BY: TONY L. STARKS
With the New Year still fresh, Golf Range Magazine presents 17 ways to improve your range operation in 2017 – 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.
Take a Seat for Clubfitting
It’s a simple concept, but it paid dividends at Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers, Florida, where Lee Puddlefoot is the PGA head professional. Many facilities house fitting carts on the range to promote the fact that they offer clubfitting services. By adding a seating area and tables, the area becomes more visible and creates an air of professionalism. Fiddlesticks staffed the area with an assistant professional who used the table to schedule clubfittings or lessons with members, while also providing them with a brief demo experience. “We noticed a 20-percent increase in club sales after doing this simple thing,” says Puddlefoot. “It’s a way to directly assess and address our members’ needs.”
Keep Kids Active
Kids like to run and be active. That’s why the staff at Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, New Jersey, incorporates athletic activities in their five-week afterschool junior program. They do push-ups, jump rope, play tug-of-war, Frisbee and more, in addition to playing fun energetic music. “Our focus is creating engaging choices for youngsters who have quick, wondering minds,” says PGA Assistant Professional Brian Dobbie. “We are also developing athletic skills early that apply to strength and conditioning in golf.”
Golf & Wine Just Mix
Nine & Wine has become a popular concept at facilities across the country. Snake River Sporting Club in Jackson, Wyoming took it one step further by hosting wine clinics on the range. Called the “Wine’d-Up Clinic,” several local wineries are invited free of charge to hand out samples – which they happily agree to for the promotional benefits. “This creates a relaxed dynamic between casual learning and local wine sampling for our members and their guests,” says PGA Head Professional Kali Quick. “Because they are not charged, the vendors are happy to attend and give away small amounts of their favorite products to build recognition for some of the great local wines we have in the Jackson area.”
Women-Only Demo Day
Early or late spring is an optimal time to organize a women-only demo day and extravaganza. Encourage women to try out the newest equipment from all of the major manufacturers and include other inviting elements to welcome females and generate interest. “Plan to offer other unique events alongside the club manufacturers, like a merchandising table of some new specialty items from the golf shop, and a table showcasing new items from your favorite clothing representative,” says Robin Holloway, a PGA Life Member and graduate student at Wake Forest University.
To spur better improvement rates among his students at St. Davids Golf Club in Wayne, Pennsylvania, PGA Head Professional Dean Kandle created a customizable coaching program called Golf 180. “It starts with a full assessment of the player’s game from full swing to putting along with mental game and thought processes on the course,” says Kandle. “Following the assessment, we build a custom practice program for them to follow during our supervised practice sessions.”
All is Fair in Putting and Golf
The Landings Club in Savannah, Georgia hosted its first-ever Putting Fair in April of last year. More than 70 members attended the complimentary event, where they went through four stations: putter fitting and demo with a club rep, distance control, accuracy management, and a tech station equipped with training aids. “The overall purpose of the putting fair was to offer members targeted information on how to learn and practice putting, with the goal of potentially increased putter sales and lessons,” says Nicole Weller, the facility’s lead PGA teaching professional.
Bring Social Members to Golf with Range Memberships
Social members at the private Prestwick Country Club in Frankfort, Illinois were never engaged in the golf operation – until last year. The club introduced a practice facility membership program that’s been very well received. “Since April (of last year), we have signed about 10 percent of our non-golf members into the program with 75 percent of that number opting for the $750 family package vs. the $500 individual package,” says PGA Head Professional Simon Allan.
Create Exclusive Club to Offset Technology Cost
The help see a quicker return on his investment in a TrackMan unit, PGA Head Professional Chris Harder created the TCC TrackMan Club within Tupelo Country Club in Belden, Mississippi. In addition to using the TrackMan to practice on their own (when the device is available), club members receive their first lesson of the year free, get 25 percent off all their purchases in the golf shop and get 25 percent off entries into the TrackMan Combine games. “The cost to join the club is $500 per year and I extend only 10 invitations. It was not hard to find 10 people to put up the $500 fee; in fact, I probably could have gotten that number to 20 or 30,” says Harder. “I limited it to 10 to make sure the TrackMan was available at most times. I am two years into the Trackman Club and already have recovered half the upfront cost.”
Pairing Up Singles
Feeling the need to create a fun and social environment on the practice range, Craig Hocknull created the Friday Night Singles Clinic at Outback Golf Academy in Gilbert, Arizona, where he is the PGA director of golf. “The program provides singles a wonderful opportunity to learn all the facets of golf and also network, enjoy and perhaps meet a future companion,” says Hocknull. “We focus on a bowling alley concept in that equipment, balls and all training aids are provided on site as part of the clinic.” Their recently renovated range is lighted, so attendees can practice and mingle well into the evening.
