With the New Year still fresh, Golf Range Magazine presents 16 ways to improve your range operation in 2016 – without having to dig too deep into your pockets. These ideas, which have all been used successfully by fellow golf range operators and PGA Professionals, focus on how to enhance teaching programs, aesthetics, clubfitting, marketing, special events, your students’ practice habits and more.
Pool Noodles, Not Only for the Pool
Pool noodles are an affordable and versatile tool for golf instructors. You’ve undoubtedly seen them used many different ways, like as alignment rods or tucked under a student’s arms to help them stay connected throughout the swing. Andy Miller, PGA director of instruction at LedgeRock Golf Club in Mohnton, Pennsylvania devised a new way this past fall. Using the college football theme for his fall junior session, Miller split his juniors into four different teams each with designated apparel – Ohio State was red, Penn State was white, Auburn was orange and UCLA was light blue. He conducted 90-minute sessions in which teams would compete in various skill challenges. In one of the most popular challenges, he used pool noodles to build uprights for players to hit shots through, just like a field goal in football.
Turn Your Advanced Students Into Mentors
Remember when you were in school, and how tough it was to get motivated when your teacher told you to study? But if one of your peers asked you to study together, you were more inclined to do it. Whether the setting is a classroom or the practice range, the concept is the same. Over the last several years PGA Apprentice and TPI Certified Instructor Eric McInerney began connecting his intermediate and advanced level players with new/beginner-level students. He encourages them to exchange contact information and work together on the range. “My intermediate and advanced level students act as mentors to the beginners and tour them around the range, explaining in detail all of our amenities and what the facility offers,” he explains. “Additionally, on-course practice led by the advanced players – and the beginners make their first golf buddies.”
Encourage Competitive Practice
Adding pressure to practice helps make the transition from the range to the course easier. At the same time, it needs to be fun and engaging. PGA Professional Trent Wearner, the owner and director of instruction at Trent Wearner Golf Academy in Englewood, Colorado, offers an archive of fun and competitive practice games for your students to try on his website golfscrimmages.com.
Teaching Aids Make Practice More Interesting
Part of the upgraded practice facility at Tucson (Arizona) Country Club included providing a large variety of training aids for golfers to use during practice sessions. From chipping circles and putting mirrors to bunker aids, the golfers found these training aids very stimulating. The result has been increased usage of practice amenities. “I get a lot of positive feedback from the players who are here the most,” says Michael Haywood, the facility’s PGA director of golf. “They love finding ways to make their practice time more interesting and more effective, and that carries over to playing better and more often.”
Get Social on the Range
When Tim Krebs was the PGA general manager at East Potomac Golf Course in Washington, D.C., he enjoyed great success with player development – culminating with the 2013 Middle Atlantic Section Player Development award. During that time, he added new programs to improve the effectiveness their player development efforts. One of which was “golf range socials.” These were scheduled events on the range where players could come out for a casual social experience that included instructors offering swing tips. “We also had beer and wine available to help people unwind, as most of our attendees were coming straight from work,” says Krebs, now the PGA general manager at Butterfield Trail Golf Club in El Paso, Texas. “Golf range socials became a regular event for us on Thursday nights, and they helped us drive player development and range usage.”
Plan to Update Furnishings Over Time
You can update practice range furnishings a little bit at a time. Budget $2,000-$5,000 per year and within five years your range furnishings will be coordinated and more appealing to your members or guests.
Ball Flight in a Can
Golf instructors are great at using things for unintended purposes. Just ask pool noodles, towels or tees. Instead of facetape or using a launch monitor, Jason Barry reaches for the Dr. Scholl’s Odor Fighting Foot Spray. By spraying it on the face of the club, Barry, the head men’s golf coach at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, is able to determine the impact point for his golfers. “It provides me instant feedback as to where on the clubface my students are hitting the ball, which further allows me the ability to properly determine whether the ball flight was true or not,” says Barry. “I do not own a launch monitor, but this has helped me see strike patterns for my students and understand the resulting impact on their shots. Throughout the course of a year I will use six or eight bottles, costing roughly $24 total – a much more nominal fee than other options.”
Host Skills Challenge with an Action Plan
PGA Teaching Professional Preston Combs has hosted a “100 Yard Challenge” at Metedeconk National Golf Club in Jackson, New Jersey. Members and guests hit three shots from 100 yards with a launch monitor used to measure results and tally a winner. It was offered on busy Saturday mornings, and, because it only takes a few minutes, doesn’t interfere with tee times. On average more than 30 individuals participated, with the top finishers awarded a free putter fitting and stroke analysis on SAM PuttLab. “Not only did the skills challenge help raise awareness about incorporating technology in practice, but also allowed me to take action and drive participation in areas that target individual needs,” he says.
