When Mark Bado was a kid, the video game “Pong” was all the rage—but it still wasn’t enough to turn Bado and his friends into coach potatoes for hours at a time. “We were always outside, even if it was just to play ‘kick the can,’ ” recalls Bado, now General Manager/Chief Operating Officer of the Kansas City (Mo.) Country Club (KCCC).
So when the Nintendo “Wii” craze swept through Kansas City along with the rest of the world last year, Bado and his staff weren’t ready to give in and take a “we can’t beat it, so let’s join it” approach. Rather than encourage kids, as some properties have done, to at least play the interactive versions of “Wii” golf, tennis or bowling as a club activity if they weren’t going to try the real thing, KCCC decided to confront the digital monster head-on and challenge the kids who wanted to play video golf to instead “step outside.”
THE GOAL:Revive kids’ interest in outside activities in general, and golf specifically, at The Kansas City Country Club.THE PLAN: Promote a junior golf clinic as an alternative to the Nintendo “Wii” version of the game—and invite legendary pro golfer (and club member) Tom Watson (pictured below) to show how fun and rewarding the real thing can be.
THE PAYOFF: A record turnout for the clinic, and sustained interest among new junior players.
Golf Professional Jon Helmker revamped the plans for the club’s regular junior clinic so it would now be billed as “Who Needs A Wii When You Can Live It?” And to help show just how much better the real thing could be, KCCC had an “advanced option” of its own that it could go to, in the person of none other than Tom Watson, the famed pro golfer and winner of eight major championships who learned the game at the club and is still a member.
‘[Tom Watson] is still very much a legend in Kansas City, even among the youngest kids,” Bado reports. “His pictures are displayed prominently in the club, so when we promoted that he would help to conduct the clinic and not only provide basic instruction tips, but also talk about his career and the steps that he took to start to learn and enjoy the game at an early age, we immediately saw increased interest, not only among kids, but also their parents. Everyone wanted to come see him and be part of it.”
All told, over 150 people came to the clinic, well above normal attendance for a junior clinic, Bado says. And the excitement generated by the event has led to sustained interest and increased participation in other parts of KCCC’s junior golf program, he adds. Schedule permitting, Watson will now try to make regular return appearances as the clinics are repeated each year.
From a golf standpoint, Bado says, the kids quickly learned that there’s no comparison between “Wii” golf and the real thing. “Starting with the grip and then going through everything else, they saw it’s completely different,” he says. Just as importantly, he thinks the clinic also scored some real points in highlighting the benefits of “doing something for real, vs. playing something for pretend.”
“That was as big a part of the initiative as helping [to boost] junior golf,” Bado notes. “Kids need to be outside and active, and we want them outside as much as possible when they’re here at the club. I think we succeeded in helping to show that even if you ‘play’ 60 holes on Wii, that’s no substitute for going out and doing the real thing.”
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