at Callaway, I found the technological side of the game, which I quickly fell in love with,” explains Mark. “A job came up with Callaway making golf clubs, and I quickly progressed into the tour department.
“That was a huge learning curve. I started to really understand equipment, but the opportunity also gave me vital insight into the commercial side of a big company. It gave me such a huge amount of experience, especially around how I could use that knowledge to improve other people’s golf games. It was just fantastic; I was particularly fortunate to look after a lot of players on the European Tour.”
Following his stint at Callaway, which included building clubs for the likes of the late, great Seve Ballesteros, a move to Mizuno was on the horizon. Moving to a company that has been used by many Major winners, it was during this eight-year period that Mark’s knowledge around golf and business expanded, traits that have helped him build his line of golf companies in the South Region.
“I worked with some amazing club makers and designers during my time at Mizuno and, at the time, the company were the official workshops for the European Tour,” states Mark. “Suddenly, I’m learning from Barry Willett and Andy Kikidas and working with every player on tour.
“There’s 120-plus guys every week who can use the official workshop of the European Tour and it opened my mind to a lot of different equipment and how different processes worked. In terms of the way Mizuno’s business works, rather than being a limited company, it was a family-owned business and still is to this day.
“Mizuno were focused on long-term growth, which is something that I’ve tried to think about in my business today. I’m not thinking about the profits, I’m thinking about the performance for the players and my relationship with the players. Consequently, I want to keep them as my customers for the rest of their golfing life.
“Something that I learned at Mizuno was that it always comes down to performance over profit, with a long-term goal of helping that player develop their skills and get better at golf. Golf-club fitting isn’t a one-time thing, and I always want to make it very clear to them that this is the start of the process. If we need to make tweaks and adjustments, then come and talk to us about that. My goal is always to garner the most beneficial relationship.”
In 2013, after some 12 years on the Tour trucks, Mark set up Pro Golf Products, an online hub that specialised in all manner of equipment, specifically those products that were perhaps slightly niche.
“Every PGA Professional will tell you that starting your own business is hard,” explains Mark, who went from running a single department to taking responsibility for absolutely everything within his business.
“Fundamentally, I’ve got business partners, which is super helpful, but you’re responsible for the whole business yourself. What I mean by that is the responsibility is entirely down to you, and it’s different in terms of working for a big corporate team to now having a small business.
“Once we started Pro Golf Products, we quickly realised that the questions that were coming through were about testing the most niche products. That’s when we knew we needed to create a studio.
“We were based near Gatwick Airport and so we created Gatwick Golf Studio, which quickly became very busy. We started to garner relationships with those on the Tour and a lot of individuals who I’ve worked with on Tour.”
Seeing an influx of players from the Sunningdale and Wentworth area, a third business was set up: Custom Golf Works Sunningdale.
“Like any business, it is always evolving and you’re always reacting to the market that you’re in,” states Mark. “To me, one big difference between working in a big corporate environment and running a small business was that we could move direction really quickly.
Most of our customers were coming from Sunningdale and it made sense for us to go to them.
“We looked at the financial aspect of opening a unit in the Sunningdale area, such as cost of the rental and other overheads etc and, when we opened the doors, like any business, it was quiet at the start, but we put together some excellent posts on social media and, again, over the first six months it got really busy. It’s remained that way ever since.”
Since opening, the studio has seen an array of golfers through the door, although Mark says: “The amateurs are still our main focus.”
Over the past three years, though, he has worked with some of the world’s elite, including Laurie Canter, Olly Fisher, Colin Montgomerie and, currently, Justin Rose.
“I met Justin when I was working on the Mizuno van many moons ago,” reveals Mark. “Being away from the Tour for the last eight or nine years, I then received a call out of the blue asking if we could take care of his equipment. It was a really nice phone call to take and, I mean, the equipment seems to be helping, which is good news.
“I find it’s always positive to get feedback when you see him shoot his lowest round on the PGA Tour!”
Along with the elite of English golf, there have also been fittings with England rugby stars Marcus Smith, Henry Slade and Will Greenwood and with former England cricketer, Chris Tremlett.
But it’s Mark’s work with the amateurs of the game that keeps his drive going in the sport that he loves.
“If we work with an upcoming junior golfer or a regular amateur and we get a note saying, ‘I’m playing really well, the clubs are helping, I’m hitting it further and I’m performing better’ – to me, that’s just as important as helping tour players to play well,” he says.
“The thing that drives me is always going to be performance and then working hard to maintain relationships with people, but I always try and go back to overall performance.
“Have I managed to improve that golfer, and have I managed to give him better golf equipment? That’s what gives me the most satisfaction.”
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