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March 1, 2013

Public, Private or Resort – The Range Brings Business

The range is an important piece of the golf operations puzzle, regardless of facility type. It can be a partnership marketing tool, a gear-selling machine or a way for members to hone specific skills

Before you play 18, you certainly would like a chance to warm up at a high-quality practice range. That’s why it makes sense to configure a golf property so that its range–the tee line in particular–can be seen by arriving golfers. One of the facilities below has that advantage, but all three of them display their own version of range-centric golf operations. By that we mean, they don’t consider their practice complex an afterthought or a sidelight–quite the opposite. The brief case studies below represent three distinctly different golf facilities–one public, one resort and one private. Each has taken a tack toward making their ranges a bigger part of the business model.

As the 2012 PGA Merchandiser of the Year for public facilities, Dale Smigelsky is more than familiar with how to make strong margins on the product he brings into his golf shop. But the 19- year PGA Professional has found a way to turn big margins on the products he sells outside of the shop as well. Over the last eight years, Smigelsky has been implementing a strategy that allows him to turn a tremendous profit on his range balls. Each year, Smigelsky brings in about 2,000 dozen new balls for the range at Collindale Golf Club in Fort Collins, Colo., where he also operates a successful golf academy and a booming clubfitting business. To help alleviate the annual cost of buying new range balls, he sells a sponsorship to a local company, which gets its logo imprinted on the side of every range ball in the Collindale arsenal. “It might seem cost-prohibitive to have new balls each year, but it’s a matter of pride for me to always have the best driving range conditions because it reflects on me, our golf academy and Collindale Golf Club,” says Smigelsky. “A big part of that condition is having new, quality range balls year after year. If you can have a large portion paid for by a sponsor, then it’s definitely a winwin-win.”

Smigelsky’s current sponsorship covers about 70 percent of his cost, although the sponsorship price has fluctuated in years past depending on the partner. “We are a public course, and this works the best for our type of facility, but I could see this working in a resort setting as well. No matter what your situation, take the time to determine who might be interested in partnering with you on your range ball purchases,” he says. “No matter what type of facility you’re at or what your operational expenses are, you’ve increased your bottom line by whatever amount you can sell the sponsorship for.”

Fitters to Your Post

PGA Professionals at many facilities claim that having all of their clubfitting carts out at the range, in full visibility to all passers-by, helps boost sales. To boost sales exponentially, station a professional clubfitter on your range to offer free fittings. This way, golfers know they can go over and ask questions, which is the first step in making a sale. And it’s a common sentiment that once a person gets fitted for clubs, he or she is much more likely to buy them right on the spot having seen and felt the improvement in their swing and in ball flight.

“We are fortunate to have a fulltime clubfitter from Golf Fitting Studios onsite, and the majority of our marketing is geared toward booking fittings,” says Colin Gooch, PGA Head Professional at Marriott Shadow Ridge Golf Club, a resort facility in Palm Desert, Calif. “Custom fitting using state-of-the-art technology is in high demand and delivers a 90-percent selling rate (at our facility). That’s why it’s important for us to have our fitting carts and launch monitors out on the range with our clubfitter in order to promote our fitting business.”

Gooch also utilizes social media, e-marketing as well as his onsite communications to promote both hard-goods and soft-goods sales.

As we head into 2013, having your fitter out on the range with the latest and greatest driver offerings could really boost sales. All the new 2013 models feature adjustable lofts, so that makes fitting all the easier–and more interesting to the consumer. Now one driver can have up to 168 different combinations of specs, depending on the manufacturer. All a fitter need do is find that player the shaft that fits them most reliably. Next step is to watch the faces of golfers as they can adjust the loft from, say 8.5 degrees to 12.5 degrees. As the ball flight moves in the direction of what’s desired, customer satisfaction increases and so does the chance for higher revenues.

Creating a Practice Area that Simulates On-Course Scoring Shots

Hit ‘em with the range right as they arrive. That’s the tactic–intentional or not–built into the master plan of private Metedeconk National Golf Club in Jackson, N.J. The practice area altogether is 50 acres in size, consisting of multiple driving range locations, an uneven lies area, a short game area and a putting green. Recent renovations have made the practice facilities a golfer’s paradise.

“Because I wanted to simulate actual golf play for our members, we decided to add our short game area,” says John Rutecki, the facility’s PGA Head Professional. “First, we modified one of the three target greens to allow for multiple chipping stations, all with various options to help simulate missing a green on the golf course. This helps with the player’s understanding of different slopes and lies while chipping.” The next step was to use custom yardage tents on the short game area to mark different distances for chipping. These little tents get strategically positioned on the turf and stand out when people are using this area. They have a stencil that displays the yardage mark and it flashes so that everyone can see this easily. It’s something unique because most facilities don’t offer markers at 40, 60, and 80 yards out from the green.

The yardage tents have become an attraction, and many members seem to like to make a game out of hitting to them while preparing for their round, or just during their practice time. “I think having the ability to practice certain shots really helps with player development as well,” adds Rutecki. “It certainly adds to our already impressive practice facility and gives players some food for thought while working on their short game.”