In the last four years, we have talked to well over 1,000 golf facilities about their programming. When we ask the question: “Do you have a successful beginner program?” we get an array of answers. When the coach says “yes,” we like to dig a bit deeper and find out what success means to him or her.
For some coaches, it is getting 20 kids to attend their camp in the summer. For others, it is doing $10,000 in beginner programming revenue. It is very subjective, however, there is a common standard we do hear. The most common measure of success is typically the total number of participants they had that year.
The conversation continues:
Us: “Tell me about your junior programs?”
Golf Pro: “We have a strong junior program. We had over 105 Participants in the program last year.”
In the early years, we were naive and were led to believe that just about everyone seemed to have “Strong Junior and Adult Programs.”
This may seem logical, but there are some problems with only measuring participation. And there is a better way, which I will show you.
First, they aren’t measuring the volume of participation for a unique participant, they were just measuring total unique participants. This could have meant that they hosted a Halloween Clinic in the Fall and had 105 kids show up to the golf clinic. Does that mean the program is successful? Does it make the program strong?
Second, does participation volume really mean anything? It may lead to short term-instruction revenue. Wouldn’t you want your measure of success to be that your team created a life-long golfer? One who is going to continue to use the club, play golf, continue coaching programs and drive sustainable growth to the industry? How do you guarantee that?
Tim Ferriss, a well-known author, and researcher of top performers has a concept of trying to find the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) that will have the largest positive impact. For us at Operation 36, we wanted to give Golf Professionals one metric that would have the biggest positive impact on their golfers, their business, their golf facility and the industry as a whole. It should create value for all.
The #1 key determinate on if you are going to have the biggest impact for all is now automated into a stat for Operation 36 Program Locations called “Golfers Created.”
Golfers Created is a unique participant who has played at least 9 holes from Division 1 (25 Yard holes/225 Yard Course) and has scored 36 (par) or better and has formally posted that round on their Operation 36 Program Profile.
This stat is at the top of every program portal for Operation 36 coaches to see. It is right above their Golfer Pipeline which shows the Divisions each golfer is in and how long they have been in that Division.
Our belief is that if Golf Professionals focus on progressing golfers in their skill development and continuing them down the pipeline, then we will have golfers for life!
We believe that if every golf facility in the world used this stat as a determinant of the success of their programs, then we would never have to worry about the game growing again. Why? Let me walk through each stakeholder above and show you the cascading positive impact it has on them.
When someone joins the game of golf they have a picture of becoming a golfer. Someone who can book a tee-time with friends, go play, hit the ball well, and identify as a golfer. When you get a beginner-focused on shooting an achievable score, help them set on-course goals and they are given a clear long-term roadmap to improve, they are motivated.
Built into the Operation 36 Program is this infinite game of shoot 36 and back up with finite milestones. Golfers want to learn to play and have a clear plan to improve. What we have seen is as soon as a golfer shoots 36 from Division 1, they are hooked! They identify as a Golfer at that point and now know how to get on the course in a timely way. They know what their next goal is. They know their coach knows where their skills are and are excited about the possibility of their coach helping them improve and achieve their next milestone. With technology to guide them outside of classes, they never feel lost, and the Golf Professional can keep an eye out to guide them as well.
Because the program is very clear to the golfer, they now have purpose to show up and listen to the Golf Professional. They look at the Golf Pro as a leader and coach, and not as a babysitter. The Golf Pro can now say, I am teaching you this, or crafting this training environment to help you accomplish your on-course goal. THERE IS A PURPOSE.
This drives retention and long-term customers who value getting golf instruction and improving their game. Golf Professionals now get a long-term coaching revenue stream to match up with their salary to make them more vested in the golf club and developing relationships with their golfers. Gone are the days of drop-in clinics that leave a Golf Pro feeling a lack of purpose and connection to the golfers who arrive. They also have the tools to easily guide and lead their golfers in their journey.
Rounds of Golf. For a majority of facilities, this is the #1 metric that is a key determinant in defining its success. The facility either needs to get their existing golfers to play more or create new golfers who play the game. Many facilities are supporting “Participation Driven”, game based-clinics and traditional coaching programs that avoid playing golf altogether. This model works for existing golfers, but will never work to take a beginner and turn them into a life-long customer. We think pace of play is the biggest contributing factor here, but that has been solved with the Operation 36 Playing Format. A group of 30 complete beginners can play 9 holes in under 2 hours and never hold up play.
The Operation 36 Program and Software is the first tool to show the golf facility that the coaching program is actually creating a supply of golfers. You can centralize your team on growing a supply of golfers that play golf and spend in other areas at your facility. I have personally seen this happen in my own coaching program that I started in 2016. My 80 enrolled families spent 20% more across the club then the year prior to me running the program there.
Imagine what it would be like if every participant introduced to the game was focused on achieving on-course goals versus developing their “Golf Swing” to get ready for the course. By centering introductory programs around playing golf we will be creating a generation of beginners that aren’t afraid to play, love to play, and create value across the industry.
The problem is not that we haven't unlocked the silver bullet with forces, torques, trackman numbers or who has the better swing technique. The problem is the program environments in which we are supporting that are not conducive to creating a golfer. Until the introductory environment is solved, none of the other stuff matters.
Our saying internally is “If they don’t play, they won’t stay!”
The Golfers Created stat generates a cascade effect that is very powerful. It starts with the Golf Professionals and Golf Facility Management coming together on a common goal. When you transition from participation as your only KPI, to “Creating Golfers”, that is when everyone wins.
The only problem we are beginning to see at the facilities that are implementing this is that we are running out of program room! Retention is too high. When a beginner joins an Operation 36 Coaching Program they stay in it and the Golf Professional runs out of room, and must look to scale. This is a great problem that we will be looking to solve.
We believe that Golfers Created is a more powerful indicator than participation metrics. It is the difference between reaching your hand outside to feel the weather or having sophisticated meteorology tools. Maybe someday there could be someone at every facility who only focuses on “Creating Golfers.” We believe it will be the Golf Facilities and Golf Professionals that can create their own supply of golfers that will win.