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February 1, 2013

How to Spot (and Serve) the Serious Practicer

You can train your staff to cater to repeat golfers in a pleasing manner – that includes giving them their space

BY: DAVID GOULD

When the first large-scale Golf Range Association of America survey following our re-launch was deployed last year, we wondered what sort of range customer would turn up in our results. The idea was to canvass enthusiastic golfers, in order to learn their visit patterns and shed light on their attitudes and preferences. Given extra time to interpret the data points in that survey, we found statistics any manager can use to better train outside service personnel and even guide teaching professionals in delivering value.

If you’ve only got time for an executive summary of what the 2012 survey says about the loyal range customer and their desired experience, some highlights can be offered – first about the golfers themselves. They were males (96 percent) using public-access ranges (84 percent), hitting balls often (53 percent made more than 20 range visits) and breaking a sweat (70 percent hit over 50 balls each visit). If you and your employees want to please or even pamper these frequent visitors, there are priorities and traits that jump out from the study to guide you in setting standards and procedures.

Whether it’s justified or not, they consider themselves self-sufficient as golfers:This was revealed by a set of questions that divided the range experience into many facets and asked how important each was. The survey group identified taking lessons as “very important” or “important” at a rate of just 6 and 9 percent, respectively. It was likewise with the “Demo new equipment” question – 5 percent called that “very important” and 10 percent called it “important.

They hit balls on days that end in ‘y’:Only 3 percent of our survey group said “Always” when asked whether their range visits fell on weekends. Another 18 percent said “some of the time” to that question. Interestingly, a full 8 percent said they “Never” make a range visit on a weekend. So, look for these players to be feeding tokens into your ball machine during the important mid-week period (when casual players tend to stay away).

They’ve likely got a game face on:When asked how much “entertainment with friends and family” was part of their range experience, a tiny 2 percent checked the “very important” box, while a measly 7 percent checked “important.” Even the “somewhat im – portant” option only attracted 17 percent of this audience.

These are “second-shot” golfers practicing with irons for better greens in-regulation performance: Given a chance to check the “very important” box next to a string of options, they showed a concern for approach shots – not the driver obsession some range visitors display. To 54 percent of respondents, “Practice hitting my irons” received top priority, while 47 percent checked the very-important box next to “Practice hitting my woods.” It was 49 percent doing so for “Practice hitting all types of shots.”

Even if your range is lighted, these golfers will visit during daylight: Among respondents who favor a range that’s lighted for night use, only 7 percent of this group said they practiced at night “more than 50 percent of the time.” Over one-third of them checked “hardly ever” or “never” to the after-dark question. Much of what this group asks for in a practice environment is infrastructural. Not surprisingly, they place high value on the availability of hitting space, access to grass tee surfaces, short-game areas, quality golf balls and accurately measured targets. Among the attributes your staff can exhibit and maintain for these players is a set of high standards for safety – 87 percent of respondents said their preferred range did either a “Good” or “Excellent” job of this. Cleanliness and friendliness were also high-ranking virtues of the ranges these golfers patronize. Some 84 percent checked the “Good” or “Excellent” box for sanitation and 82 percent checked those boxes when asked about the staff’s good humor and warmth. To sum up, there is a diligent practicer out there who is no-frills, avoids crowds, considers himself well-equipped and only wants a well-run, no-nonsense environment. Provide that forum and you’ll have a steady core of loyal users that stick to their good habits.