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November 2015

Heaven On Earth For Women

Heaven On Earth For Women‭By Steve Donahue

Tenna and Mike Merchent are making Purgatory Golf Club a haven for female golfers

Purgatory Golf Club is considered heaven on earth by central Indiana golfers, including women, who are welcomed with open arms to the family-owned facility.
Female golfers can thank co-owner Tenna Merchent, a once-passionate, thrice-weekly golfer who demanded women be considered equal when she and her co-owner husband, Mike, hired architect Ron Kern to design their 18-hole course in Noblesville in 2000.

“It’s common, unfortunately, that many golf courses don’t take women seriously,” says Tenna, who, once Purgatory was chosen as the course’s moniker, named each hole using elements from “Purgatorio,” Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s book. “Women feel more at home at Purgatory because we treat them properly. They know we’ve gone out of our way to make things easy for them. I always tell women in the golf shop or on the course how much we appreciate them being there.”

With respect to the course, Tenna insisted the layout feature multiple tees to challenge Purgatory’s many accomplished women players, as well as average and new golfers. The result is a course with six different tee boxes—designated by handicap, not gender—with yardages ranging from 4,562 to 7,754 yards. In a purposeful twist, red tees mark Purgatory’s tips. “One female reporter came out here and was excited to see the red tees were in back instead of in front,” Tenna notes.

During construction, Tenna demanded that the three on-course rustic cabins housing men’s bathrooms also feature a women’s bathroom offering seat covers and fresh flowers. She was also adamant that women have a locker room as large and comfortable as the men’s version. “Multiple tees, separate women’s bathrooms and a decent women’s locker room don’t sound like a big deal,” says Tenna, “but they’re huge.”

Purgatory’s women’s touches paid off, as Golf for Women magazine chose the facility as one of its “50 Best Golf Courses for Women” in 2005, the first of many such honors. “The first time I received the application I spent a solid week working on it because I wanted to make sure we made that list,” Tenna recounts. “We did, which was wonderful.”

From the beginning, the staff stocked multiple women’s apparel and club lines. Purgatory continues to carry three women’s clothing vendors and three shoe lines, and orders women’s equipment upon request. As an added twist, the club hosts occasional trunk shows and carries women’s non-golf items such as jewelry and art.

The efforts are having a bottom-line impact. According to director of golf Jon Stutz, the club’s annual revenue for women’s apparel in 2014 was between $20,000 and $25,000, and total revenue for women’s equipment and miscellaneous online merchandise was between $5,000 and $10,000. Apparel sales for 2015 are modestly up, while equipment is slightly down.

To foster community, Purgatory has hosted Ladies Night each month since the club debuted in Golf for Women’s ranking. The event typically draws 30 to 60 participants, with some driving from an hour away. For $25, participants receive nine holes of shotgun-scramble golf, range balls, post-round food, a beverage special, and closest- to-the-pin and long-drive contests. Net and gross winners and closest-to-the-pin and long-drive winners receive a free round of golf.
“We’ve found a less competitive game gets more new people to try,” Stutz says. “And having it in the evening is great for working women.”

As for revenue, the events generated between $10,000 and $15,000 in 2014, and are on track for $12,000 (including one rainout) in 2015. “There are actually golf courses in the area that replicated our exact program,” says Tenna, “but ours continues to be very successful.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Purgatory’s relaxed family atmosphere enhances its popularity. Mike’s father, Dick, has worked at the course since it opened, and James Brown has been Purgatory’s only superintendent. Tenna’s Uncle Buddy, a Jesuit priest, even blessed the course from atop the 10th tee when it opened. The Latin blessing translated to “Time spent here will be time well rewarded.”

Golfers—especially women—who have played at Purgatory would say “amen” to that. “Women basically expect to be treated poorly at the golf course,” Tenna says. “They’re very happy and satisfied when they’re treated with respect.”

Steve Donahue is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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