March 1, 2015

Expanded Engagement

Creating new ways to interact with golfers

By: Tony L. Starks

What does engagement mean to you? Is it when golfers come to your facility to either practice, play or purchase, that you’re available and always ask how you can help? While that’s a critical part of it, engagement extends beyond service and communication. It’s creating new ways and opportunities to interact with golfers at your facility, and for them to interact with one another. The practice range and the surrounding areas are the perfect setting to do just that, and in this month’s cover story we’ll take a look at multiple ways to create new engaging opportunities on the range.

Light the Fire

In 2011, Maderas Golf Club in Poway, California made the decision to install a fire pit adjacent to the range and pro shop (pictured on the cover). The semi-private facility, recognized as one of the top courses in the San Diego area, has a small membership and group of dedicated golfers who practice on the picturesque range. “Here at Maderas, we build relationships with our members and returning guests,” says Michael Flickinger, the facility’s general manager. “Our team goes above and beyond to interact with each golfer that uses our facility – to really get to know their likes, dislikes and overall personality.” The fire pit has given them a great avenue for accomplishing that. During winter months when days are shorter, members will often come out to the range in the evening after work to get their golf fix. The alluring flames of the fire pit draw them in after they’ve finished practicing and provides Flickinger’s staff with the opportunity for engagement. “Golfers are storytellers and there’s no better place for telling stories than sitting around a fire sharing a few drinks,” says Flickinger. “So when golfers come off the range or the course and head over to the fire pit, we use that time as a chance to hear their stories. How are they hitting it? What part of their game are they working on? What’s the memorable shot from their last round? Or even things unrelated to golf, like stories about their kids and family.

“We’ve really found that it’s a place to come together and make new friends or catch up with old ones.” In addition to increased engagement, the fire pit has also brought increased revenue. Golfers don’t just finish practicing or playing and then rush off to their car; they spend more time at the club, which equates to spending more dollars.

Driving Range Drive In

Recently TaylorMade Golf delivered one of the most innovative uses of a practice range the golf industry has ever seen. On Wednesday of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club outside of Los Angeles, they constructed a 25-foot movie screen, lined the range with golf cars and hosted a drive-in-movie on the driving range. They played iconic scenes from golf classics like “Tin Cup” and “Happy Gilmore” – complete with appearances from Roy McAvoy and Shooter McGavin themselves, as well as TaylorMade staffer Sergio Garcia. While you may not have TaylorMade’s marketing budget, this is still an idea you can execute to keep golfers engaged with your facility. Large inflatable projection screens are available for less than $500, and quality projectors are more affordable than ever. Consider hosting “date night” on the range and showing the golf movies we all love! Another idea is to film your own movie, capturing memorable moments from around the facility throughout the year. This could be particularly successful at private clubs, where you can invite members to view the finished product and see themselves up on the big screen.

“This is certainly an idea that can be replicated on virtually any practice range,” says Nick Robbie, TaylorMade’s marketing director. “We received a tremendous response from those in attendance, and I imagine that any golfer would be thrilled to attend an event like this at their local club.”

A Well “Crafted” Plan

For the last several years, PGA Professional Del Ratcliffe has conducted a very successful event called The Can Open – a golf tournament centered on craft beer. Renaissance Golf Park in Charlotte, North Carolina – operated by Ratcliffe’s management company, Ratcliffe Golf Services – has served as the host site. By partnering with several local breweries, he is able to provide a unique experience as companies set up beer-tasting tents throughout the course. However, this year Ratcliffe is tossing around the idea of expanding onto the range. “Plenty of food, plenty of beer and lots of golf – always a great recipe for fun,” says Ratcliffe. “We’re looking into adding a range component, where we set up tents with craft beer on the range and do all kinds of skill challenges. “Fun events like this are the type of thing we’re trying, and the practice range is one of our focus areas this year,” he adds. “It’s the perfect place to interact with golfers, build relationships and create a real bond.”

