BY: TONY L. STARKS
While spending three years teaching in Japan, 2011 PGA Teacher of the Year Mike Malaska noticed a trend. Golfers spent noticeably more time at the range and taking lessons than they did on the course. They didn’t have time to play a full round, but they still wanted the satisfaction that comes from swinging the club and making solid contact with the ball. That’s a trend that he believes is just beginning in the states, and why he feels now is a much better time to be a teaching professional than just two years ago.
“Golf means different things to different people – and that definition is changing with modern time and money constraints. You do not have to play a lot of golf to want to hit a ball, make it fly in the air and go the direction you want it to go. That’s where I think we’re heading as teachers,” says Malaska. “We have to help our students hit the ball better and have more control in a short time frame. That doesn’t mean that they immediately shoot lower scores. It could mean that they hit more solid shots or better understand their mis-hits when they’re out practicing on the range. The teachers who do this will be very successful today because I see the trend starting to happen, where golfers spend more time practicing than playing.”
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE VS. RESORT: Who’s Doing Better and Why?
PRIVATE 74.4% of private club teaching professionals increased lessons in 2014 vs. RESORT 67.9% of resort facility teaching professionals increased lessons in 2014 vs. PUBLIC 57.5% of public facility teaching professionals increased lessons in 2014.
Lessons at private clubs have bounced back in a big way. And Mike Carbray, the PGA director of instruction at the posh Butterfield Country Club outside of Chicago, is an example of such. This is “the first time in years” that he’s had his full lesson plan booked out months in advance, straight through the end of summer. “I can look at my schedule right now and tell you who I’m teaching on Thursday at 6 p.m. in August,” says Carbray, a U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Instructor who was named the 2012 Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Award winner. “Technology is a top factor. Teachers know that we need to have those tools in our repertoire, because if we don’t the students are going to go somewhere else. And that’s even true at the private club level – members won’t hesitate to go outside the gates if you don’t meet their needs. Of course, we want our members coming to us for everything golf, especially instruction. So we invest in the things that are important to them, like technology.”
Teaching Structures, Equipment and Technology
❯ Does your facility have a dedicated indoor teaching structure? If not, it’s something to consider, especially if you’re in colder climates. In the Northeast and the Midwest, 60.5% and 66.7% of teachers with indoor teaching structures increased lessons in 2014, respectively. Nationally, 65.9% of teachers with indoor structures increased lessons.
❯ In April of 2014, a new indoor teaching center was completed at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York (pictured ). This past winter marked the first time the club was able to offer members lessons and practice opportunities during the cold-weather months. “We had two teachers onsite all winter, and their lesson books were filled about 75 percent of the time,” says John Kennedy Jr., Westchester’s PGA director of golf. “Prior to this, we did zero lessons during this time. So it’s a benefit to the teachers in the form of increased revenue, and we’re offering a new service to the members.” Before the indoor teaching structure, some Westchester members would take lessons and practice at other New York City indoor facilities, but now they’ve brought that business back to the club. “It helps our bottom-line and enhances the experience of being a club member,” he adds.
❯ 29.6% of all practice facilities have covered areas. If you’re one of them, include your covers in marketing materials, especially during warm summer months.
❯ 24.9% of public facilities have covered hitting areas.
❯ 23.3 % of private facilities have covered hitting areas.
❯ 28.6% of resort facilities have covered hitting areas.
❯ 79.5% of stand-alone ranges have covered hitting areas.
❯ What’s the number one piece of technology used by successful golf teachers in 2014? Here’s a hint: You probably have one in your pocket right now.
- Mobile devices such as smart phones or tablets
- Swing analysis software such as V1 Sports or Swing Catalyst
- Launch monitors
- High speed video
- Motion analysis technology
Marketing Makes Dollars and Sense
Marketing is critical to the growth of all segments of your business, but particularly teaching. Growing your list of clients is difficult if potential students aren’t aware of who you are, what you offer or where to find you. We built a profile of the teaching professionals who grew their instruction business in 2014 and highlighted their top five marketing practices.
FREE CLINICS, FREE MARKETING
Free clinics are a great way to attract new students. But don’t take our word for it, 73.5% of teaching professionals conduct free clinics as a marketing tool (60% of teachers hosts somewhere between 1-10 free clinics annually, while the remaining 13.5% of teachers who host free clinics offer more than 10).
For respected instructor Bill Abrams, the PGA head professional at Balmoral Woods Country Club in Crete, Illinois, it’s about finding creative ways to position free clinics. He hosts a “Practice with the Pro” program, where potential students purchase range balls and he walks the line offering advice on how get the most out of their practice sessions. “These type of sessions break down barriers, and allow the golfers to get to know you without any added pressure,” says Abrams. “We’re always selling ourselves as golf instructors, and this has given me a way to get in front of an audience right there on the practice range. It’s turned into a lot of individual lessons and referrals.”
National Promotions That Pay Off
More than 60 percent of teaching professionals that grew lessons in 2014 used Get Golf Ready – the PGA of America’s flagship growth of the game initiative. Of that same group, 42.1 percent participate in PGA Junior League Golf and another 20.5 percent in The First Tee. (Many professionals use more than one of these initiatives.) Teaching professionals participated in these three programs more often than all other national initiatives combined.