By Caitlin Cannon, PGA
When I arrived at Atlanta Athletic Club, I was starting my career at a club that was thriving. Thousands of people were using the facilities. We had two 18-hole courses that were fully booked daily, a booming junior golf program and an instruction center that already had five full-time instructors. I would be the sixth and the only female. How could I improve on this well-oiled machine?
At first, the plan was to take my spot in line, try to fill my lesson book with private lessons and help with the junior programming. I would hold one-off ladies’ clinics weekly and hope to have six women sign up. Everyone was exceptionally nice and welcoming. I was seeing the same core group of women at the range, on the tee sheet and signing up for these clinics every day.
On the men’s side, however, I’d see new guys hitting on the range, playing and taking lessons daily. Where were all the other women? Where were the ladies who had never played before or weren’t in one of the affinity groups? There were about 200 ladies between the nine- and 18-hole groups, but only a portion of them were playing consistently. What’s the key to getting women out on a regular basis?
After one year at AAC, a new PGA Director of Golf came on board. He had run Operation 36 at his last club with great success and recommended I look into it. I was hesitant at first since it wasn’t something our club had done before, and the instructors were having great success with private lessons. After some thought, I decided to give it a shot and hoped to have 24 women sign up. I sent one email to the club explaining the eight-week program and included the schedule. I had 100 responses within a couple of days.
What was it about this model that invoked such a response? The answer was the structure and the clear path of progression. Most women like to see things planned out and want to know where it’s taking them. The best thing about it is that it gets them out on the course early in the game improvement process. They get to experience the game right away! They get to enjoy the social aspects of playing in a foursome without the stress of playing from hundreds of yards away. The excitement of making their first par drives them to come back for more. By offering a multi-week program, they’re committing their time, whereas, in private lessons and one-off clinics, we can see inconsistency in dedication.
Now that I’ve convinced you to host a long-term women’s instruction program, how should you structure it? The beauty of a program like Operation 36 is that they’ve already done the work for you. It is well worth the investment to utilize their lesson plans and marketing materials. But the success is in the details. When is a good time to schedule classes? Mid-morning is often a good time. Kids have been dropped off at school and sessions won’t interfere with lunch or afternoon commitments. Also, offer an evening option for the working women at your club. You can even hold nine-hole events during school hours or on Sunday evenings when the course tends to be less busy.
When communicating don’t assume they know everything you know, especially information that’s seemingly “obvious” to you. Include information like where to meet, where to park, what to bring, the dress code, etc. In fact, I get asked all the time, “Do I need a reservation to hit on the driving range?” When golfers have the knowledge, you’ll be amazed to see them showing up at the range to practice. They’ll also feel confident coming without their husbands.
The last piece of advice I have is to keep it light. The quicker you can make people feel comfortable the more receptive they’ll be to learning, and a surefire way to do this is to get them laughing. We don’t need to pour out all of our knowledge of the golf swing in one hour. That’s overwhelming! Focus on one or two points for the entire lesson, and fill the rest of the time with simple practice drills. Letting them try the skill facilitates more learning than over-explaining.
Also, implement games. Adults love games! The simpler the better – the better the more fun – the more fun the higher likelihood of them returning. Even if you start with four ladies, make it the most fun experience of their week and I guarantee you they’ll tell their friends and you’ll see your numbers grow.
I grew my business at an already thriving club by offering a long-term instruction program for women. Charm their socks off week-in and week-out and you’ll have yourself a group of women who are excited about the game and using your facilities more than ever.
Caitlin Cannon is a PGA Teaching Professional at Atlanta Athletic Club. She grew up in Asheville, North Carolina and attended Clemson University, graduating from the Professional Golf Management Program. She is a GRAA Top 100 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional and leads a large ladies’ golf instruction program at her high-volume club.