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August 1, 2014

Revamp Along the Pacific

Decision-makers at JC Golf saw revenue upside for the Encinitas Ranch practice center and put capital to good use on improvements that matter most to customers

BY: SCOTT KRAMER

San Diego has a coastal golf scene that attracts avid players from far and wide, in particular to U.S. Open site Torrey Pines. But travel north from Torrey about 10 miles and you’ll find another municipal gem, Encinitas Ranch Golf Course. This 16-year-old course, pride of the beach community of Encinitas, was designed with bold strokes by Cary Bickler. It lies about a mile inland but its vistas bring your gaze right back to the blue Pacific.

The entire facility recently underwent a $1 million-plus renovation, which included a substantial upgrade to the practice center. “Since opening in 1998, our range has always been a popular practice spot,” says Erik Johnson, general manager of the course, which is operated by JC Golf. “The ocean view and temperate climate make it an ideal place to hone your golf game—we just needed to bring out its best.”

In order to do just that and enhance the practice experience, JC Golf got busy on the natural-grass and synthetic-turf hitting surfaces, meanwhile creating target greens that visually pop and give a stronger impression to players on the tee. “Since the work was completed in October 2013, we’ve seen a steady increase in range revenues,” says Johnson. “We’re anticipating 20 percent growth in sales over the coming year.”

After 15 years as managers of the property, JC Golf saw its chance to elevate ERGC’s busy practice facility from good to great. By removing old range mats and replacing them with 300 feet of synthetic and durable Tee-Line Turf, they soon discovered that golfers no longer resisted coming out to hit buckets when the grass tee is closed. That’s likely because the sole of a golfer’s irons and utility clubs will ride through Tee-Line Turf in a manner that remarkably simulates the feel of natural turfgrass.

Through the long season, sections of that “real” grass and the Tee-Line Turf tee are open at alternate intervals, so as to distribute wear. Also added were seven hitting bays to the tee area, all-new bag stands, plus new signage and amenities. “These additions collectively make the entire facility very attractive, in line with the prestigious reputation of the course,” says Johnson. Even after the upgrade, the 350-yard, double-ended range appears to be washed out brown, for the most part, although highlighted by bright green targets. There are several reasons for the tawny appearance of the turf, including irrigation restrictions and sporadic drought. Johnson and his staff try to put a positive spin on the situation, touting to golfers that the new “native” look makes target greens stand out.

“We wanted to make the interior of the range more sustainable by removing all of the grass turf in the field of the range and only leaving turf on the nine new target greens,” he says. “This reduced water usage by over 80 percent while giving the player more definable targets to play to. A favorable side effect is that now the range is easier to maintain and easier to pick.” The back end of the Encinitas range is reserved for the JC Golf School, so it won’t have an impact on the public-use tee area along the opposite (South) end. The course’s nine PGA and LPGA instructors teach more than 1,500 lessons annually at the North end, which features a large putting green, a pitching green with two bunkers and a canopied hitting bay that’s equipped with swing training aids. There’s also a spacious grass tee box, augmented by a 30-foot Tee-Line Turf hitting area. Guests are shuttled by cart to and from the North end, where they can find four active instructors giving lessons at any given time.

That end of the range is also home to the course’s Junior Golf Academy, which emerged as one of the best in town back in the late 1990s, and continues in high regard. PGA director of instruction John Mason has coached and mentored junior golfers there tirelessly. Many of his current and former students have excelled at the high school and college levels. Encinitas Ranch plays host to the LPGA and USGA Girls Golf Program, as well as three high school and two middle school teams. The facility also just hired a certified professional clubfitter, Ken Behrs, who has been recognized as a PING Clubfitter of the Year for Southern California. “After our renovations to the range, we felt we had a great opportunity to increase the volume of club sales through custom-fitting while adding a valuable service to our guests,” says Johnson. “Many of our players may have met Ken previously at the very popular Carlsbad Golf Center or more recently at The Crosby Club in Rancho Santa Fe.”

Behrs is responsible for developing and building the new custom-club program, and he’s got the tools to do so. “We have recently acquired a FlightScope launch monitor that will work with our on-range fitting centers from Titleist, Taylor Made, Ping and Cobra,” says Johnson. The FlightScope will be linked to a portable media center set up at all times on the range. “Ken and several of our instructors who are also certified clubfitters will use it,” Johnson explains. “Up until now, most of our custom club sales have come from our independent instructors. While they’ve done a great job, we felt that now was the time to expand our presence and offerings.”

Encinitas Ranch also has plans to erect a 2,500- square-foot GolfTEC building between the clubhouse and putting green, to be open for business sometime this autumn. Because GolfTEC’s marketing programs are national and involve their clients being able to travel to many locations to receive instruction, Johnson feels his instructors won’t be impacted by having GolfTEC on site. “Bringing GolfTEC to a green-grass location can only be mutually beneficial, as it draws their client base to Encinitas Ranch and gives them an opportunity to hone their skills on a great practice facility,” says Johnson. In other words, promote game-improvement from all logical angles and build your overall business by helping average golfers hit better shots and shoot lower scores.