Whether they’re used to conduct lessons, fit golfers for new equipment or just to provide pure entertainment, clubs are dedicating more space for indoor simulators that are also proving to be invaluable for member retention and recruitment.
In step with the boost in golf rounds that the pandemic has brought them this year, clubs are also investing major dollars and dedicating valuable space to new or upgraded golf tech centers. As a result, data that was once only available to major equipment manufacturers and touring professionals is now also at the fingertips of club pros and their members.
At The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. a retrofitted space that was originally used for member workouts is now The Performance Center and has become a golf training, fitting and “enjoyment center,” according to Scott Heyn, PGA, General Manager/Chief Operating Officer.
The space, approximately 1,000 sq. ft. with a 12-foot ceiling, is in the clubhouse next to the Golf Shop, located near the driving range and the putting green.
The Farms uses a Foresight “Hawk” system and GCQuad monitors. “We also use Swing Catalyst, which works in conjunction with the Foresight technology, to add swing and motions data,” Heyn says.
The Farms’ Performance Director—Kyle Mendoza, PGA—has been certified through Foresight and Swing Catalyst, and also continues education through the club’s online training programs.
Also in Santa Fe, The Bridges unveiled the 2,700-sq. ft. Richard C. Helmstetter Performance Centre earlier this year. With two hitting bays—one that opens out to the driving range and the other featuring a Full Swing simulator—Matt Kilgariff, Director of Player Development, and the golf staff at The Bridges can now offer enhanced instruction, as well as state-of-the-art club fitting to its members. Swing Catalyst, a Virtual Green with PuttView, and Blast Motion are just a few of the additional bells and whistles offered at the club. A stocked bar and games such as Zombie Tag on the simulator offer entertainment options for golfers and non-golfers alike.
Members are able to reserve the facility for private, corporate or social events. If Kilgariff conducts lessons as part of the event, The Bridges team can provide video analysis to those who participate—complete with the corporate logo at the beginning and end to serve as a reminder of the host.
Carl Hetterle, PGA Head Professional of Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club in Blaine, Wash., utilizes a space just outside the pro shop, which was originally used as the club’s bag storage room. Like The Farms, the space is roughly 1,000 sq ft. and only utilized for the golf simulator.
“The Eagle’s Nest” was built out in the spring of 2019, Hetterle says. The simulator was originally located at the resort, located about 3.5 miles from the golf course, and operated out of the property’s spa.
“When I was hired at Semiahmoo, it was one of my first initiatives to relocate the simulator to the golf club where the golf pros could best utilize the equipment and create a great experience for members and guests,” Hetterle says.
The total buildout cost to remodel the former bag storage room and move the equipment to the golf club was around $3,500. “In one year since our opening of The Eagles Nest, we recouped those expenses through the rental fees,” Hetterle says.
Hetterle uses Flightscope technology in The Eagle’s Nest, but is no stranger to all that’s now on the market. “With nearly 10 years of experience in the industry, I have used most types of launch monitors, including Foresight, Flightscope and Trackman,” he says. “Utilizing this experience with these platforms, I have performed 1,000-plus fittings and hundreds of golf lessons.”
Having a dedicated space is nice, but not always needed. At Westwood Country Club in Rocky River, Ohio, the tech center shares its footprint half the year.
“The building we use doubles as our caddie house in the summertime,” says John Sico, PGA, Director of Golf. “Although it would be ideal to have use of the simulator for all 12 months, right now we only use it seven months out of the year.”
The space’s footprint is 30 feet deep and 22 feet wide with a 12-foot ceiling, and is located unattached, about 500 feet away from the main clubhouse next to Westwood’s tennis facility. Members enter using a key card that also accesses the fitness facility.
Sico utilizes two different platforms—TruGolf E6 Connect for members to play on courses or practice at the virtual driving range, and Trackman for teaching and club fitting.
“The simulator is very popular and often requires reservations at least a week in advance to secure time,” he says. “It definitely comes in handy over the winter months, when we offer demo nights from different manufacturers.
“New equipment comes out in January, February and March and the weather doesn’t allow us to get outside at that time,” he adds, “so we use simulator fitting nights to perk up sales during the offseason.”
The Eagle’s Nest at Semiahmoo has bar seating and two large chairs for guests to comfortably enjoy food and drink while using the simulator.
“Our first year, we saw growth in F&B from use of the simulator especially on days with rain, snow or frost in the forecast,” says Hetterle. “My best estimate was in that same year we generated an additional $1,500 to $2,000 in F&B.”
