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April 1, 2017

Drive, Chip and Putt: Lively Competitions can Drive Participation and Traffic

BY: JOHN TORSIELLO

We want our kids to have fun, right? What parent doesn’t. But, when it comes to golf why should kids have all the fun?

There have been a number of enlightened efforts and initiatives in recent years to encourage children to take up the game, including the immensely successful “Drive, Chip and Putt Championship” that annually involves tens of thousands of youngsters, with the finals held the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

While most adults will never play Augusta National, that shouldn’t stop them from having as much fun a kid on spring break in Georgia. You can give adults a chance to be what they really are – big kids – by using your course and practice facilities to conduct informal, fun competitions. At the same time, it’s a great way to encourage participation in club events and drive traffic at your facility.

Chris Wilkinson, (pictured) Head Golf Professional at Llanerch Country Club in Haverford, Pennsylvania, says he has to shut the lights off at 10:30 p.m. to wrap up his club’s annual member/guest “Stag Night,” or, as he says with a chuckle, “They would be out there until 3 a.m.” The event began in 2011. Llanerch lights up its putting green, first-hole fairway and a green in its short game area to allow for fun and friendly competition upon conclusion of the annual member/guest tournament. “We double cut and roll the putting green for a putting contest. We have a long drive competition on the first hole, and a wedge contest in the short game area.”

Just about every one of the some 144 golfers who play in the member/guest take part in Stag Night, which is enhanced by food and an outdoor bar. Most participants have a little something riding on the competitions, which begin around 5 p.m. “It’s a way to entice people to hang around and play a little more,” says Wilkinson. He added that Stag Night is one of the more anticipated events of the year. While it is difficult to ascertain, some individuals may have been enticed to join the club “after they see how much fun Stag Night is.”

Games that involve a group of golfers with varying abilities who can compete for same prize will work best for a club or range. So says Josh Richter, PGA Director of Golf at Michigan’s Boyne Country Sports, the retail arm of Boyne Resorts, which includes facilities at Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. “No one is excluded. Examples we use are closest to the pin contests, chipping contests and wedge range competitions. We find games we do with our members work best around club tournaments, opening receptions or after a competitive round.”

Richter believes such events encourage members and guests to use facilities more and promotes the ultimate goal around golf of having fun. “We also find contests can bring out more couples and young golfers that utilize the entire facility, from dining to pool and golf course.”

For next year, Richter and the staff of nearly a dozen PGA Professionals across the Boyne properties are pursuing the idea of hosting an adult version of Drive, Chip and Putt (DCP) that he wants to call Rip, Pitch & Roll.

“Drive, Chip and Putt has been such a monumental success, and we’ve seen first hand how much fun the kids have and how much fun the parents have watching their kids compete,” says Richter. “We want to give the parents that same feeling and level of excitement.”

Kevin Swan, PGA Head Professional at TPC Prestancia in Sarasota, Florida, says his club has hosted DCP twice for the kids. He has since morphed to the idea into fun events for the adults too. “A few games and contests that really get the adults involved is a `Glow Ball’ putting contest. We usually partner this game with a food and beverage promotion and make an evening out of it,” says Swan. “The game is aces only, to keep things fun and moving along. They either get an ace or move on. And the person with the most aces wins a prize. Another event that works well for us is a pitching contest from our back patio into a kids swimming pool. Everyone gets involved and there is a lot of betting and heckling that goes on.”

Preston Combs, PGA Teaching Professional at Don Parsons Golf Instruction in Santa Barbara, California, reports that part of the main programming at the facility is a Group Golf Coaching Program. “Rather than expecting golfers to improve by taking one private lesson each month, we structured this program like a gym membership,” says Combs. “We’ve found that rather than offer line instruction, working with players on developing essential skills through a series of games and stations (pictured) is far more effective.” This type of environment allows golfers to have “their own way of doing things,” while still improving in key areas.

Class sizes usually are five to six students per instructor with a maximum of 10 people and two instructors in a given class. The classes are divided into pods and the pods spend 12 to 15 minutes at each station. “Movement and constantly changing the environment is more engaging than hitting chip shots for an hour.”

Back to the kids – because, you know, the children are the future. A joint initiative founded in 2013 by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt (DCP) Championship is a free, nationwide junior golf development competition aimed at growing the game by focusing on the three fundamental skills employed in golf. Perhaps the biggest motivator for entering: The national finals are conducted at Augusta National Golf Club the Sunday before the Masters Tournament.

Doug Hammer, PGA Director of Instruction at Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, actually runs a DCP “boot camp,” a four-week intensive program to prep students for the DCP qualifier. Each week, the students go through driving, chipping and putting stations working on specific drills to enhance their shot-making ability.

Hammer comments, “I wanted to set up something to get my kids excited about practicing and get our other junior golf participants ready to take the next step and advance through DCP. The importance for me and our golfers is to see our kids having fun while learning skills needed to be successful in a national competition.”

John Snopkowski, PGA Head Professional at Santa Teresa Golf Club in San Jose, California, say his club’s junior programs have prepared juniors to have the confidence to seek out other types of competition and DCP is “another form of competition for their development.” One of his students, Howard Shu, who competed in the 2017 DCP Championship, was the first to qualify for the trip to Augusta from Santa Teresa. “We are very proud of his accomplishment,” says Snopkowski. “In the beginning he was very shy, and he needed that extra encouragement. As his instructor, it’s been special to watch Howard develop into the golfer he is today.”

Shu entered the Santa Teresa’s Little Linksters (9-and-under program), then moved on to private lessons, Junior Club’s monthly tournaments, Little League for Golf (eight-week team events), local youth tournaments and now plays in the club’s PGA Junior League team.

“He (Snopkowski) treated me like a special kid, he saw something in me,” Shu told Golf Channel prior to this month’s DCP Championship. “He knew that I would keep practicing and improve.”

Snopkowski’s vision proved true, as his young student was on the national stage earlier this month. Shu also told the Golf Channel that golf has “changed” him and that his lofty goal is to become a PGA Professional, “and maybe even better.” Quipped his teacher Snopkowski, “You got to love that.”

So whether you’re hosting kids or adults, golf skill games are a recipe for a good time no matter how old you are.