Paul Pohi became Director of Golf at Tbilisi Hills Golf & Residences in December, 2018. Before that, he was Head Golf Professional at Niitvälja Golf and General Secretary at PGA of Estonia.
On the way to becoming a golf professional, he took a Foundation Degree in Professional Golf at the University of Birmingham and a Specialized Associate’s Degree in Professional Golf Management at the Professional Golfers Career College.
Paul is a professional golfer, a friendly coach, and a big fan of kids learning golf. GEORGIA TODAY sat down with him to find out more.
Why golf? And why Georgia?
As I have a great passion for the game and for the business, I decided to come and help grow the game in Georgia. Golf has so many benefits. It starts from being active, to networking. But mainly, I think there’s a big value in golf for kids and young people, because golf teaches them the core values, such as honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, and so on. I think golf lays a very good foundation for young people. And of course, golf is a social game for everyone, from 5 to 90 years old.
I also believe that people need to be more active on order to be productive and sharp, and golf is a great way to exercise. Golf can be played around the globe. Georgia offers a great opportunity for that – climate, weather… People play golf all year round. I see opportunities here for golfers to become professionals and compete on the highest level.
Our goal as a team is to make Tbilisi a strong destination on the golfing map and have internationals visit not only Tbilisi Hills but Georgia in general
I listed some of the key areas that I believe are the most beneficial for kids. But in addition to that, Golf also gives young people a direction, I’d say. In the UK and US, for example, there are very strong college golf programs. There are scholarship offers around the globe for very good golfers. Having a very good goal to get to college team where your education is paid, where you get to travel, you get to meet new people, get to learn the language, culture… I think this is very valuable. I was studying in US, I did my professional degree in England, and I managed to travel around the world, from Australia to the US, so I think there are so many good sides of golf and the list is endless.
What makes Tbilisi Hills stand out among its competitors?
Tbilisi Hills is the only professional 18-hole golf course in Georgia, so there are no competitors as yet.
The biggest challenge in developing golfing in a new country is to get people to try golf and to break some clichés associated with the game.
Tbilisi Hills has a variety of programs for kids. Quick introductory lessons, where you don’t have to have experience, regular weekly lessons. This year we launched a school project that invites kids to learn free of charge. It’s a great way to get kids to try and experience golf.
I do wish there were more golf courses coming up in Tbilisi. I don’t see this as much as competition as an opportunity to grow the game, and for the city to become stronger as a destination. We’ve seen examples of governments supporting the growth of the number of golf courses in many countries worldwide. It has boosted economies, as golfers spend more than usual visitors. This is good value for a destination.
What I’d like to see at Tbilisi Hills is that at one point we have so many golfers and there’s a need for additional golf courses in Tbilisi. And, of course, to see a properly developed junior program that introduces the game to new people. Having constant growth in young people. Our goal as a team is to make Tbilisi a strong destination on the golfing map and have internationals visit not only Tbilisi Hills but Georgia in general.
How did you come to lead Tbilisi Hills? What are your priorities in the position? What do you love most about being leader of the Tbilisi Hills team? Do you get out on the course often yourself?
I was invited to join the Tbilisi Hills team by a friend of mine who was one of the owners at that time. I had a strong background in developing the game in Estonia on different levels. My priorities here in Georgia are to get Georgians to play golf, and to attract foreign guests to visit the country and Tbilisi Hills. And of course, to do it in a business-oriented way.
Golf teaches young people the core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, and responsibility
When achieving this goal of improvement here and there, it gives me more energy and pleasure, which keeps me going. I get to play golf myself as well, as often as want to. But managing a course takes a lot of time. I have a big family, and I want to be supportive to my family, to spend time with my kids and my wife.
Since I love the game of golf, I love to be in charge of Tbilisi Hills. I like the fact that I’m in charge of every aspect of the game and business, from green-keeping and improving the quality of golf courses to understanding how to manage and work with Georgians, establishing junior programs, and coming up with international tournaments to put Georgia on the golfing map.
Can you give us an overview of the past year’s successes at Tbilisi Hills?
Of course, the last two years have been challenging, mainly due to Covid. I think we’ve managed in a smart way, and also we’ve been fortunate that golf is a game played outdoors, in very safe environment. Despite all the restrictions and challenges, over the last two years, we had around 300 people signing up for our beginners’ green court courses. We’ve gained a lot of new members, both Georgians and internationals. We’ve also managed to host different international events and tournaments and we’ve become better known in our target markets.
What are your expectations for 2022 and beyond?
Well, I hope the [Ukraine-Russia] war will end very soon and we can move on to normal business. Of course, we plan to continue our growth among both local players and international visitors. Over the next few years, we’re planning to establish a very strong base for junior golfers, with structured lessons, to help juniors not just to try golf, but to stay in the game and experience all the benefits it offers. And we also have an ambition to host bigger international events and also professional tournaments.