Should every golf facility offer beginner programs? We don't think so.

A Golfer’s First Lesson

Trying something new is a vulnerable and brave thing to do. Often it is our first experience with something that most dramatically shapes how we feel about it in the future. How did it make us feel?  This is why believe that if we are going to bring beginners to golf, we should take a better look at their introduction.

Which leads to the question:

“Should all golf courses offer an introductory experience for beginners?”

Our belief is when a new golfer builds up the courage to try golf for the first time, the onboarding experience to the game should be UNBELIEVABLE. If Golf Professionals are not able to deliver an unbelievable introductory experience for the golfer, then we believe you should not offer any introductory programs for beginners at all.

Sounds a bit harsh, but hear me out...

When I meet someone new and share that I am a Golf Professional, I hear time after time again, "I tried golf but it just really didn’t click for me” or “Golf wasn’t my sport.” When I dig deeper and ask how did you learn it is always the same story, “I took a few private lessons on a driving range or attended clinics.”

When I ask them, did you ever go and play? Most of the time the answer is: “no.” However, if they say yes, it sounds something like this “Yeah I played one hole in the clinic and that pretty much showed me I wasn’t meant to be a golfer!”

When I hear this, I CRINGE.  

The problem here was not the participant, the problem is the onboarding experience and program used to introduce that person to the game.

A good program, run by a staff who understands and cares about the needs of beginner golfers.  It is necessary to make sure that every golfer who tries the game for the first time walks away thinking, “I can’t wait to do that next week.”  Or if you are a parent, “That program is so well organized and our child loves it!”   

If your staff is not able to take the time to do a great job with beginner golf coaching programs, then we recommend that you don’t offer them at all. 

I have great respect for golf facilities that have told me, our club does not cater to beginners. I truly do. This sounds strange, but I respect this because the beginner isn’t going to show up to a poor experience and think “golf isn’t for me.”

How do you know if your Beginner Program will create an incredible experience? 

Here are some good questions to consider:

  1. Are you getting beginners to play at least 9 holes at your facility to identify as a golfer?
  2. Do you set achievable on-course goals with a clear measurable plan to improve?
  3. Do you plan out a curriculum with clear objectives to help them reach their goals?
  4. Do you have a way to have them report progress and their actions back to you?
  5. Is your staff all on the same page on how you onboard a beginner in the sport?

I hope that you are nodding your head “yes” to these questions!  

But if not, and your staff is not able to take the time to do a great job with beginner golf coaching programs, then we recommend that you don’t offer them at all.  It hurts your image and it hurts the industry's image.

We get one shot.  

We get one shot to introduce and shape how a beginner perceives green-grass golf for the rest of their life.  That goes for an adult trying the sport. It also goes for parents and juniors who are trying golf for the first time. 

Topgolf and DriveShack are doing their job of getting people interested in golf, are you doing your job to connect them to play the game at your golf facility?  If you don’t feel confident in that your beginner programs are actually connecting your participants to the game, retaining them and turning them into life-long golfers, be sure to check out the Operation 36 Program.  

We have spent 10 Years researching and developing the best on-boarding experience and are looking for facilities and professionals who care.

"Golfers Created" A New Public Industry Stat from the Operation 36 Program

How do you know if a golf coaching program is successful?

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. 

The Problem with Measuring Participation

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?

A Better Way to Measure a Program’s Success

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.”

How do we Measure a Golfer 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!

The Positive Cascade Effect of “Golfers Created”

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.

1. The Golfers / Parents

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.

2. The Golf Pro.

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.

3. The Golf Facility

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.  

4. The Golf Industry

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 future and problems to be solved.

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.

Who will win?

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.

Stop saying "Grow the Game of Golf"

Grow the Game of Golf.

If you are in the golf industry this command is thrown around often and loosely. You hear this in almost any conversation, especially around instruction.

At Operation 36, we have made a rule internally to not say “Grow the Game.”

