Field Club of Omaha in Omaha, Neb. started offering complimentary golf lessons to golf members in 2020, and General Manager Greg Gilg says the program has provided “a real significant boon to our golf membership.” The move has accomplished the main goal of increasing golf memberships at the club: Before complimentary lessons were offered, Field Club had 272 golf members, but it now has 365, Gilg reports.
Clubs that want to boost their golf membership numbers may want to consider following in the footsteps of a Nebraska site.
Field Club of Omaha in Omaha, Neb. started offering complimentary golf lessons to golf members in 2020, and General Manager Greg Gilg says the program has provided “a real significant boon to our golf membership…Our membership loves [the program] and the usage continues to climb.”
Why was the initiative launched? While Field Club has a “very active” social membership, ”golf was always the one [membership category] that lagged,” Gilg notes. A few years ago, club leaders discussed what steps they could take to increase the number of golf members.
“We always really hovered around 300 [golf members],” Gilg says. “… We felt like if we could get to capacity [of about 350], you’re still mowing the greens the same amount, your maintenance budget might tick up a little bit with more rounds played, but you still have the same number of carts…you have the same number of golf professionals.”
With a course that measures 5,200 yards and a pace of play expectation of 3 1⁄2 hours for 18 holes, Gilg says he believed Field Club could attract some golfers at high-end public courses where it might take 5 1⁄2 or 6 hours to play 18.
He notes club staff felt, “If we can…give one more reason as to why they should join with us…maybe [complimentary lessons] could be it.”
When the program was launched in 2020, Gilg says he was aware of only one other club in the country offering complimentary lessons. Starting the program meant investing more in personnel.
“We increased the base salaries for each professional who had been giving lessons in prior seasons as a way to make up for the loss of income created by our strategic shift,” Gilg says. “…There was a slight increase in the golf shop staff budget above/beyond golf professional salaries as we added roughly 20 hours of golf shop staff per week to offset the number of hours our golf professionals spent giving lessons in lieu of working the golf shop counter.”
Giving lessons could be challenging at times. For one, Field Club does not have a full driving range; there is a teeing area where golfers can hit shots measuring 200 yards or less onto the 18th hole fairway. That spot can’t be used once golfers playing the course arrive at the 18th tee. To practice hitting woods, the instructors took members to the 7th hole tee box (a Par 5) and had them hit onto the fairway.
One-hour lessons were available with the Director of Instruction and Assistant Golf Professional Tuesday through Friday, and 15-minute lessons were offered on weekends, where instructors worked with members using hitting nets, the practice facility and launch monitors.
Club leaders also provided free lessons to draw more women and juniors to the game.
“We wanted to provide a resource… to just [say], ‘hey, get out there with your friends,” Gilg says. “Golf is so intimidating … it can be very frustrating. How can we help?’”
A look at the numbers shows the program has been successful. Before complimentary lessons were offered, Field Club had 272 golf members, but it now has 365, Gilg reports. Club instructors gave 473 complimentary and 29 paid lessons in 2020, 742 complimentary and 44 paid lessons in 2021, and 1,041 complimentary and 85 paid lessons in 2022.
The lessons are positively affecting members’ handicaps. Members who took three or more lessons saw their handicap decline by six strokes (more than 30%) from 2021 to 2022. Members who had one or two lessons saw their handicap drop by 1.4 strokes (nearly 5%) from 2021 to 2022. The average handicap of members who did not take a lesson increased by 1.7 strokes last year.
Another key metric that is being watched is pace of play.
There has not been a noticeable improvement in pace of play, but Gilg believes that’s due to total rounds increasing because of COVID and the overall rise in the number of members. Even so, he states, “Our hunch is [the lessons] help, but we do not have any data that backs that hunch.”
Offering complimentary lessons has also had a word-of-mouth impact among members.
“As you have more golf members…playing, and playing better, and speaking positively about the program…[the number of] social members becoming interested in golf has gone up,” Gilg says.
To that end, there has been an increase in the number of lessons taken by both golf and social members at the club.
While the program has attracted many beginners, Gilg says it’s “still a hurdle” to get novice players to become repeat customers. The most common type of player using the free lessons,
he adds, is the “bogey golfer” trying to lower their handicap to single digits.
This year, there will be a focus on clinics and small group lessons.
“Our get-golf-ready and intro to golf classes are getting a makeover,” says Gilg, who adds he will work with the new Director of Golf, Al Peterson III, to “see what tweaks he can bring…to take our programs to the next level.”
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