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May 2012

Learning a New Lesson

By Rob CareyLearning a New Lesson

Tweaking instructional offerings has brought more revenue to all areas of the business at Eagle Ridge

On friday afternoons during golf season, the practice range and fairways of Eagle Ridge Golf Club in Lakewood, New Jersey, resemble the bunny slopes at a ski resort. And for Mike Attara, director of operations for the semi-private, 27-hole facility, it’s a sight to behold.

The driving force behind this influx of neophyte golfers is “Family Fridays,” a player development program introduced in 2010 that consists of two hours of informal group instruction or nine holes of golf for family members who want to play rather than practice. Afterwards, everyone enjoys a prix fixe dinner. The cost: $35 per person.

“I wanted to provide an easy way—like the skiing business does with its beginner hills—for more people to get acquainted with golf and come to really like it,” says Attara, who is active in player development initiatives for the New Jersey Golf Association and the national Get Golf Ready program. “When those two hours are up, the juniors who took the lesson meet up with dad or mom coming off the No. 9 green and sit down to eat and share their experiences. This program overcomes the hurdles of expense, time constraint and the difficulty of becoming a decent golfer all in one shot.”

Though the price point reflects a substantial discount off what the club would normally receive for two hours of instruction or nine holes of golf ($35 per person is, at minimum, a $20 discount on the typical nine-hole rate and dinner), Attara isn’t concerned with short-term “losses.” By offering an accessible and moderately priced entry point into the game, he’s setting his sights on long-term gains, both in numbers of players and, ultimately, revenue.

“Getting the interest of the kids is the key because parents will make a bigger effort to make it here for the kids than if it was just for themselves,” Attara notes. “And if a family has fun with this, they’ll all come back—together or separately, for the golf or for the restaurant—on other days, too.”

Indeed, Attara has tapped into a promising vein. Demand is strong enough that he plans to host more Family Fridays in 2012 than the 18 that Eagle Ridge offered in 2011, plus a few Sunday afternoon editions, too.

Asked to pinpoint the reason for the program’s popularity, Attara quickly points to its on-course component, an element that he says “gets people coming back.” Everyone—including those Family Friday participants who opt for the range instruction over the playing experience—manage to play at least one hole on the course. “Even if it’s just for chipping and putting, we’re breaking [down] the barrier between the range and the course to connect what they’re learning with actual play,” Attara notes.

This practice also helps remove any intimidation a novice would have about going onto the course. “We let them know that you don’t have to be a great player, or even good, to have fun out there,” Attara adds. “So after a few weeks, they’re hooked and ready to start playing rounds.”

To underscore this last point, Attara cites data from the national Get Golf Ready program, which has shown rates for converting first-timers to return golfers jump from 30 percent when lessons are conducted only at a practice facility to 80 percent when there’s an on-course component to instruction. At Eagle Ridge, meanwhile, the average spend by each of the club’s 400 Get Golf Ready students was $806 across the entire facility last year, indicating that new golfers do spend a lot more time at the course once the five-week program ends.

Of course, no initiative will achieve its potential without the buy-in of staff members. That’s why Attara incentivizes his teaching pros to grow total revenue per student and revenue from student referrals, both of which are facilitated by making customers feel comfortable at the course. True to that ideal, the Eagle Ridge staff will check up on recent graduates via e-mail to see how their game is progressing and determine if or when they might be coming back to play. They also make sure to say hello in person whenever former students do come back to the course.

These may seem like insignificant gestures—or, to a degree, “no-brainers”—but their importance can’t be overstated. “You have to connect with people,” Attara says. “If you make it a personal relationship, they’ll want to come back and bring their friends, too.”

No doubt, those are the types of lessons that are never too old to be learned.

Rob Carey is a freelance writer and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight, Inc.

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