The Hill’s clubhouse boss changes course

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The boss of Queenstown’s exclusive The Hills golf course, who oversaw three New Zealand Opens, didn’t set out to be general manager.

Sam Gent – who finishes her job tomorrow and heads off to Christchurch on Saturday to join her family – originally got involved in setting up the spa at The Hills’ award-winning Clubhouse, when it was being built four years ago.

“I went in as they were finishing the painting – we used to lock the doors and just hope that no one would come in.”

That’s when Gent – who’d been involved previously in two local beauty therapy businesses – first met The Hills owners, Michael and Christine Hill.

The owners soon promoted her to run the whole business – The Clubhouse and the golf course, including greenkeepers who’d already been on the scene for several years.

“It’s been one hell of a ride.

“The trust and support that Michael and the family have put in me has been phenomenal.

“I’ve had a four-year apprenticeship and mentoring from one of the entrepreneurs of the country.

“I feel quite fearless now – not much scares me any more.”

Gent says she’s proudest that The Hills’ business model – based on expensive green fee and memberships – works.

“We took a lot of flak from a lot of people on that.”

Green fees are even more expensive than the Cape Kidnappers course, in the Hawkes Bay, “which really annoys them a lot”.

“Economically, when things got scary, it’s easy to let that go but we have less people and make a higher amount of money, and we can provide a different level of service.”

The Hills currently has just over 100 members, paying $10,000 a year for the privilege.

The members have played a major role in The Hills’ overall development, Gent says.

Gent concedes that if The Hills had won its long-standing battle to retain the NZ Open, she might have stayed.

“But Michael’s taught me that I’ve got to think bigger.

“Coming to Christchurch is, I really think, something I’ve got to do.”

Unbelievably, Gent resigned at the very same time the huge shake struck Christchurch on February 22.

“I resigned exactly on the dot, at 1 o’clock, on the 22nd of February.

“I’d spoken to Christine at 10 to 1 and she said, ‘you better go and talk to [the Hills’ daughter] Emma.

“I texted [husband] David saying I’ve just spoken to Christine and he phoned me at 12.50.

“I thought he was phoning me to say, ‘oh, good luck’, but he said, ‘holy f…, we’re having the biggest earthquake, oh my God’.

“And then the phone went dead.

“I’m talking to Emma about, ‘I’m leaving because I need to go and be with my family’, while I’m texting to find out where they are.

“It was insane.”

Thankfully, David and her two boys, attending a Christchurch private school, were all safe.

Two days after resigning, Gent turned 40 – the same age Sir Michael Hill was when his house burnt down, motivating him to start from the ashes his stellar business career.

Gent says she’s got nothing planned in Christchurch

“I really have nothing to go to but I think there’ll be something I’ll be useful for.”

The Hills’ golf course superintendent, Ian Douglas, takes over as general manager of The Hills.

Douglas is replaced by his second-in-charge, Regan Marfell.