While growing the game of golf sounds like a worthy goal, why do we take a stand against it?

Problem #1

To understand our aversion to this phrase, it helps to know a little history. If you are familiar with our story, then you have probably heard about how we lost 40 junior golfers from our program in 2014.

These juniors had been in our program for three to four years, attending classes once-a-week for 32 weeks a year. They had fun in classes and were enjoying working through the 6 Level Curriculum. We felt like we were “Growing the Game” and having an impact…right until we watched half of the juniors begin to lose interest and leave golf altogether.

It hurt to watch these 40 families that we had taught and developed relationships with over the years leave the program. Pain is often a great teacher, and it forced us to take a good hard look at if we were actually growing the game or not.

When we surveyed the families on why they left, the answer was clear:

They never played golf outside of our weekly classes.

Problem #2

It was just about the time that the golfers left that we were also getting questioned by the Golf Facility Management. (Great timing!) They wanted us to show the value of our coaching program and the impact it was having at the facility.

We could easily show visits, but it was very hard for us to show much more. This led us down a path to figure out, “What does our facility want, and how do we make sure we show the facility they are winning as well?”

With a program that had dwindled and pressure from Golf Facility Management, we began thinking outside the box and asking ourselves bigger questions.

Specifically, we began to obsess about one idea. What was the one metric we could help the facility increase that would have the biggest impact, what would it be? After many discussions, and certainly some white-boarding, we discovered the one metric that drove the biggest return for the facility.

The answer: “Rounds of Golf.”

At that moment, it became very clear that there were two problems that we needed to solve, and they happen to be the exact same problem!

  1. We needed to find a way for our students to play golf if we wanted to turn them into golfers.
  2. We needed to increase rounds for the facility, or get our golfers to play to have a true impact.

So if we solved the first problem, it would have a direct impact on the second problem. This is what led us down a one year journey to integrate “playing golf” into the coaching program.

Centering our Coaching Programs around Playing Golf

We went through many challenges with getting beginners on the course and finding a timely, yet motivating way to play. But this is what led to us coming up with the Operation 36 Format.

It had such an impact for the student and facility, we made the decision to center our coaching program around playing the game, and changed the name of the program to Operation 36.

Getting students on the course gave purpose to our coaching sessions, and retention skyrocketed! It also taught a family of beginners how to get on the course and be comfortable playing the game.

Creating a program around playing golf also drove rounds of golf at the facility because we were creating “Golf Course Customers” not just “Golf Instruction Customers.”

There is a big difference for both the new golfer and the golf facility with that one distinction.

Using Coaching to Grow Rounds

At the core of Operation 36, we are creating new golfers that are comfortable paying for a round of golf. Rounds of golf are the #1 metric that keeps facilities alive. If you don’t believe me, think about this. What would happen if every tee-time at every facility was full in the country? Golf facilities would open to keep up with the supply and demand! Now that is what growing the game truly means.

We either need to get existing golfers to play more (increase demand), or create new golfers that actually play the sport (increase supply). Our mission at Operation 36 is to work on increasing the supply of golfers.

In Summary…

The big problem that Operation 36 solves for coaches is transitioning to a play-centered beginner coaching program. We have seen that if you change the way beginners are introduced to the game, everyone wins. Five lessons before you are ready to get on the course is not the answer. You are creating a “Golf Instruction Customer” and not a “Golf Course Customer.” Golf Professionals who want to have the biggest impact create both and can prove it with solid programming.

So, what do we replace the vague statement of “Grow the Game” with at Operation 36?

We now say,

How do we create programs that “Grow Rounds of Golf.”

Golf Professionals, the next time you are building your beginner programs ask “Am I actually growing rounds of golf and creating golfers, or am I just selfishly building a stable of golf instruction customers that may or may not play outside my program?” Real Golf Pros care about both. We have over 480 program locations right now that actually care about growing the game and their business. Check out Operation36.Golf to launch a program and join the mission today.