By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
Did you see the commercials during the recent PGA and Senior PGA Championships? Images of PGA Professionals helping golfers understand the concepts that will make them better players and increase their enjoyment in the game. That means increased play and that’s big business for all facets of the golf industry. From memberships at capacity to full tee sheets and packed driving ranges, it is the player development programming being put in place by PGA Professionals that will ultimately maintain the momentum and retain the many golfers who have come to the sport over the past year.
Monique Thoresz, the PGA Director of Instruction at The Apawamis Club in Rye, New York, says golf in Westchester County has been buoyed by the pandemic. “Rounds of golf are up, individual lessons and clinics are increasing exponentially, our junior program is producing some great young golfers and membership is at capacity.” She has implemented a robust clinic schedule and supplemented it by creating playing opportunities for her members, understanding that on-course play has proven to be a key component in retaining golfers.
At Franklin Bridge Golf Club in Franklin, Tennessee, Scott Hassee, a 2020 GRAA Top 100 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional and the facility’s PGA Director of Player Development, holds free weekly clinics for members of a frequent player program that his public course offers. These free clinics often lead to additional private lessons and increased participation in his group programming. Whether Hassee’s golfers are “creating their own clinics” or documenting their on-course accomplishments through the Operation 36 app, they are deeply engaged by the young professional and author of the book, “The Champions Playbook: Thinking Your Way to Lower Scores!”, which highlights on-course strategies to shooting lower scores. Offering free coaching, providing options in his programming and expeditiously getting students on the golf course are all significant growth of the game initiatives.
Noah Horstman agrees. Having established the Southern Oregon Golf Academy (SOGA) with one location just two years ago, the three-time Northern Ohio PGA Section Award winner and 2020 GRAA Top 100 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional partners with four distinct locations in his area to provide a diverse menu of player development options for golfers of all ages and skill levels. “Our growth can be chalked up to a lot of hard work, education on the part of our team and implementation of player development programming that goes beyond just the technical aspects of the golf swing,” Horstman stated. SOGA offers private lessons, clinics and golf schools that provide a holistic approach to game improvement – technical, physical, mental and more.
Back east, the Northeast Performance Institute (NPI), in Connecticut, takes a similar approach – multiple locations and a full team of professionals to address virtually any issue a golfer may have. Katrina Steady, the facility’s Performance and Resilience Mental Coach, had this to say, “Golf is a humbling game that carries a good deal of failure, even for the best in the world. In my role, I introduce golfers to positive psychology – focusing on what went well in a round of golf, rather than harping on the things that didn’t. This leads to more productive thoughts and focus that can translate into more quality golf shots and improved physical performance.”
Physical and mental training are increasingly becoming a mainstream part of helping golfers improve, and so has technology. At Orchard Creek in Waynesboro, Virginia, an indoor performance center is scheduled to open by the winter that will house hitting bays for members and a teaching bay for the facility’s PGA Director of Golf Operations, Kandi Comer. All bays will be equipped with Foresight Sports QCQuad launch monitors. Comer, also a 2020 GRAA Top 100 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional, came on with new ownership just before the pandemic, and has grown membership through innovative programming and member engagement. She facilitates two 8-hour programs over four days each, covering all vital aspects of the game that a beginning or returning golfer may need. From there, she promotes the fun and social aspects of golf to increase play and promote all aspects of the club, as well. When she kicked off her programming after being closed due to the pandemic last spring, she had only about eight women consistently playing 18-holes. Now, with her efforts over the past year, she has dozens more taking instruction and playing nine holes, eventually moving up to the 18-holer group. She understands that introducing them to the game is the first in a series of steps to get new golfers fully-engaged in golf. She follows a similar system with her junior golfers.
Junior golfers…now there’s a demographic that every professional should be catering to in fun and creative ways. Understanding that kids were cooped up at home all day during the pandemic, Dennis Johnsen, the multi-award-winning PGA General Manager at Pine Meadow Golf Club in Mundelein, Illinois, a 2020 GRAA Top 50 Public Facility, went beyond the clinics and camps, and offered his local juniors half-priced range buckets last fall. Kids were invited every day after their daily remote learning ended to get out of the house, be among other kids in the open air and get some exercise. There was intentionally NO instruction. “Our idea was ‘they had enough education for the day’ – just come out and hit balls,” he stated. “Just come out and be a kid!”
It’s been proven that going in-depth with juniors and always having something new to offer is key to retaining them through their school-aged years. Johnsen’s idea is smart – just get them out there. At Capital City Club, in Atlanta, PGA Director of Golf, Steve Archer is placing a greater focus on fitness for juniors. “We’re bringing in an individual who will focus on golf-specific fitness programming with our advanced juniors – teens who aspire to play collegiate golf or beyond. The juniors are already playing AJGA and high school golf at a high level, and adding a dedicated fitness component to their training will give them an added advantage as they pursue their dreams in golf. This is a facet of our player development programming that we have sought to bolster over the past few years, ensuring our juniors have that next step in their progression.”
It’s a big topic. After all, it’s about the future of the game. Whatever your picture of player development might be, it starts with piquing their interest. Whether you invite your women members into the restaurant for a drink after their clinic, or gather your juniors on the range to hit a bucket of balls, making the game fun, social and easier is vital. Set short-term, achievable goals. Ensure they are playing the right tees. Share your expertise and always stay positive. Player development means a lot of things to a lot of people, and it means a lot to the growth of the game. What’s your interpretation and how are you promoting the initiative?