By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
Stonebridge Golf Club is a super busy public golf course east of Charlotte, North Carolina. According to Nick Jacobi, the facility’s PGA General Manager and a PGA Master Professional, the tee sheet is full every day that the temperature reaches 50 degrees. Jacobi has been in his current role since November of 2020, after serving as the PGA Head Professional at nearby Monroe Country Club for almost eight years.
In addition to two independent contractor instructors, PGA Professionals Barry Churchill and Frederic Bond, whose job it is to solely teach at Stonebridge, Jacobi still teaches more than a dozen golf lessons each week and is a top 20 player in the Carolinas PGA Section, a true testament to the reason he got into the golf business way back when.
With teaching and playing in mind, Jacobi highlighted the vast Stonebridge Golf Club driving range. “We have two giant all grass tee boxes on our practice facility – one is 90 yards in width and the other is 40 yards wide.” Jacobi explained. “The smaller of the two is exclusively used for teaching.”
There is an adjacent putting, chipping, pitching and bunker area that allows short pitch shots to a green from 30 yards out and longer shots to fairway-cut target areas at over 70 yards, providing ample opportunities to practice and learn for the many Stonebridge Golf Club die-hards. It was just a couple of years ago that this expansive range supported only six targets to which golfers could hit. Jacobi took advantage of one rainy day soon after he got to Stonebridge a year and a half ago, and plotted a new target configuration that he wanted to see – there are now 22 targets on the range, more than half of which are within 100 yards of the tee area!
He tells a funny story of innovation and creativity when he added two cars to the range that would become very popular targets for his customers. “There was a 1989 Cadillac at 160 yards and an old rundown van a little further out,” he recalls, “and we’d organize some fun contests for our patrons, which also generated additional revenue for the club – three shots for $10 and a free beer was included. Participants would get a free round of golf with just one successful strike of a vehicle.” Unfortunately, after getting very positive feedback from golfers, a less than stellar reaction from a few non-golfing local homeowners facilitated a change in his range target options.
This type of scenario, however, is what a lot of new and existing golfers are seeking in today’s environment. Many people don’t have time for a 4 ½ hour round of golf. Instead, many of them are content with time on their local range, some of which offer technology like Toptracer, and others just put two cars a couple of hundred yards out and dare you to take your best shot. With contests and customer engagement part of the mix, this is a winning combination for most facilities, especially busy public courses like Stonebridge.
Today, Jacobi has five bullseyes standing 50 yards from the tee box that make noise when hit – interactive range fun that today’s golfers love. “That’s exciting for them. I have young kids, and they come out. When you hit that piece of wood, everyone looks around to see who hit it.”
Jacobi is replacing the cars with a 6×8-ft thin sheet of metal that will hang at 130 yards. Golfers who hit this target will know when they hit it! There will be no mistaking the “gong heard round the range.”
Jacobi says they replenish their range ball supply three times per year, but the club only pays for one of the three shipments. “I sell sponsorship opportunities for the other two shipments to local businesses who can put their name and logo on our golf balls,” Jacobi explained. “With over one million golf balls hit at our facility each year, here’s a great opportunity for them to get their name seen over and over and over again.”
Jacobi implemented this program in 2021, and is now working through the renewal process for the first time. He says one of the current range ball sponsors is a local law firm, and they’ve already committed to renewing for 2022. The other “business” is actually his two independent contractor instructors, with whom he has developed a mutually-beneficial agreement.
“They usually pay us 20 percent of their range commissions and buy range balls at half price. I offered them FREE range balls in exchange for them covering the cost of the third range ball shipment, and they were all for it. So, in addition to free range balls for their lessons, they’re putting their names and contact info on 12,000 brand new range balls,” he explained.
In addition to the many amenities, Stonebridge has one of the biggest Operation 36 programs in the area. Jacobi initiated the program in January of 2021 and already has 30 juniors, 30 adults and the three PGA coaches (Jacobi, Churchill and Bond) collaborating to create an excellent learning experience for their students.
“We also have a strong in-house PGA Jr. League program with two dozen junior golfers that sells out every year, as well as week-long summer camps that combine fun and learning, developing our young golfers for other player development programs and lessons that we offer,” he explained.
Programming extends to adults as well, with several group clinics per month, and weekly ladies’ clinics that combine instruction and on-course play, two of the primary indicators that aid in golfer retention.
For more information on Stonebridge Golf Club, log on to its website.