By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
The recent growth in golf has been well-documented and discussed. COVID-19 has limited the activities we can do outside of our homes, and golf meets the required protocols enacted to fight the spread of the virus. With this sudden increase in golfers, PGA Professionals are implementing new programs to accommodate them and utilizing the practice facilities at their club to introduce the game to a diverse new group of golfers.
Even prior to the pandemic, the primary mission of PGA Professionals was to “grow the game of golf”. More than just a cliché, this goal is achieved through player development programming and providing a welcoming environment to new golfers, often intimidated and uncertain as they are. The range remains a mainstay for these newbies to learn and experienced golfers to practice. And with the increase in rounds we saw in 2020, many courses are unable to accommodate the demand for play, meaning the range has become an even greater focal point in the industry’s efforts to engage everyone who walks through the door.
Take, for example, Juliet Little. Little is a PGA-Certified Professional and LPGA Teaching Professional, and will kick off the 2021 golf season at a new facility, having recently accepted a Teaching Professional position at Montammy Golf Club in Alpine, New Jersey. She started a program several years ago at her previous club that offered clinics to women members who were not participating in their 9- or 18-hole leagues and really didn’t play at all. The goal was to promote golf and encourage these members to get into the game. “The majority of the women were beginners who had never touched a golf club or even set foot on a course, but they wanted to learn,” Little explained.
The “No-Holer Program” was a season-long endeavor that ran four days per week to accommodate the busy schedules of the members. Participants could sign up for the session that fits their schedule the best or attend more than one if availability allowed. Little would convene her group on the practice range or short game area, the primary classroom for so many golf instructors and coaches. They’d discuss the usual basics of grip, stance and posture, and build upon this foundation to not only develop their skills, but instill a love of the game.
The more they attended, the better they got. But frequency in participation often depends upon the coach – Are they engaging? Clear in communication? Motivating? Little saw such growth over the five years the program ran to be able to answer all of those questions with confidence. Introductory programs like this are common across the country, but some are more effective in growing the numbers than others. Not only did Little build her program year after year, but many of these students bought clubs and apparel in the golf shop, supported the facility’s food and beverage services, sought private lessons with staff and even joined the women’s leagues.
Increased range usage is another effect of great programming. Acknowledging the importance of the coach and the program itself, the facilities that a club has often have a major impact on the success of the initiative. A good example of this is in Atlanta, Georgia. Jason Kuiper, the 2020 Georgia PGA Section’s Teacher of the Year and a Golf Range of America (GRAA) Growth of the Game Teaching Professional, is the PGA Director of Instruction at the Bobby Jones Golf Course, a 2020 GRAA Top 50 Public Facility, and its Grand Slam Academy.
Recent renovations were done that resulted in a Five-Hole par-3 course, known as Cupp Links after the course designer, and a Nine-Hole putting course called The Dan Yates Putting Course. These new amenities join a spectacular double-sided range and innovative golf course concept to present a complete approach to learning the game. In touting the par-3 and putting courses, Kuiper highlighted the fun and enjoyment that kids and families have playing the game as being just as important as the learning opportunities presented. Ask any professional with a short course or putting course, and he or she will tell you of the many benefits to their new golfers. Facilities like Cantigny Golf in Illinois and The Royal Club in Minnesota offer short courses that focus on kids and beginners, proving their value to the club’s bottom line, as well as the overall growth of the game. Kuiper credits private and corporate donations, as well as the support of the local Atlanta community for the new facilities. “These new amenities are valuable additions to our facility and wonderful options for recreation within our community,” he added.
With facilities like these, the teaching professionals at each are better equipped to implement effective player development programming that serves as a draw for new golfers and a catalyst to growth across the club. Of course, it is the goal of every golfer to get on the golf course to feel like a real golfer. However, credit for engaging these individuals, initially through instruction and continually through practice and special events, goes to the many great practice facilities of clubs and courses across the country. In fact, it is becoming increasingly evident that a club’s practice facilities are often a bigger draw than the 18 holes that surround them.