Looking back at 30 years of Country Club International
Date Posted:31 May 2022
Mike Baker never intended to found an internationally successful premium golf supplies company. In fact, he simply started out in the industry as the owner of a golf driving range he built-in 1987.
Having come from the world of business and media, the golf industry was an exciting new landscape for Mike, and one that he took to quickly. But when it came to fitting out his driving range, he found the equipment available in Australia didn’t hit the mark. So, in 1992, he decided to go further afield to find suitable equipment himself.
“I heard about these products overseas so I headed off to America. I started going to the PGA Show in Orlando (and have barely missed one since!) and I got some equipment for myself and brought it back,” explains Mike.
In 1996, in addition to owning his driving range, Mike liked the idea of forming an association with other ranges, and would host meetings and social nights. This led to some of the other owners seeing his equipment and products and asking him where he got them. He told them they were from America and that, if they liked, he could source some for them too. And that was the embryo for Country Club International (CCI).
“I remember one day, someone from Yarra Yarra (one of Melbourne’s well-known golf clubs) asked me if I could get them the full turf golf mats to put in their practice hit-up bays and I said ‘yes, of course’. Then they asked if I could replace their nets so I agreed. Of course, I didn’t know how or what I was doing but I had met some netting people in America, and that was the start of what is now the biggest part of our business.”
The netting technology in America far outstripped what the Australian industry was using at the time, due to cyclones, snowstorms and stricter height requirements given more urbanised areas. Mike describes the Australian counterparts as “strung up fishing nets on timber poles and chain mesh frames that everyone thought were good”. While many Aussies doubted that Mike’s netting would ever have uptake in a local market due to its significantly higher cost, he stuck by his guns. It also helped that Mike’s main income stream was still the golf driving range, so he had the luxury of only supplying the best quality products, without having to worry about making the business a commercial success.
It was at this time that Mike also brought on a business partner, Ken Robinson, based in Queensland. While Ken ran the Queensland brand of CCI for some time, eventually they made the decision to split the business into two, and have remained firm friends ever since. Mike credits Ken as a very important part of getting the commercial side of the business going initially.
In 2006, Mike’s driving range was demolished as part of major roadworks, which led to him deciding to turn CCI into something more economically viable. While the business had already grown substantially it wasn’t yet profitable. He was dominating the golf driving range market thanks to his connections; the netting was growing, but he was determined to grow his top-end product ranges faster, which is when Range Servant came on board.
Fortunately, the netting side of the business was still going strong and in 2007, CCI won a big job being run by golf course architect, Tony Cashmore, at Ringwood Golf Course. This was next to where the new Eastlink tollway was being built, so a large fence design and build was required to protect the road. Mike describes this as “forever the greatest advertisement” for CCI, as it’s seen by everyone who uses the tollway, which has had an incredible snowball effect.
Today, CCI has four main business areas: driving range equipment, golf course equipment, netting and wash down water treatment systems. While they dominate the golf netting market and provide golf nets for more than 90% of clubs in Australia, the recycled water treatment systems also really took off in the late 90s, due to the drought and the government subsidies offered to clubs that installed them.
Eight years ago, Mike made the decision to offer equal partnership to his then New South Wales Manager, John McCafferty.
“I decided I needed some sort of succession plan so I brought John on as an equal partner and that was one of the smartest things I ever did. John’s expertise on a management level has really added a lot to the business,” says Mike.
Having previously won big jobs in Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand the next major milestone for CCI is a proposed multi-million dollar golf driving range facilities fitout in Bangladesh. Having recently returned from there, Mike says they are hopeful they will be able to supply both nets and Range Servant equipment on the job.
But looking back over the past 30 years of business, it’s not only about the big milestones for Mike. Forever humble, he puts a lot of it down to “luck” on his part but mostly cites his success as “a giant achievement between all his staff” of whom there are 15 nationally.
“I’m proud of the business, and while I can’t take all the credit for it, I am very happy to be part of it.”