Include Alignment Rods with Each Hitting Station
Provide an inexpensive alignment tool with each hitting station across the practice facility. It may even encourage golfers to ask for a lesson to see how to best utilize the tool, as it has many functions besides basic alignment. Prestwick Golf even offers a bag stand that features an alignment stick hole so they can be displayed in a consistent manner.
Add Signage to Existing Infrastructure
The Golf Performance Institute of Toledo is adjacent to the Ohio Turnpike. To maximize the location, they wanted to hang signs on their range netting facing the busy highway. However, hanging a sign that high up was easier said than done. While at the PGA Merchandise Show, they discovered Tex-Net had a pulley device that resembles a flagpole that’s used specifically to raise signs onto netting structures. David Graf, the facility’s PGA director of golf, was able to hang four banners at a hardware cost of less than $500 using the Tex-Net pulley system.
Building Target Greens Out of Sand
Just a few years ago, the landing area on the practice range at Caliente Springs was a desert with tires and debris serving as targets. Starting with a goal of creating nine target greens that corresponded to the distances of each of the holes at the accompanying par-3 course, the staff began removing the tires, debris and larger rocks. To keep cost low, they borrowed equipment from maintenance to dig nine bunker-like greens, which they filled with green-dyed sand. Regulation flagsticks and flags completed the range. “We seeded and watered the teeing ground, and had a sign professionally made indicating the yardages and the holes they correspond to on the golf course,” explains Kim Kleinle, a PGA teaching professional at the facility in Desert Hot Springs, California. “We went from a rarely used practice facility to one that had golfers on it every day.”
The Range After Dark
Even without a lit practice range, you can still turn your facility into a fun place to be after hours by hosting a glow in the dark long drive contest. Glow in the dark golf balls are fairly inexpensive, and your only other expense would be prizes and potential marketing cost. All of which can be easily offset with small entry fees as well as food and beverage sales. At the Omni Orlando (Florida) Resort at ChampionsGate, PGA Director of Golf Patrick Dill has hosted these events on their nine-hole lighted course with the help of a company called Global Golf Sales, but agrees that the concept is easily transferable to any range. “The events draw a lot of attention as the range and flying glow balls light up like a laser light show,” he describes. “The fun environment increases participation from non-core golfers, especially when the events are connected with cocktail hours.”
A Little Paint, Big Results
In Naples, Florida, warm and wet weather conditions can be rough on range amenities that endure Mother Nature. After long exposure to the sun and the elements, accessories can begin looking tired and faded. Last year, Dave McQuade experimented with spray paint that bonds to plastic, and was thrilled with the results. “For very little cost to the club, compared to buying new club cleaners, bag racks and trash cans, we ‘refurbished’ our accessories and they look brand new,” says McQuade, the PGA director of golf at Collier’s Reserve Country Club.
Work With Your Superintendent to Maintain Pristine Conditions
Throughout the southeast, the majority of facilities repair and regrow inanimate range areas using a highly concentrated sand-based seed mixture – which can cause elongated regeneration. Mike Perpich, the PGA director of instruction at RiverPines Golf Club in Johns Creek, Georgia, worked closely with his superintendent to develop a mixture of topsoil and sand to repair and regrow pristine turf throughout the year in various conditions. “We wanted to find a component that blended well with sand and could robustly grow through extensive heat and also freezing temperatures,” says Perpich. “We found that a 40 percent sand/60 percent topsoil mixture helped hold moisture and nutrients better, which provided a firmer base-turf quality and more durability.
Competitive Supervised Coaching Programs
Engaging golfers over an extended period can be a tough task, but enlisting them in competition is a proven way to keep them coming back. For Jason Sutton, PGA director of instruction at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, a six-month “Biggest Loser” program has been a huge winner. The supervised coaching program for men and women cost Sutton very little to host. The winner is the golfer who reduces his or her handicap index the most over the six months. The top three spots are paid with equipment from an OEM sponsor.
Video Tips Can Improve Your Email Open Rates and Lesson Revenues
Golf facilities, like most businesses, have been sending out emails to their customer base for years. Over time, it is natural that people become less engaged after seeing emails from the same sender appear in their inbox like clockwork. Ryan Lagergren, the PGA head professional at Stonewall in Elverson, Pennsylvania, addressed the concern of by embedding short “Video Tips” into his club’s e-blast newsletter. Since implementing the video tips, weekly email open rates have jumped by more than 10 percent and each video averages more than 100 views. “My members have told me that they really enjoy watching the videos and have learned so much that they regularly look forward to receiving the email,” he says. “Personally, I have seen a steady increase in new students, many of whom claim that it was the videos that helped them decide to take lessons.”