September 1, 2016

All Roads Lead to the Range

The practice range can help you become a more influential golf professional

Golf professionals often underestimate their sphere of influence. But when you do the math, the amount of people you impact on a daily basis is impressive.

It starts with your golfers. From avid players to beginners, juniors to seniors, men to women – golfers of all varieties come to you to take lessons, tee it up or practice on your range. Impacting just one of those golfers can have a reverberating effect throughout their network and exponentially increase your influence.

“ If you impact the life of one junior golfer, your each the siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents,” says Dennis Johnsen, winner of the 2016 PGA Junior Leader of the Year award and PGA general manager at Pine Meadow Golf Club in Mundelein, Illinois. “By connecting to one person, you influence many others. It’s like dominos.”

Virtually every person at your facility, and beyond, can be the first piece in a domino effect – helping to initiate a chain reaction that expands your touch. Staff members, management, board members, vendors, even your friends and family are all people that you influence on a daily basis.

In this month’s cover story, we’ll look at ways in which golf professionals around the country are expanding their sphere of influence and building stronger connections by utilizing the practice range. If positioned as such, the range is a crossroads where the people you want to connect with all intersect.

Be Visible at Your Facility

“I hit balls at least five days a week, whether I find a few minutes at lunch or in the evening after things slow down,” says Johnsen. “The conversations I have on the range are imperative to building connections with my golfers.”

The range time also allows Johnsen to discover who the influencers are among his regular players. “I’ve recognized 10 golfers at my facility who really move the needle with the other golfers. I do all I can to play golf with them as much as possible,” he describes. “When I see them on the range, I’ll often go out with the latest equipment and have them test it out – I’ll tell them to take it out on the course too. I know they’ll tell the rest of our golfing community about the new product.

“To keep these players happy, I book tee times with them, spend time on the range with them, and have even taken groups of them on trips to Bandon and Vegas. It’s relationship building.”

For PGA Professional Michael Spiech, the head professional at Tippecanoe Country Club in Canfield, Ohio, the range is an important tool for maximizing his influence and his time. “On the weekends I cruise the range four or five times in the morning, in 30-minute intervals,” he says. “Everyone’s time is valuable and at a premium these days, so when it comes to spending four hours to play golf with four people vs. seeing 20 people on the range in 30 minutes, it’s a no brainer.”

Spiech uses that range time to offer a few quick tips or follow-up to see how they like the equipment he recently sold them. “I’m sharing my knowledge with people, which boosts their perception of me. But at the same time, I’m just engaging them and building connections.”

Building Influence in Your Community

Eric Jones, the 2014 Northern California PGA Teacher of the Year, is the director of instruction at The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon, California. Beyond his accolades as an instructor, Jones has established himself as a community influencer by hosting special events at his facility’s practice range. Many of the high school golf teams in his area have struggled with fundraising to support their programs. In response, Jones began hosting Friday Night Socials with all the proceeds going to support local high school golf teams.

“On Friday nights we shut down the range and invite a local musician to come out and provide music lessons and give concerts,” Jones describes. “Furthermore, we have a local vineyard do wine tastings and a craft brewery pavilion.

“It has really elevated us in the community, because all of the money goes back to the kids and schools. This year, the schools had their highest numbers of kids trying out for golf.”

Jones’ business also improved following the string of Friday Night Socials. Because many of the attendees did not play golf or were beginners, he was able to sign them up for Get Golf Ready classes. Earlier this summer, Jones also teamed with the local Chamber of Commerce to host a “Movie Night” on the range at The Bridges for the first time. More than a hundred people attended.

On the other side of the country, Independence Golf Club in Richmond, Virginia flattened the range and removed practice bunkers to be able to host a concert series in the summer on it’s 12-acre range. Called “Rockin’ at Independence,” the free-to-attend concert series (pictured) held 12 live music showings from July 14 through September 29. Additional community engagement activities included transforming the halfway house into a drive-in coffee shop and building both recording and art studios in the clubhouse for young budding artists. “It’s changing the entire vibe of the practice facility and the course,” says Giff Breed, the president of Independence Golf Club. “We’re truly making this place an oasis for community activity.”

Events such as these are ideal for involving your friends and family in activities on the range outside of golf. They showcase your influence and status in the community to your employer, and elevate your stance among the people you know best.

Leveraging Vendors and Upping Equipment Retail

According to research from RetailTribe, a respected marking and research firm that’s worked closely with the PGA of America, the likelihood of your golfers purchasing a particular brand of equipment increases by 300 percent if you’re on staff with that brand. In other words, the equipment in your bag has major influence on the products your golfers choose to play.

Take Craig Bollman for example. Bollman is the PGA head professional at Spencer T. Olin Community Golf Course in Alton, Illinois, and earlier this year he made the switch to the Callaway Golf staff. He saw a shift in sales almost immediately.

“We saw a significant increase in Callaway golf ball sales and a decrease in what had been our best seller for the last several years,” says Bollman. “The catch is, your golfers have to know what staff you’re on. They have to see you on the range with your staff bag and hitting shots. You have to spend time with them in a real golf setting, not just behind the counter, so they can see the performance of the equipment.”

Equipment vendors are willing to provide support when you show them quantifiable results. Spiech of Tippecanoe Golf & Country Club worked with Ping, who he’s on staff with, to coordinate a putter fitting day on the facility’s practice green. He timed the event so that it coincided with one of the club’s major tournaments, and was able to introduce 128 golfers to the putter fitting concept and showcase his influence to the Ping rep in attendance that day.

“We sold a lot of putters in just that one event,” he says. “With the Ping rep onsite, we were able to special order them so they received their new putter the next day. They felt like tour pros for the day.”

That type of experience greatly elevated Speich’s influence with both his members and the OEM partner. Sixty members ended up reaching out to him for additional fittings, whether it was drivers, irons or wedges. And the Ping rep worked with him to schedule special demo days that were limited to four club members at a time – creating an air of exclusivity and premium service in an intimate setting.

Post clubfitting, it’s a good idea to schedule an “equipment checkup” for six months down the road – just to make sure they’re happy with the performance or so you can tweak to their clubs if necessary. “It’s like going to the dentist,” says PGA Professional Dave Stockly, an instructor and clubfitter at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, California. “Before you leave the dentist office, they always make the next appointment. You never second guess it, it’s always ‘Yeah, ok let me put in on my calendar.’ I’ll take off work, and even schedule other things around it. It’s the same with golf equipment. When you sell someone clubs, especially custom fit clubs, schedule an appoint for a month or two down the road to meet them on the range and check up on their equipment. They won’t even hesitate to commit to it.”