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01 March 2016

Featured Business: Carr Golf Group

Posted By: AIB Business

Name: Marty Carr, CEO, Carr Golf Group

Employees: 50 full-time, and up to an additional 100 under contract or remit in season

Since: 1989

Company Background:

Some sons and daughters continue a family business. For the sons of amateur golfer, the late Joe Carr, it was their knowledge of the golf industry that became the business opportunity, not the game itself. 

Brothers Marty and John set out together in the late ’80s to help local authorities start up public golf clubs on banks of land they owned. Marty has since bought his brother out; his other brother Gerry remains in the business. Having begun by providing management services to golf courses, the company then expanded into three areas: golf course management, golf course maintenance and golf travel.

One of the divisions is an incoming golf travel company primarily targeting high-end US clientele. This ties in with a number of events the company runs, most notably the famous World Invitational Father & Son Golf Tournament, a regular fixture for over 25 years now.

Where the management and maintenance divisions come in is in providing solutions to golf courses in what has become a very competitive industry. In other words, it works on improving efficiencies, economies of scale, outsourcing and, ultimately, saving money. Because the industry has got so competitive in terms of memberships, and there are no longer any joining fees at most golf courses, courses need to watch costs very closely and cannot afford to let this impact on the golfer’s experience.

Golf courses, Marty explains, are small businesses often run by committees or people who want to sell properties or memberships. His business is in offering access to a team of experts who will manage or maintain the courses. This arrangement also allows for more efficient purchasing. While the company contracted during the downturn, it is now on the way up again and recently celebrated a move to modern, open-plan offices in Park West, Dublin.


Interview with Marty Carr

What was the inspiration for setting up your business?

I had lived in the States for nine years. I worked for NCB Stockbrokers. It just wasn’t for me. My father was a famous and successful amateur golfer and it seemed natural that we should try and do something in golf. I left a secure job and carried out a year of research into different opportunities. Initially I started selling imported imitation golf clubs, but we quickly found out that the local authorities had a public golf course plan, as the public had no access to golf. It had assembled three key sites in Dublin, but had nobody to drive the agenda. That’s how it all started.


How did you initially fund your business?

We had a few assets to the value of €25,000; the rest was starvation. We started with very skinny equity and I paid myself €12,000 per annum and drove a Fiesta van.


Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses? 

Very much so; one of the things I’ve learned is that most plans take twice as long and cost twice as much and you end up going off in totally different directions. We started working with local authorities to help them provide public golf facilities. In the UK at the time, [Margaret] Thatcher was privatising public golf courses. There were no public golf courses in Ireland. Since then we’ve diversified into travel, and maintaining and managing golf courses.


What have been the highlights to date?

One of the things I get the most pleasure out of is having started the World Invitational Father and Son Golf Tournament. It is the most renowned father and son tournament in the world. Every year there are 90 teams from 13 countries participating and it has been televised worldwide. Some of the richest people in the world play in it. It’s been on TV and is a highly successful gathering of the who’s who of business, sport and politics in Co Kerry every year. We’re extremely proud of it.


What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?

Leaving a very secure job with NCB Stockbrokers. There have been a few brave steps along the way; surviving is the bravest.


What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?

I love the independence of it and I love being in control of my own diary. It’s not for the faint-hearted.


How do you achieve a work-life balance?

I never really did, it was always full on. I was struck by an illness a few years ago, and that put a fair bit of perspective on it. By taking a step back and empowering the people on my team, the business has been more successful. People blossom when they’re left on their own. Unfortunately it took a bit of an illness for me to get more work-life balance. I’m still working on it.

Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?

There are two Irish figures who would have been big influencers; one was Dermot Desmond. I think he was one of the most incredible entrepreneurs, taking on not only an old established industry in the early days but also starting multiple businesses and hiring really good people. The other was Michael O’Leary, who took one of the worst industries in the world and turned it on its head. Those stories give you belief that anything is possible. In my time in the States I met a number of Americans who would have had an influence on my life. One was Wayne Huizenga – he set up five stock exchanges – the only way to do it. I learned a lot from him. We set up a helicopter business in the early 2000s. He taught me that everything has a cycle and everything is sold at the end of that cycle; nothing is for life.


What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?

It’s easy when you’re a family business to keep doing things the old way. Recently we engaged with a business consultant using established systems like the “Five ways to drive your business”. There are tried and trusted systems there that are used by some of the biggest businesses in the world. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.


Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?

Yes, we communicate with our customers on a regular basis. On the travel side, we send out questionnaires regularly and take feedback seriously.


What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?

The downturn in the late 2000s was a challenge everyone went through. Downsizing the business, and dealing with some of the bad decisions that had been made up to that, was a very big challenge. The other challenge was to formalise structures, and delegate. That was big in terms of letting go of those reins.


What part of running a business comes to you naturally? 

The enthusiasm every day, given that it’s my own. Motivating the staff, and sales and marketing are the things that come to me naturally. Managing people does not come naturally, nor does a lot of the technical stuff.


How did you scale/grow your business?

I basically started to hire better people and change the habits, structures and systems of the business in the last few years. The developments of the late 2000s put a stop to scaling and growing the business. It would have contracted 50% during that period. But putting in structures and systems and leaning on experts from outside to assist us probably had the biggest impact in the last three years.


How do you get ideas to further your business?

We’re always looking at what the competition is doing. I get out into the market a bit. We’re always looking at trends; we recently joined the Institute of Directors, we have a number of partnerships and sponsorship agreements and are keeping an eye on what’s going on in industry, and sharing ideas.


What motivates you to stay running a business?

The passion. We’ve recently moved our headquarters and are rebranding. We’re building a team that can work without me more and more. It’s the next stage, it’s like graduating from college and going out into the big, bad world.


What’s your vision for the future?

My ultimate vision is to create one of the most recognisable brands in golf, not just in Ireland but internationally.


What’s the best business advice you’ve received?

The only mistakes you learn from are ones where there’s pain involved. My father used to say “The more I practise the luckier I get.” Whatever plans you have, they take twice as long and cost twice as much. Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.


What would be your advice to businesses starting out?

It’s not easy, it’s not for the faint-hearted, it’s not for everybody. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If you’re getting into a sector, look at what the number one or two company is doing. They’re doing it a long time, they probably have it figured out. Don’t reinvent the wheel.


What, if anything, would you do differently?

I probably wouldn’t have got distracted and gone in a lot of different directions along the way. If you’re a jack of all trades you’re an expert at none. In this day and age you really need to be an expert and specialise.


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