A limited menu is offered at Westwood, with orders called in to the club’s grill room. Someone from valet or the golf staff delivers orders to the simulator, Sico says.
“Because our simulator isn’t connected to the clubhouse, it doesn’t affect our F&B numbers as much as we would like, but enough to keep offering it,” he adds.
The bigger potential payoff comes from the draw that the technology can have for member retention or recruitment, especially with the surge of interest among new or returning golfers that many clubs have seen.
Northeast Ohio clubs experience some brutal and unpredictable weather during their long offseason, and Sico says quite a few “regular foursomes” have booked Westwood’s tech center on a weekly basis. The addition of the simulator technology has been invaluable in not only keeping his members content, but also attracting new members, he says.
“Having a golf option in the winter months keeps our members engaged and coming to the club and thinking golf all 12 months,” he notes. “The more options we have for them, especially in the offseason, cuts the edge off members who think they are paying dues at a time where there’s nothing available to do at the club. This correlates with member retention and is a fun mention in recruitment.”
A little more than an hour away from Westwood, Mark Petzing, CCM, CCE, General Manager/Chief Operating Officer of The Kirtland Country Club in Willoughby, Ohio, has just about wrapped up construction of a facility dedicated to game improvement.
At almost 1,600 sq. ft., the structure sits on the far end of the driving range and contains two hitting bays—one with Trackman technology. It was paid for entirely through member donations.
Like many clubs in the north, quite a few of Kirtland’s members travel south for the winter, but there are many who remain in Ohio. Petzing also sees the facility as another reason for his dedicated golfers to use the club year-round.
At Semiahmoo G&CC, Hetterle says the club’s new golf equipment makes his facilities stronger in attracting new membership and adding membership value. “Members love to use it during the winter months to congregate, socialize and enjoy being able to improve their golf games,” he says.
For Kilgariff, the Performance Centre has been a strong addition to both recruitment and retention.
“On the recruitment side, when someone comes and visits the club, they see something [special] the club has to offer,” he says. “We’re able to develop a great teaching program and have the amenities to support that program.”
The Farms’ Heyn points to Bryson DeChambeau’s win at the U.S. Open as validation of the statistics his members are gaining. “Members have really been enjoying learning about the data of golf and how they can interpret the information,” he says. “This kind of data was never available to our members before.”
Ryan Dotters, CEO of Full Swing, has equipped clubs, resorts and Tour professionals with simulator technology across the country. “We know that all clubs are looking for ways to keep members and guests happy and on property longer, more often and year-round, while feeling like there is something new for them and their families to enjoy,” he says.
“Whether the goal was revenue generation, member retention or [to provide] a resort guest amenity to stand out, every installation has surpassed expectations and [the club properties] have seen increases in food and beverage across the board,” Dotters adds. “[The simulators provide] a new reason to be in the clubhouse with friends for hours, and it’s a new way to provide family entertainment—while the kids play golf or one of the multisport options, parents can enjoy a drink or a nice meal.”
Managing the Cost
Budgets for tech centers vary wildly, just like any other aspect of operating a golf course. But there are ways for all clubs, and not just the lucky few with “unlimited” funds, to be able to provide Tour-level statistics for their members.
Paul Calabrase, National Sales Manager for SkyTrak, understands that many clubs can’t afford a comprehensive, dedicated training facility.
“We help a lot of clubs in this scenario,” Calabrase says. “All you need is the SkyTrak Launch Monitor, a hitting mat and net. This can start as low as $3,000 if you already have a computer or iPad. From there, we see accounts upgrade to better mats, add a TV or even add a simulation cage for projection.”
The SkyTrak app gives professionals the driving range with shot tracer, launch angle, back spin, ball speed, side spin, side angle and more. It allows the club or instructor the ability to instruct, fit or give customers the ability to hit balls indoors.
Ryan Dotters, CEO of Full Swing, has equipped major champions like Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day with simulators in their homes, and many more clubs across the country with high-tech packages. With simulators starting at $39,900 and going up from there, Full Swing is a leader in the industry.
Summing It Up
- Whether starting from scratch to create a dedicated space or retrofitting an area shared with another use, more clubs are introducing golf tech centers to their properties.
- Tech centers can generate golf-related revenue in a variety of ways, including instruction, club fitting and rentals for recreational use.
- Added food-and-beverage sales can be generated by providing even a limited menu in conjunction with tech centers, and the amenity has also proved to help boost membership interest and year-round usage of the club.