Finely tuned golf instruction facilities can help properties expand their golf programs and add value to memberships.
By Diana Mirel, Contributing Editor
In today’s unpredictable market, clubs and resorts are seeking to differentiate themselves. Many properties are gaining an undeniable edge by taking their golf programs a step further with comprehensive instructional facilities.
Advanced technology paired with a more golf-savvy clientele has pushed clubs to invest in state-of-the-art equipment and technology. Designing facilities to house these services starts with creating an accessible and comfortable setting for both new and experienced golfers to work on their games.
SUMMING IT UP
- Golf instruction spaces can help boost the golf program and increase club usage as a whole.
- Advanced technology can attract the next generation of golfers while offering something new to existing players.
- Service and expertise are a must for instructional facilities to thrive.
In April 2012, Canongate Golf partnered with Nike to launch the Nike 360 Golf Fitting Center at Bentwater Golf Club in Acworth, Ga. The goal for the center was to improve and expand Bentwater GC’s golf program, while also boosting club usage.
“We wanted to give our members an experience that was second to none from a club-fitting standpoint,” says Scott Szymoniak, Director of Player Development. “Also, if we can get members into the facility to use the technology and create relationships with our staff, they will be enticed to play here more often and come to the club more often.”
Located on the driving range, the Nike 360 Golf Fitting Center is a 520-sq. ft. facility that is used to house the club’s sales center. Today, the facility boasts a 400-sq. ft. multipurpose fitting and instruction space that also houses club repair, restrooms, offices and storage. In addition to club fitting, the facility offers club adjustment and repair, golf instruction, short-game instruction, swing analysis and putting analysis.
“The key in the building design was for it to be multi-functional,” says Szymoniak. To do this, all of the equipment and technology is on wheels. A 10-by-12 roll-up door on one side of the building opens onto the driving range, allowing members to hit from the inside and still see their ball in full outdoor flight.
“Keeping the door open also allows people to see into the fitting center, and it draws a lot of people to come check it out,” says Szymoniak.
The center’s design theme is modern, with a black-and-white color scheme. The walls are painted a cream tone, and all of the murals are black-and-white photographs. A comfortable sitting area in one corner offers modern white chairs, a flat-screen television, and a cooler with beverages and healthy snacks.
In addition to fluorescent overhead lighting, studio back-lighting ensures that the staff and members can see video clearly, even with natural light coming through the open door. The floor of the fitting center has artificial turf that is conducive for putting.
“We can do a SAM putt lab, or we can bring some kids in for a putting contest,” says Szymoniak.
Since its opening, the fitting center has been a success. In the first three months, retail sales were 50% higher than the same period last year. It has also helped to sell more memberships.
“The biggest thing is that it’s helped us get deeper into the families of our members. We’re seeing the whole family come out now,” says Szymoniak. “That means more rounds played and more activity at the club. The more people we have playing golf in the family, the less likely they will be to leave the club. We’ve been able to engage the membership on a deeper level.”
To provide members and guests with the ultimate golf experience, the Palm Desert Golf Academy at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Calif., provides video swing analysis, golf fitness evaluations, swing instruction, club fitting and repair, and group clinics.
The 1,700-sq. ft. building houses a members’ lounge and also has a classroom for golf clinics, a club fitting workshop, a pro shop, a video analysis room, restrooms and offices. Upon entering the academy, guests are welcomed by a check-in counter and a seating area with leather chairs and a table. While the décor is kept to a minimum, the academy has a very “golfy” feel, according to Paul Bucy, Director of Instruction. “The facility is all about instruction,” Bucy says.
The club transformed its former bag storage room into a winter golf oasis. The bags were moved to a compact storage space in the back of the room behind a secure chain-link fence, while the remainder of the space houses two golf simulators, high-top tables and chairs, and an honor bar.
The maintenance and golf staffs kept the design theme simple, with a black-and-white color scheme and clean lines. Old carpeting was replaced with black and gray striped carpet squares. The staff then repainted the walls and ceiling an off-white shade, updated the lighting and added curtains. Additionally, all of the windows were replaced with new seals and insulated, to allow better climate control in the room.
Six bar stools were set up around two laminate bar tables covered in spandex bistro table covers, and two refrigerators were stocked with an honor bar containing high-end beers, minibar-sized spirits, Gatorade, water and soda.
The final touch was a new keyless entry system that allows members to access the simulators anytime between 5:30 a.m. and midnight.
The club surpassed its goal for the program in the first year. “We wanted a total of 50 people to sign up,” says the club’s Golf Professional, Tom McCann. “We ended up with a combination of 71 individuals and families, with 26 families and 45 individuals signing up.”
It has been a financial success as well. “We invested $20,000 for the simulators and about $4,000 for the renovations,” says McCann. “Our goal was to recoup 50%-60% of that in the first year and have it paid for in the first two years. We ended up recouping $21,000 this first year; next year will be almost all profit.”
Additionally, the club saw a surge in club usage during its traditionally slow winter season. “Members came to play the simulators and would drink at the honor bar,” McCann says. “Then they ended up staying at the club for lunch or dinner.”
The pro shop sets the tone with merchandise on the walls and displays of putters, golf bags and other gear, while fitting equipment and teaching aides are set up throughout the facility. There is also a custom wedge-fitting area.
“It is like what you would see on the tour. I can build the wedges right there with the loft/lie machine,” says Bucy.
The academy is also used for golf events and functions, hosting from 10 to 15 small corporate events/clinics per year. The academy recently hosted an event for about 20 people from Charles Schwab. The staff did a presentation with breakfast in the morning, and then offered a two-hour golf school with swing analysis and putting.
Bucy credits the academy’s success to the staff’s commitment to service. “It’s all about the service,” he says. “We charge for fittings, but people are willing to pay because we give the best service when it comes to teaching and club fitting. I have been teaching for 17 years. You don’t get that at a big box store. It is a different level of expertise.”
One of the biggest draws in golf instruction facilities is cutting-edge technology. The Golf Performance Center (GPC) at St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., is a state-of-the-art facility that features an indoor hitting bay, private practice area, a covered patio with a complimentary beverage station, V1 Digital Coaching System, FlightScope Launch Monitor and Callaway Golf club fitting.
The idea for the GPC came after the club hosted a Grow Golf Forum, which revealed a need to foster interest in golf by embracing technology, to engage a younger generation and at the same time enhance the interest of veteran players with new methods and techniques.
“By bringing in V1 video analysis, we protect our current member golf program, while appealing to a younger generation,” says Kristen Pfeifer, Director of Communications & Member Services.
The GPC is a 1,100-sq. ft. facility located next to the driving range, practice greens and chipping green. The facility looks like an oversized two-car garage, with a large door that opens to the driving range (see photo, pg. 22). A small office and fitting center are in the back.
Of course, it’s the technology that continues to attract players. According to Pfeifer, the V1 Digital Coaching System is the top draw because members enjoy the interactive capabilities. “Members are able to view their lessons at home or on their smartphones,” says Pfeifer. “They love to show their highlights to friends and families, which in turn encourages more people to take lessons to improve their game.
“Many people are intimidated about starting to play golf if they have never picked up a club,” Pfeifer adds. “With the GPC, they have a place they can really get involved in the lesson and see how the professional golfers stand, swing and follow through in a frame-by-frame sequence.
“They can then overlay their own swing and see where the differences lie, and from there, begin working on improvements,” she says. “We are seeing an increase in enjoyment of the game as our members utilize our golf instructional facilities.”