Host PGA Junior League from a Stand Alone Range Par Tee is a stand alone range
Par Tee is a stand alone range in West Columbia, South Carolina, owned by PGA Professional Tom Mason. Mason did not let his lack of a golf course stop him from participating in the wildly popular PGA Junior League initiative. “After having 12 kids and playing teams from surrounding courses in year one, I realized that I could leverage the fact that I was a stand alone facility to help build the program even further,” says Mason. “We partnered with other facilities where we pooled together players and we got use of their courses, while I was in charge of the program and created a staff to assist and guide the players.” Nearly 50 kids participated this last year.
Marketing Advice from the PGA Vice President
“Thinking up great events for your facility, membership and community is one thing. Getting people to show up is another,” says PGA Vice President Suzy Whaley. “One of the best things you can do to spur attendance is to alter your marketing, stressing the value statement first and then selling the ‘how’ and ‘what.’ Grab their attention quickly by putting the value first! For example, an outreach using the new approach could say something like: ‘Are you sick of three-putting? Come and join your friends to learn with (professional’s name) on how to quickly shave shots off your score! After you grab a beverage, meet us on the putting green each Tuesday afternoon at 5! We look forward to seeing you there.’”
Combine Golf With Other Sports
Recognizing an emphasis on getting kids to exercise more, seven years ago PGA Professional John Wallrich introduced a concept call “Golf Baseball.” Utilizing the lesson tee on the sizeable range at Pine Hills Country Club in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Wallrich uses orange cones to form a baseball diamond. “I buy playground-style eight-inch soft plastic balls from a local sporting goods store, and the kids, divided into two teams, use big-headed plastic golf clubs to hit the ball, which is pitched to them just like in real baseball,” says Wallrich. “They learn about accuracy and trajectory, skills that translate to their golf swing.” Not to mention: It’s a blast!
Work With the Parents
Many instructors try to separate the parents from their junior golfers, in an effort to avoid the overly-involved parent. However, Will Reilly, the PGA director of instruction at Royal Palm Beach (Florida) Golf Academy takes an alternative approach. “I have found that the parent is the PGA Professional’s de facto partner, and the more they get involved, the more the golf experience becomes enjoyable for both the child and the parent,” says Reilly. “We hold family golf programs every Saturday morning, during which time I go to great lengths to teach the parents how to teach the kids. Just like in a husband-and-wife lesson, I tell the parent to only give advice when their child asks for it. I tell the children to ask their parents for advice whenever they want, as it will help them become a better player.”
Wooden Wedge Blocks
Wedge blocks have become a popular idea over the last few years. Normally, these are cement squares placed at strategic yardages on the range, so when a golfer’s ball hits them the ball bounces to sky providing a sense of accomplishment. PGA Master Professional David Graf has implemented a similar, but more costeffective strategy, by building square wooden structures that deliver a similar result. “Our wooden boards definitely provide a satisfactory thud when hit,” says Graf, co-founder and PGA director of golf at the Golf Performance Institute of Toledo (Ohio).
Make the Best of What You Have
The practice range a Geneva Golf & Country Club in Muscatine, Iowa, climbs dramatically uphill after about 120 yards. It’s been a problem for golfers looking to gauge actual distances for the longer clubs in their bag. That spurred PGA Head Professional Steve Hutton to begin marketing their practice facilities in a new way. “Our goal was to become the best short game facility in our area,” says Hutton. “We installed targets at 20, 40, 60 and 80 yards and marketed ourselves as a place to dial in your wedges. We also have a separate, 70-yard short game area with target greens that you can also putt on and three bunkers. It’s paid off nicely, with one benefit being a 30-percent increase in wedge sales.”
Burger, Bucket and Brew
Every Friday evening during the long summer days of Anchorage, Alaska, Anchorage Golf Course host a fun event called Burger, Bucket and Brew. Teaming with local breweries who provide an assortment of craft beers, they grill burgers on the range while playing music and hosting attendees from all walks. “Attendance has doubled year over year since we began hosting Burger, Bucket and a Brew,” says Jeri Cunningham, the facilities director of golf operations. “For $15, attendees get a burger, a bucket of balls and a tasty craft beer that’s brewed locally.”
Connect Experienced Players With Newbies
Paramount Country Club in New City, New York connects experienced players with beginners through their “Meet, Greet and Play” play program. It’s mainly geared towards women players, but the platform can be used with golfers of all demographics. “The biggest draw to this program is the relaxed atmosphere where keeping score is optional, the format is easy (a group scramble) and the emphasis is on being social,” says Kristi Scott, LPGA teaching professional at the private club. “Held on a Friday evening in the middle of the season, this event features wine and appetizers 30 minutes prior to play. The current and future players can relax, get to know each other on the range beforehand and just enjoy playing nine holes, or less if they desire.”