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Stop saying "Grow the Game of Golf"

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Matt Reagan, PGA
Co-Founder and CEO, Operation 36 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 Development Model.

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.  It transformed us from a traditional program to a developmental program.

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 making it easy to transition from traditional instruction to a developmental 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.” You will lose the golfer to another activity if they don't play the game.  Golf Professionals who want to have the biggest impact make the transition to Developmental 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.

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