Matt grew up in the suburbs of Chicago a short bike ride from the Grasshopper Golf Tours office. Matt loved sports growing up and started every day with an in-depth read of the Chicago Tribune sports page. His dad was an avid golfer, so along with the traditional sports (basketball, football, and baseball), Matt picked up golf at an early age.
The other sports, especially basketball, occupied most of his time during high school and college, but golf was always a fun hobby. Matt played basketball at the Division III level at Calvin College, and was the point guard and captain on teams that went to two final fours and won a national championship his senior year. He also played on the golf team his senior year at Calvin.
Matt’s love affair with golf began after his basketball career ended. Always up for a new challenge, Matt decided to see if he could go from a decent golfer to someone who could shoot in the 70’s consistently. Within a few years, Matt’s handicap was down to 0-2 and he was beating his dad on a regular basis. Matt has won multiple club championships, some small amateur tournaments, and competed twice in the Western Amateur. Along with playing, Matt fell in love with golf courses, golf course architecture, and the history of the game. Serving as a caddy for two summers at The Dunes Club, Mike Keiser’s (Bandon Dunes founder) first golf course, also fed this love for and interest in golf courses, architecture, and what makes golf courses unique and great.
This led quickly to a love for links golf and the British Isles. Matt’s grandmother was born in Scotland and his grandfather, both on his dad’s side, was born in England, so he comes by this love naturally. His first trip to Scotland was with his family as a young boy, and his first golf trip was at the age of 23. He has traveled many times since, including multiple trips with Grasshopper. Matt was introduced to the Bitner’s through his dad when they planned a father-son trip to Ireland.
Matt studied English Literature at Calvin, and considered many different careers during his time at Calvin and his first year after graduation. He began coaching high school basketball and golf and working with a non-profit organization called Young Life. Matt realized quickly that he really enjoyed working with high school students. This led to a 23-year career leading local chapters of Young Life in Michigan and Kentucky. Matt’s experience with Young Life taught him much about service of others and a commitment to excellence. After 15 years leading a large chapter in Lexington, KY, Matt was ready for a change and a new challenge.
A series of coincidences led to Matt and the Bitners getting together in 2016. As they talked, both parties realized that Matt’s experience with Young Life, his love of golf, and his experiences with links golf set him up well to carry on the Grasshopper tradition. Matt planned and led well over one hundred trips for students all over the country during his time with Young Life. He also organized a golf outing every year with 100-200 players. Among his golf buddies, Matt was always the organizer of the annual trip, and he and his friends have enjoyed northern Michigan, the Robert Trent Jones trail in Alabama, Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes multiples times, and Cabot Links, along with Scotland and Ireland. We at Grasshopper believe that Matt’s commitment to service, focus on excellence, love of golf, and trip-planning experience is the perfect combination to continue Grasshopper Golf Tours’ long tradition of quality service to our clients.
Matt is married to Michelle, who he met at Calvin College. They have been married for 28 years, and have three children- Ian, Conor, and Maggie. When not in the office or playing golf, Matt enjoys reading, playing and watching basketball, and cooking dinner for his family.
Grasshopper was founded in 1981 by John Bitner, who left his career in the corporate world downtown Chicago to combine his real passions – travel and golf – in a profession. John describes himself as a “garden variety” MBA commuting into the city for work who decided to take a risk. At that time, there were only a handful of links golf travel specialists in the country. John started the business through some personal contacts he had at some country clubs in the Chicago area.
In the early years John went on each trip acting as a host and guide. This allowed him to develop first-hand expertise of all the good links courses in Scotland and Ireland along with the best hotels and restaurants near each course. As the business grew John was no longer able to personally accompany each trip, but maintained excellent relationships with clients. He also traveled in the off season to maintain knowledge of and relationships with our overseas vendors.
John’s wife, Daniela, joined him in the business in 1992. She brought business experience to the office as well as great customer service and concern for each client’s needs. Daniela also loves travel and has very high standards so they made quite a team.
John and Daniela were very careful in the last few years as they planned for the transition of Grasshopper Golf Tours. Their goals for the transition were very simple. First, they wanted their clients to experience the same level of service. Second, they wanted the Grasshopper name to live on and maintain the good reputation it has with both clients and overseas vendors. When Matt Harrison approached them in early 2016, they decided the timing was right and that Matt was a good fit to help accomplish their goals for Grasshopper’s transition.
John and Daniela are both enjoying retirement and John is spending more time on the golf course.
Jamie Shier serves as the accounts manager at Grasshopper Golf. Born and raised in Bay Village, Ohio, she has lived in Lexington, Kentucky since 1989 and is happy to call it home. She has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Kentucky, and has a mixed bag of career and volunteer experience in the worlds of retail, medical, education and non-profit.
Hailing from a long line of golfers, she plans to play more now that her children have grown. She and her husband, Will, have two grown sons. In her spare time, Jamie enjoys traveling, cooking, reading and spending time at the family cottage in Northern Michigan.
Ben was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky and began playing golf when he was three years old. He graduated in 2017 from Centre College in Danville, KY with a B.A. in Politics and played four years on the golf team.
Out of college, Ben spent one year interning for a sports management company based in Lexington that operated over 200 college basketball games, two Web.com Tour events and one PGA Tour event. He spent the next year working in research and development in the equine industry before joining the Grasshopper team in April 2019.
Ben enjoys playing golf with friends and has started to plan annual golf trips around the country. He has a love for horse racing and all University of Kentucky athletics.