By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
The importance of junior golf in today’s industry is a topic frequently discussed among its professionals. Clubs across the country engage their youngest golfers in a myriad of ways, from instruction to competition to special events, hoping to instill a love of the game for a lifetime of play. The Royal Club, in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, offers a pristine 18-hole championship golf course – nothing unusual you might say. But this club gets its name from its course designers – Annika Sörenstam, designer of the front nine, known as the Queen’s Nine and Arnold Palmer, designer of the back nine, affectionately called the King’s Nine. The project was Annika’s first in the U.S. and the last of Arnie’s storied career.
Currently in phase two of a four-phase plan, The Royal Club welcomes public play, currently encompassing about 80 percent of its rounds, as well as a membership base of about 100. PGA Head Professional, Kent Blaschko spoke glowingly of the facility’s ownership team, including Principal Partner, Hollis Cavner, CEO of Prolinks Sports (www.prolinkssports.com). “We’ve got a great ownership base – five partners, really great guys with the same vision. They just want Royal Golf Club to be top-notch.”
Junior golf is held in high regard at this budding golf facility. The management team and PGA Professionals understand that their youngest players are the future of their business, and catering to them today will pay dividends for years to come, as well as grow the game of golf, which every golf professional vows to do. Palmer was adamant about creating a space for junior golfers; he wanted to build a short course where money and equipment were not barriers preventing kids from playing golf.
As a result of this vision, the Royal Golf Club boasts a six-hole layout called The Short Course, sporting holes from 34-98 yards long, ideal for the young golfers its staff is striving to introduce to the game. Each of the six holes is mirrored after a famous golf hole from courses such as St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Pine Valley, Whistling Straits, Augusta National, and Oakmont. Whether used as a child’s first course or for junior golf instruction, the value the Short Course brings to their clientele is immeasurable. “You can’t replace on-course experience,” says Brandon Sigette, the club’s Director of Instruction. Sigette says they get kids on the course as young as four years old and he starts instruction as young as three years of age.
The Short Course has synthetic tee boxes and bent grass greens, allowing players to experience what it’s like to putt on the same surface as the “grown-ups”. Kids under the age of eighteen play the Short Course at no charge and adults accompanying them are asked to pay a $10 donation that goes to purchasing new U.S. Kids equipment that youth golfers can use at no cost if they do not have clubs of their own.
Blaschko employs a starter for the Short Course during peak times to ensure kids get off the first tee appropriately, while also monitoring behavior throughout their rounds. “We don’t get a lot of horseplay,” he commented, “but kids are kids.” There are no tee times required – junior golfers just have to register in the golf shop. Blaschko says that anyone under the age of thirteen should be accompanied by an adult. “But other than that, we want kids to access the course seven days a week,” the head professional stated. The greens and fairways are overseen by the facility’s superintendent, Mike Sonnek, “one of the best in the country”, according to Blaschko, and they are maintained to the same standard as the championship layout and magnificent practice facility.
Speaking of the club’s practice areas, they are a vital component of a junior golfer’s progression and an increasingly effective selling point when it comes to club memberships. There are bent-grass targets for golfers to hit towards in their warm-up and practice on the range. The all-grass hitting area is open 99 percent of the time, according to Blaschko, with a series of hitting mats behind the grass area when weather requires the move to the artificial hitting surfaces. “We currently use a golf ball machine that takes credit cards so they don’t have to come to the clubhouse. We also sell an annual range plan which comes with a key fob so they can just tap the machine and it will dispense the range balls.” Both of these innovative methods of conducting their range business are wise in 2020 and adhere to CDC protocols in this time of pandemic.
Blaschko highlighted the fun atmosphere on the range that engages members and public players – light music is piped through the practice facility and the Short Course to add to the social and jovial environment that the owners and staff strive to provide every day.
“We have a huge putting green behind the clubhouse overlooking a hundred-acre lake that is just beautiful. Then there’s a short game green with bunkers just below that,” Blaschko highlighted.
“Brandon Sigette runs our entire junior program, an extensive program with a big following,” Blaschko boasted. Sigette offers an array of junior programming for kids from three years old through high school. Even amid COVID, Sigette was able to provide a variety of secure options for his junior golfers to get out of the house and onto the course, enjoying the great outdoors with friends and fellow-golfers. Sigette reduced his class sizes to adhere to required safety measures and divided the kids into pods that would keep each student among his or her small group throughout the sessions. Sigette spoke of the initial challenges that COVID presented, and how they found success through teamwork and communication, staying abreast of the latest news, as well as required steps to take. Golf being an outdoor sport didn’t hurt either, as he made sure his students had “freedom to roam” on the prized Short Course.
Most facilities implement their own version of a junior program, and some are more effective than others. Having a course geared towards kids and a highly-skilled professional staff like the one Blaschko and Sigette employ, adds value to the growing clientele and membership that this young Minnesota golf club is attracting. As I learned all about The Royal Club, I couldn’t help but think of the pride that Arnie would feel knowing that the future of golf in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is being buoyed by his creation in Lake Elmo.
For more information about The Royal Club, log on to www.royalclubmn.com.
Follow The Royal Club on Instagram & Twitter @RoyalGolfClubMN.