SUMMING IT UP
• Indoor and outdoor golf practice facilities help grow the game, attract members and increase business in other parts of a property’s operations.
Skeptics might argue that playing a flawless round of golf is an unattainable goal. However, some dedicated weekend warriors do their best to dispel that notion—or at least try to bump their abilities up to the next level.
More and more properties are accommodating these types of members with state-of-the-art practice facilities—indoor and outdoor—that offer services ranging from private lessons to a detailed swing analysis to a 10-minute tune-up.
And providing these amenities does more than help to grow the game—it also benefits their properties’ entire operations.
The Great Indoors
In 2003, Wentworth By The Sea, a private facility in Rye, N.H., added an Indoor Sports Center that includes four tennis courts, a fitness center and a golf practice facility.
“The use of the Sports Center has increased every year because our membership has increased every year,” notes General Manager Bob Diodati. “The 12-month access makes us especially attractive to potential members, while keeping our current membership levels strong.”
The sports center’s golf practice facilities include five hitting stations, a chipping station and a putting green with undulations. Members enjoy unrestricted use of the facility, and Diodati says the practice area brings new golfers, particularly women, to the game.
“It’s a good way to introduce players to the game in a quiet, private environment, and it is handy for the avid golfer to tune up before going on a golf trip,” reports Diodati.
Wentworth By The Sea offers private lessons as well as free and paid clinics that include chipping, putting and full swing stations. The lounge area prompts spontaneous practice sessions when golfers challenge each other to putting contests while they watch golf on TV, Diodati notes.
The property also has an outdoor range where golfers can hit balls off a natural tee surface or off of mats in inclement weather.
Similarly, Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, offers an indoor practice facility where golfers hit balls onto the driving range from four heated bays (see photo below).
“One side is used for lessons, and the two spaces on the other side are for member usage at all times,” says General Manager Greg Wolf.
Scioto’s driving range, where golfers hit balls from both ends, includes four short-game areas with bunkers. The property also added an outdoor tent, which is warmed by heaters, a year ago.
“They just want to hit balls, whether they’re working on a swing change or taking a trip in a couple of weeks,” notes Wolf. Members can schedule a winter practice time online just like they reserve their tee times, he adds.
The covered areas—which, not surprisingly, receive most of their use in the winter—give golfers a chance to work on their games year-round. “As long as you can keep the wind off of them, they’d rather be outside,” Wolf adds.
Even practice facilities in warmer climates have gone indoors.Idle Hour Golf Club, in Macon, Ga., opened a 4,000-sq.-ft. Learning Center in 2004 as part of its 10-year plan. The facility includes three heated bays where golfers hit balls to the outside driving range, a lounge that offers space for classroom-type instruction, the latest technological teaching tools, and a complete club repair shop.
“These types of places are gaining more popularity around some of the nicer clubs in the country,” notes Neal Johnson, the Learning Center Director. “It’s a big part of our golf operations. We make it fun for the members. We always have different things going on.”
The Learning Center was a natural addition to Idle Hour because it is an instruction-oriented facility, Johnson notes. The outdoor practice amenities include a complete short-game area, a practice bunker with a bentgrass putting green that matches those on the club’s 18-hole course, and a six-hole, par-3 course.
A facility where golfers can hit balls from indoor bays to the range is also in the works at White Columns Country Club in Alpharetta, Ga. Cody Barden, the PGA Director of Instruction at White Columns, says the property hopes to break ground on the building in the first quarter of the year.
In the meantime, he and his staff stay busy working with golfers outdoors on a double-ended range, a complete short-game practice area, and two putting greens.
“I like being able to practice all aspects of my game—putting, chipping, wedges, bunkers, the long game,” notes Barden. “And it’s big enough so members and guests can spread out.”
At Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club in Palo Alto, Calif., two of the 17 driving range stalls are under a permanent structure, with flaps that can be lowered so golfers can hit balls in rainy weather.
Tracy Stansberry, the Head Golf Professional at Palo Alto Hills, finds that the practice facility helps to draw new members, particularly beginning golfers.
“They don’t want to have to go somewhere else to hit balls,” he explains, noting that the practice facilities also boast a chipping and putting area with a 40-yard-long green and two practice bunkers. The chipping area includes a number of mounds, to imitate the layout of the club’s hilly 18-hole course.
Palo Alto Hills also plans to lengthen its 270-yard-long driving range by about 30 yards in the spring, says Stansberry, to give golfers more opportunities to hit practice balls from the grass.And another building might be added on the far end of the range, he reports, to create additional space for more lessons and equipment sales.
Stansberry says families frequently practice together, and he notes that they often eat at the outdoor canteen after a session. Traffic at Wentworth By The Sea’s indoor center often spills over into the food and beverage operations as well. “We stay active 12 months a year, and that also drives dining room business,” notes Diodati.
White Columns’ Barden, in fact, says the ancillary benefits of good golf practice facilities go across the board.
“Our club is really holding its own in a very difficult economy,” he reports. “The instruction [component] has a number of residual benefits to the club: it drives rounds of golf, it drives merchandise sales, and it drives food and beverage sales, because kids [who come for lessons] hang out at the club all day long, all summer long.
“And it certainly drives membership sales, too,” adds Barden, the 2008 Georgia PGA Teacher of the Year. He calls his White Columns teaching staff the “Pied Pipers of the facility,” and confirms that first-rate practice amenities are critical to attracting new members.