Topgolf Takeaways – Engaging the 18-34 Age Group

Did you know that 56 percent of Topgolf patrons are between the ages of 18-34? The most interesting thing about that stat: It represents the exact demographic that golf has been struggling to attract recently. “I don’t think we’re taking them away from golf, but they’re looking for a different way to experience the game,” says PGA Professional Justin Norvell, the director of operations at Topgolf’s Gilbert, Arizona location. “I’m convinced that golf courses and ranges can provide a similar experience for them.”

When Norvell left his post at a public facility in Orlando two years ago, he was inspired to join Topgolf in order to capitalize on the buzz created by the emerging brand and convert that energy into overall growth of the game. One thing he’s learned in the past two years, despite what some statistics may suggests, is that the younger demographic is open to golf – but they want it packaged differently. “Topgolf is certainly different, that’s for sure. It’s far from your traditional golf experience. But that 18-34 group wants different, they need different. Golf has to be willing to change in order to capture their attention,” says Norvell. “What engagement boils down to is having long-term relationships with your customers, and getting them to return time after time. Through a focus on fun and a delivering a social experience we’ve been able to do that.

“There are things we do at Topgolf really well to keep customers engaged – whether that’s the music, serving food and drinks, the social environment or the gamification,” says Norvell. “These are all things that any golf facility operator can do easily.”

UNC Golf Coach Builds Bonds Between Fathers and Sons

Bonding with dad over the game of golf has likely been around since someone first hit a small round object with a stick in the fields of Scotland. However, structured father-son range sessions are an under utilized method for encouraging that bond. For the past three years, North Carolina Tar Heel Men’s Golf Coach Andrew Sapp has hosted the UNC Father-Son Golf Camp with great success. “Junior camps have been around forever, and I’m sure we didn’t invent the father-son camp by any means, but so many times when the dads dropped of their kids I’d hear them say something like ‘Man, I wish I was going to golf camp right now!’” describes Sapp, himself a former member of the UNC golf team. “I thought that was a great idea, why not let the dads benefit from it as well as the kids?” The dads seem to love it more than the youngsters. They get a lot out of the instruction, and they’re able to spend a weekend with their son bonding over a sport that they both love. However, participants are not just juniors and their fathers. There are father-son participants of all ages. At one time, Sapp even had three generations of golfers in the same camp (father, son and grandson).

“These type of camps absolutely have long-term affects on the game and business as a whole,” adds Sapp, who generally caps the number of participants at 24 (or 12 father-son pairs). “Yeah, dads can go watch their sons play basketball or football and sit in the stands, but here in the sport of golf they can play side by side, hitting the same shots and experiencing the same sport at the same time. Golf is a game for a lifetime, so you can pass this down from generation to generation.” Helping to strengthen the bond between father and son in turn strengthens their relationship with your facility. As they build memories, your facility can be the backdrop.

Live Music by the Range

The Crossing Nines restaurant sits in between the practice range and the short game area at Granite Links Golf Club just outside of Boston. A couple years ago, the facility expanded the property to include an outdoor patio that rests directly next to the practice putting green and well within earshot of the practice range. This new area created the perfect opportunity to do something fun and creative to attract golfers toward the practice area. So during the season, every week from Thursday-Sunday golfers are treated to the sounds of live music from local artists. “We decided to do this as a way to drive new business to the part of the facility where the range, practice areas and restaurant are located,” says Stephen Clancy, Granite Links’ PGA head professional. “On nice nights people sit outside and have a full view of the Boston skyline. It’s great for sunsets.”

The range at Granite Links is lit, and stays open until 10 p.m. six days a week. The music is a great treat for golfers who like to work on their game under the stars. “It’s been hugely beneficial for evening traffic on the practice range,” says Clancy. “But it works both ways. People come to hangout and listen to music but they find themselves putting on the practice green – and sometimes doing a little dance to the tunes. And people who came to practice find themselves sitting down to enjoy a beverage and taking in the scene.”