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October 1, 2019

The GRAA Test Lab at Independence Golf Club

Growing the Game through Collaboration, Innovation, & Fun

BY: VINNIE MANGINELLI, PGA
PHOTOS BY KATRINA BOONE OF GIANNA GRACE PHOTOGRAPHY

Giff Breed, the Co-Owner/Operator of Independence Golf Club, in Richmond, Virginia, is a shining example of trying new things to promote the fun experiences that new and existing golfers can have playing the game of golf.

The Golf Range Association of America (GRAA) understands that golf is an entertainment industry as much as it is sports and recreation. As such, it strives to seek out the most successful providers of that enjoyment and emulate those efforts throughout the industry, as well as deliver information and data to help achieve such goals across the industry.

With that said, the collaborative efforts of the GRAA and Independence Golf Club to form the GRAA Test Lab makes perfect sense.

Believing that facilities can (and should) drive revenues via their range through more than just range ball sales, Breed uses his 11-acre space as an experimental entertainment center to engage customers through non-traditional methods, such as having a regulation football goal post to which golfers can take aim.

“An unintended benefit of putting a goal post in the middle of the range is everybody tries to hit it. All the balls are more centered in the range, so picking the range has become more efficient,” Breed says.

Furthermore, he promotes fun events like a home run derby, skills competitions, clinics and even live music while customers practice and socialize with family and friends over food and drink.

Partnering with golf industry professionals like Breed, the GRAA is committed to growing the game of golf through a platform of core principles, operating on the idea that golf should be a fun experience for players of all skill levels.

Of course, not everything attempted will be universally successful, but the promotions and attractions that are popular at one facility can be refined or adapted as needed to engage the clientele at another golf range or course.

“We have to figure out other ways to drive revenue through this asset. We have 11 acres in the middle of our property that is the golf range, and if we think that we’re going to get a return by just hitting range balls, I think we’re mistaken,” says Breed. “We have to say, what else can we do? We just have to figure out how that asset gins up more money. What works in Richmond is not going to work in Albuquerque, but the experimenting and sharing of ideas is vital for golf operations everywhere.”

The sharing of best practices, which takes place through the GRAA, PGA of America, GCSAA as well as other leading associations and outlets, is critical to the success of the industry. The GRAA Test Lab serves as a tool to help Independence Golf Club, as well as facilities across the country, achieve the goal of growing revenue through an enhanced range experience.

A key element of the Lab is product testing, as Breed collaborates with GRAA partners such as Orange Whip and ToughLie 360, showcasing their products and enabling customers to experience the various training aids firsthand. He looks forward to lighting the facility and increasing customer-engagement with an additional assortment of creative targets, as well as BBQs and beer tastings held in partnership with various local breweries.

In addition to testing new products and hosting special events, Breed considers the alternative uses that may also drive revenue, such as lacrosse, football games, or even a Girl Scouts campout to name just a few. The broadness and scope of ideas Breed discusses should motivate all range operators to forge those vital relationships, while considering new ideas to engage customers at their own facilities.

Independence Golf Club also maintains a tour truck on its grounds where custom clubfitter Andrew Hodson, a top 20 Callaway Golf clubfitter, sets up shop to service the members and guests of Independence Golf Club. Having a clubfitter of Hodson’s status elevates the service provided and enables the facility to become a destination location for custom fitting services and new club sales. Breed is in talks with a leading grip company to create a custom grip fitting experience, as well.

The goals behind the GRAA’s partnership with Breed and the facility he owns with his brother, Alan, are coming to fruition. Breed’s focus goes beyond just taking greens fees or money for range balls; he is creating a full customer experience for everyone who comes to his facility, leaving them anticipating their next visit. His ingenuity, combined with the innovation and expertise of the GRAA, is producing a model by which golf ranges nationwide can follow, or adapt to fit their own infrastructure and customer base.

Breed often talks about the demographics of the sport, referencing the great majority of private club members being 50-years-old or above. He highlights the importance of the game getting younger and stresses not only the methods implemented at Independence, but encourages golf course owners, GMs and PGA Professionals to think outside the box to attract a new generation of golfer, one who might want music or Bluetooth capabilities in a golf car, online shopping opportunities for their golf apparel and accessories, or even the occasional game of Foot Golf.

Driving revenue even further, Breed maintains a Tom Fazio-designed nine-hole short course that is welcoming to young golfers, but also offers a fun challenge to his core players who are in the mood for something different.

Further highlighting his collaborative efforts, the nine greens on the short course also support agricultural research conducted by Virginia Tech.

Of the nine greens, seven different grasses are represented, allowing upwards of 100 experiments or more to be facilitated. This is an important aspect of the game that most golfers don’t consider, but can learn about by playing Breed’s short course. He has plans to use the course to provide special wedge fittings, adding yet another revenue source for his business.

Finally, Breed has another brother – Michael Breed is one of the leading golf instructors in the country and the host of “A New Breed of Golf” on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio. Giff has welcomed Michael to the facility on a few occasions, and hosts a high school tournament that bears his name.

Through the collaborative efforts between Breed and the GRAA, a model is being formed for growth of the game and increased revenues at golf ranges nationwide. Breed admits that they “haven’t (necessarily) figured it out”, but by focusing on value, rather than price, and maintaining partnerships with an array of vendors within the industry, they are ensuring cutting edge opportunities for their customers and a new experience every time they visit Independence Golf Club and the GRAA Test Lab.