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July 1, 2015

Player Development: Focusing on the Core

Adding value and incentives to get core players spending more time at your facility

BY: CHRIS LEWIS

According to research from the National Golf Foundation, core golfers equal 26 percent of the golfing population in the United States. But, they account for 76 percent of rounds played and 71 percent of the dollars spent. Who makes up this 26 percent? They are the frequent players, the best players, the private club members, golf travelers and league participants. They are the most passionate players – they are golf’s core.

Golfers who make up this group have many common interests such as testing new equipment, taking lessons and competing in tournaments. But the one element that’s practically universal among core golfers is that they love to improve. That’s why the practice range is so important for these players – it’s the place they go to improve their game. Throughout the country, golf professionals are undertaking initiatives to attract and retain core golfers of all ages and experience levels, and the range is playing a pivotal role.

Help Core Players Meet Their Goals

Dale Abraham, PGA director of golf and instruction at Telluride (Colorado) Golf Club in the summer and director of instruction at Palm Desert, California’s Bighorn Golf Club in the winter, reminds us that core golfers exist at every skill level. From 15 handicaps and above, all the way down to single digits. Enjoyment of golf doesn’t always hinge upon how skilled someone is, but how skilled they want to become and their hunger to learn.

That’s why Abraham, a 2014 GRAA Top 50 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional, creates individually tailored instruction plans for the core players he works with, designed to meet their short and long-term goals. It starts with a simple one-to-one conversation that generally takes place on the range.

“We discuss what is ailing their games and how we can fix it,” says Abraham, the 2013 Southwest PGA Section Teacher of the Year. “Depending on their schedules, I then put together a plan for how they can improve and how we can meet their goals together.” Abraham helps them establish what he terms “S.M.A.R.T.” goals: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Through these types of goals, they will constantly be reminded of what they are trying to accomplish, and maintain their desire to improve, as they measure their progress towards achievement.

“This goal setting is important, as it helps them stay on track and measure improvement,” Abraham adds. “Success spurs more success and increases the desire to improve – something that core golfers already have.”

Speaking Their Language

For PGA Professional Scott Robbins, the owner of Scott Robbins Golf in The Colony, Texas, appealing to core golfers is all about speaking their language. More than any other segment of golfer, core players spend time reading and studying the game. Consuming articles about instruction, equipment and technology. Because of that, they generally have an advanced golf vocabulary and seek golf professionals who can speak that language and provide the desired results. “Building a connection with someone starts by earning their respect, and doing that with core players starts with being up to date on everything golf,” says Robbins. “Everything from what’s happening on the PGA Tour, to what’s new in the equipment world, even apparel and footwear. Core golfers are always tuned into the game, you have to be as well.”

When it comes to working with core golfers on the range, Robbins focuses on a few “key performance indicators.” He tracks statistics that measure certain aspects of their games such as driving distance and clubhead speed, and then shares this data with them right away. After reviewing these indicators, he designs an individualized plan that helps them improve upon their stats and creates a change in their golf game. “Core golfers have a thirst for information. Many of them are club junkies who love trying new equipment, and they love getting hooked up to the launch monitor and seeing their stats,” says Robbins. “By giving them a few baseline stats we can focus on, it quenches that thirst and provides us with a guideline for helping them improve.”

Engagement is Key

Relationship building is a pivotal part of attracting core golfers for Abraham, that’s why he places such emphasis on the one-to-one interaction between him and the student. It’s about demonstrating that you care and being partners in achieving results. According to fellow GRAA Top 50 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional Trillium Rose, communication and engagement equal commitment for the core players at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, a private facility where she serves as PGA director of instruction. “Core golfers are motivated, they have some momentum going,” she says. “Our job is to build on that momentum and make sure they stay engaged. I do that by making sure I have an ongoing dialogue with people, that I keep tabs on where they are and what they’re doing related to golf.”

Social media has become an amazing tool for keeping track of what’s going on with friends far and wide. Through the use of an app called Edufii, which bills itself as “Facebook meets Dropbox for coaching,” Rose stays in constant contact with her 289 students. The app is rapidly gaining traction among golf professionals, including Cameron McCormick who uses it to communicate with star pupil Jordan Spieth. It allows coaches and students to interact directly online and through their mobile devices – sharing information such as videos, photos and links.

