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October 1, 2015

Marketing Your Range: Above and Beyond the Norm

Marketing strategies to promote and power the practice range

BY: SCOTT KRAMER

Marketing golf ranges and learning academies starts with the basics. Take a little social media, mix in some email promotions and then sprinkle in some mailing list campaigns. It’s a simple recipe. But to truly stand out and capture the public spotlight and golfing masses, you have to take extra measures. Consider what several places around America are doing to go above and beyond.

Leaning on PR Firms

Telluride (Colorado) Golf Club recently hired course architect Ken Kavanaugh to enhance its practice areas and build a private teaching complex. Ranges rarely go to that extent, but this is no ordinary facility. Perched high in a mountain resort, the range will extend 400 yards long and have multi-level tee areas – at different altitudes – when it’s complete next spring. With nine target greens, a fairway, a 7,200 square foot putting green and a secluded teaching area, Kavanaugh calls the facility a “total game changer” with a “wow” factor.

But a “wow” factor does you no good if no one sees it. That is why Telluride enlisted the Buffalo Brand Invigoration Group, a veteran Virginia-based golf public relations firm, to promote the upgraded range and adjacent hotel. “Taking the practice facility to the level of a championship golf course lends credibility to the members, who are younger and fitter – so the game-improvement component is key,” says Shane Sharp, vice president of Buffalo Invigoration Group. “We’re holding a large-scale event to celebrate the range opening next year, with some extensive PR and marketing around it. It’ll be a target market approach, selling the whole lifestyle and resort to audiences in Phoenix, Austin, Houston, Dallas, California and New York – those are the luxury target markets for Telluride. We’re telling a story about the entire resort experience, and positioning the practice range as key part that experience.”

Then there’s Willow Crest Golf Club at the Hilton Chicago (Illinois), part of the Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center. While the course doesn’t have a full driving range, it does house a brand-new Learning and Performance Center – replete with yearround, world-class golf simulators and a golf fitness training program. To promote it all, Randy Bolstad, the course’s PGA director of golf operations, “partnered with an outside PR company, to drive traffic here and enhance our business. Without range space, to be effective we thought we could enhance our offerings and bring in state-of-the-art equipment so people would take us more seriously.

“The PR firm markets the whole property and helps drive activity here and enhances what we do. We studied the PR companies out there and their success rates. We pay these people a lot, so you have to do your homework if you chose to go this route,” describes Bolstad. “They have connections to get the word out and have been amazing getting across the right message since we hired them less than a year ago. It’s helped tenfold – no doubt this has been worth it. They’ve gotten WGN broadcasting here, had our chefs on several TV stations, they promoted our Golf Bikes, simulators and a lot of unique things. They’re very creative.”

Willow Crest has a lot of group outings, transients, members and public play – so it’s important that they appeal to a large audience. In addition to the PR firm, they target all segments by sending emails to their database of 20,000-plus golfers; hanging signage in the hotel lobby, elevators and rooms promoting the practice center; using cart headers; and also reaching out to members via separate mailings.

The Celebrity Angle

Some ranges are also drawing crowds by bringing in celebrity instructors, and publicizing it. For instance, Thousand Oaks Golf Academy – located at a private Grand Rapids, Michigan facility – hosts outside professionals like Mike Bender and Mike Shannon, as a way to market the club’s range and instruction. “We’ve done it for 20 years,” says PGA director of instruction Charley Vandenberg. “It impacts our reputation. This is a beautiful range, and it’s necessary to help sell the membership.” Vandenberg sends the message about guest instructors out to all of his students, and the sessions Brian Clark, CEO of Rainmaker Digital and founder of Copyblogger, an innovative content marketing company, was named by Forbes in 2014 as one of the “Worlds Top 40 Social Marketing Talent” and a “Top 10 Online Marketing Expert.” The Boulder, Coloradobased entrepreneur says that YouTube is a practice range or golf academy’s best friend. “Good content marketing means giving people something for free that they’d otherwise pay for,” says Clark. “Golf training videos were always really strong direct marketing products – people bought a lot of them. If you want people to come to your range for a hands-on experience, then use high-value training videos. “Post a video lesson on YouTube with the message that you can only learn so much from the video but ultimately need to come down. And don’t be afraid to give away too much information on the video,” he continues. “Advertise the video through your existing email list, but get people to sign up at YouTube, to build up your list. It’s a classic approach: Give people free content that makes them want to buy into it even more.”