The golf business pair in full swing

IMAGINE if your son, that you put through university, came home one day and announced that he had quit his comfortable job in the City and was moving back in to start a business. And if that wasn’t scary enough, imagine that he and his friend racked up £30,000 worth of debt on credit cards to do it. Well, that is exactly what happened to Andrew Harding and Ross Marshall’s parents. The two chaps were barely 18 months into their City jobs when they decided to start up a golf travel business.

Today, the pair owns the UK’s sixth fastest growing business, Your Golf Travel. It has over 90 staff and turns over £38m a year. Their parents must be very glad they trusted them.

“It was quite embarrassing in the early days,” Marshall confesses. “I moved back in with my parents and would occasionally bump into people I knew at events I was flyering at. Nothing about the situation made the business seem credible.”

“We gave it three years for it to work,” Harding adds. Thankfully, it took off really quickly. “I remember how in the first few weeks we’d set targets to sell two holidays in a day. Those targets changed quickly,” Harding laughs.

“We couldn’t have started it without using cheap credit. We flipped £30,000 between eight or nine cards to get things going,” explains Marshall. Back in 2005, getting credit was easy and cheap – far cheaper than paying 8 or 9 per cent to a bank.

“You have to be irrational to put yourself in loads of debt, especially when you left a good job for it,” Marshall says. He had been working for ING Barings and Harding was at Deloitte.

They were convinced that they had found a niche in the market. “None of the other tour operators had sophisticated internet platforms. They didn’t have good marketing or customer communications systems either,” says Marshall. “We just decided to do what the competitors were doing, but do it much better,” Harding adds.

Through guerrilla marketing techniques and stunts at golf fairs, they quickly made a mark on the industry. “I’d been living away from home for over six years. Moving back home was a great incentive to make the business work,” says Marshall.

“We worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week for the first three years,” says Harding. “When I look back, I definitely think I made the right decision. It was worth the risk.”

So do they now spend their days golfing? Not really. They have far bigger aspirations for the business. “Golf is a sport you can play from very young to very old and there’s 1.1-1.2m casual golfers in the UK alone,” says Harding. That’s plenty to sell to then.

CV| YOUR GOLF TRAVEL
Company Name: Your Golf Travel

Company Turnover: £38m

Number of staff: 90+

Awards: Sixth fastest-growing business in the UK, Times Fast Track 2010

Co-founder: Ross Marshall

Age: 30

Lives: SW, London

Studied: Finance and economics, Durham University

Drinking: Pinot Noir Romanee - Conti

Reading: The Fantastic Mr Fox

Motto: “It's better to be lucky than good.”

Co-founder: Andrew Harding

Age: 31

Lives: SW, London

Studied: Finance and economics, Durham University

Drinking: Heineken

Reading: City A.M.

Motto: “I taught you everything you know, just not everything I know.”