“The real crux of it is I’m able to keep an ongoing relationship via this app, that the golfers have a coaching relationship,” says Rose (pictured above). “I have a busy schedule – we have 1,100 members, so there’s not a lot of time for chatting. This allows me to stay connected with our golfers. I can even provide weekly practice sheets, outline things they should work on and suggest games they can play while practicing. I can keep helping my students even when I’m not physically there. “The point is, I’m always giving them something to do – so they’re not just hanging out on the range hitting the same shots. They’re challenging themselves and working on a weak area.”

Go Beyond Clubfitting for Core Players

At the Golf Performance Institute (GPI) at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California, Director of Instruction A.J. Avoli offers an expansive week-long clubfitting process for the serious golfer. The program includes instruction, fitness and nutrition, all tied into the ultimate goal of finding the perfect combination of golfer and equipment. The facility partnered with Cobra-Puma in order to deliver this in-depth experience.

“Serious golfers take everything into account these days. How their body works, their overall fitness and the equipment they use. Those things are all linked together, and that’s what inspired us to start this comprehensive fitting program,” says Avoli. “I have an amazing fitter right next to me all day, using outstanding technology. Getting people proper-fitting equipment and providing them instruction goes hand-in-hand.” Avoli and Cobra-Puma Golf master clubfitter Justin Wilson meet with students together, providing a “tour-caliber” experience. The advantage to this tandem approach is that Avoli’s learning what the player’s doing with the club throughout the swing. “Before I even teach him, I have all the information I need,” he says. “I’m quiet during the fitting, but then chime in at the end of each session. Getting the initial information from a clubfitter’s perspective, I have the information to make a plan. Teamwork is the key component to it all. Afterwards, we work on things and see how it changes the launch monitors numbers.”

However, Avoli knows that numbers have to work with the human nature of golf. “If the club doesn’t fit a student, he or she compensates to hit the ball,” he says. “And that’s why we have to get the clubs fit to the swing and then match up the instruction based on that.”

For the fitness and nutrition element, Avoli works with La Costa’s Premier Fitness Center to utilize the facility’s top-notch expertise to help people play better golf. “Students are immersed in it for the week, and we hope they continue it after they leave,” he says. “They’ll change their eating habits and their golf practice habits, and learn to utilize their time correctly. There’s good instruction in a lot of places, but we offer the ability to work on your health also. By the end of the week, they experience real changes in how they swing and how they feel.”

Tomorrow’s Core Golfers

Prior to the 2014 Players Championship, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem recalled the time in which he asked the Swedish Federation how the country has generated so many first-rate players, from Annika Sörenstam to Jesper Parnevik, while also maintaining one of Europe’s healthiest golf economies. “They said in preschool, (they) get young people to play around with golf, and it makes it less intimidating later on when they pick up a golf club,” Finchem says. “(They told me) if you want to point your finger at one thing, we get kids playing with golf implements, (which) reduces the difficulty they have when (they) are trying to get (the ball) airborne.” So the reason that golf is so healthy in Sweden is that people are introduced to it at a very young age. They are given the chance to grow up with the game, and become core players later in life. To an extent, we’re seeing this start to happen in the United States – creating the potential for a strong group of core golfers 20-30 years in the future.

One example is the Little Linksters Association, founded by PGA Professional Brendon Elliott in 2010. The Longwood, Florida based non-profit provides golf instruction to children aged two to eight, a demographic that is rarely introduced to the game. The instruction itself is considered “mobile,” in that it can be offered at golf courses, schools, daycares and community centers, rather than just in one established location. Fifteen facilities presently offer instruction to 100 children each month, on average. “We provide a less intimidating atmosphere than what is commonplace in many other junior tours,”says Elliott, a 2014 GRAA Top 50 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional. In similar form, Golf in Schools, LLC, believes in the concept of introducing golf to young children. But, unlike Little Linksters, his program, geared towards pre-kindergarten to eighth grade students, only provides classes at elementary and middle schools – over 120 in four states to date. “The key to expanding the reach of golf is to break down the barriers of entering into the culture,” says PGA Professional Aaron Bergman, co-founder and director of Golf in Schools. “Our program is extremely convenient for parents, as we provide equipment and don’t require any drop off from parents. The kids are already at school!”