However, he adds, it is just as important for the instructors to be accessible to the membership. “Members will go wherever they need to go to get instruction,” he explains.
Some properties also provide golfing benefits for everyone in the family.
“We’re a family-oriented club,” Diodati says. “In this day and age, you have to be.”
Wentworth By The Sea offers golf clinics for the general membership, juniors and women. Many of the ladies’ clinics are held in the early evening, notes Diodati, and the women “stay and have supper together at the main clubhouse.”
The fitness center also includes golf-specific Pilates and yoga classes that strengthen muscles and mechanics needed for the game. These classes are particularly popular among the older members, Diodati says.
Idle Hour offers seniors clinics, a weekly beginners’ clinic for ladies, and couples’ play days. The par-3 course gives devoted golfers a place to fine-tune their skills, and keeps children interested in the game.
White Columns features year-round programs for men, women, children and seniors. Golfers use the practice facilities to try to improve their games, notes Barden, whether they are trying to lower their handicaps or become good enough to get out on the course. “A lot of players like to work on their games in the off-season,” he adds, “because they want to be ready to go come springtime.”
The future of golf lies with the younger generation—and from summer camps to designated areas for juniors, many properties now see catering to up-and-coming golfers as a key component of their strategy for growing the game.
“Junior golf has enabled us to continue to sell memberships and to have members who frequent our facility,” says Barden.
White Columns is a U.S. Kids Golf facility, which features a kid-friendly course set-up with two sets of tees on each hole, junior tournaments, and three levels of instruction that build on each other.
“They would not have found the game if they hadn’t found it on the practice area,” Barden says of the 100 or so juniors in the program. “It’s not the sort of game that you can learn by going out and hitting a ball. You have to learn the rules.
“Going to the practice area is so critical for new players,” he adds. “That’s where they learn the game. That’s where they have access to professionals to ask questions.”
The outdoor range at Scioto includes a junior area where children under age 12 can hit balls off of Astroturf, and a grass section for 12- to 16-year-olds. The property also offers a two-week summer camp for juniors as well.
The junior program at Palo Alto Hills, which runs from April to October, boasts 120 participants. While some children take private lessons, most take weekly lessons in classes of six aspiring golfers.
Idle Hour has a Wall of Fame to honor its junior golfers who have found success on the golf course, from earning college scholarships to winning amateur championships.
The club’s summer camp attracts 80 to 90 children, and in the fall it started a junior academy featuring weekly, 90-minute instruction sessions.
“We get so many kids, but we only have so many instructors,” Johnson notes. Lessons are given to children as young as 4 or 5 years old, individually or in pairs.
“Ultimately, we want them to come back and join the club where their parents were members, because they love to play the game,” says Johnson.
Supply and Demand
Golf property personnel agree that their practice facilities provide a commodity that members want and expect.
Many vintage properties such as Scioto, which was built in 1916, did not originally have these amenities, Wolf notes. He praises the club’s founders for having the foresight to leave ample space to accommodate the tune-up areas, which were added gradually through the years. “We’re just reacting to what our members expect,” he says.
Diodati agrees, adding that the sports center at Wentworth by the Sea was built “to give more value to our members and to retain them.”
At Idle Hour, says Johnson, “The biggest advantage for the club is to be able to take care of our members. We have some avid golfers, and we want them to have the best facility they can have.”
However, notes Barden, properties sometimes overlook one key to success that top-notch practice facilities and instructional programs can unlock. “The missing link in everything is that facilities can promote great amenities like a lush, green golf course,” he says. “But they miss the boat if (members) don’t know how to use it.” C&RB
Getting in the Swing
State-of-the-art equipment allows golfers to rely on more than a bucket of balls—or a roof over their heads—to fine-tune their games. Many teaching professionals supplement their expertise with modern technological tools.The three teaching pros at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club in Palo Alto, Calif., offer video lessons, and the equipment at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, includes cameras with computers and launch monitors.
The cameras, which allow members to compare their swings to those of the top pros, are in fixed positions inside the indoor practice area.
“Because the cameras never move, if a person takes a lesson today, two months from now they’ll be recorded in the same position,” notes Wolf.
The Learning Center at Idle Hour Golf Club in Macon, Ga., features a training room that includes two digital video stations and launch monitors. The instructors use the video equipment to analyze golf swings.
“We can burn a CD with their swing and our voice on that disc, and they can take that lesson home with them,” explains Neal Johnson, the Learning Center Director.
The launch monitors gather vital statistics about a golf shot, including club head speed, ball velocity, launch angle, ball spin, distance and power transfer ratio.
“It reads the spin and launch angle of a golf ball and helps us find a better ball flight that’s going to be suitable for that particular golfer when we’re fitting for a particular golf club,” notes Johnson.
Idle Hour’s full-service repair shop allows members to have their clubs altered or custom-fit on site as well.
“We work on any aspect of their game anytime. Members don’t have to go anywhere else,” Johnson says.
White Columns Country Club in Alpharetta, Ga., has a video analysis system that allows students to view their swings frame-by-frame on a split screen alongside the swings of professional golfers (see photo, above).
“It makes coaching the visual learner much, much easier,” explains Cody Barden, the PGA Director of Instruction at White Columns. “The top players demand it, and the kids love it. They’re great imitators.”