Scores of people join Bramshaw Golf Club after it provided free coaching lessons

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 13, 2011 13:53

We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch, and this mantra, when it refers to coaching, has proven, and is proving, to be true and particularly beneficial to golf clubs.

During March and April Crown Golf offered 409 people free coaching at 16 of its 29 golf clubs, costing the golf operator £19,200, although half of this was funded by 16 separate £600 grants from the English Golf Union (EGU) and the English Women’s Golf Association (EGWA).

The project, part of Crown Golf’s ‘Discover Golf’ programme, offered over 24 hours of free coaching to each participant, and led to 39 per cent of them, or 160 individuals and counting, joining either a paid-for Crown Golf membership coaching scheme or one of its golf clubs.

With these 160 golfers on average paying hundreds of pounds per year to play and / or train, excluding additional spend in the bar and restaurant and pro shop, Crown Golf has seen a significant return on its investment, and will invest again in the Discover Golf programme in 2012, rolling it out to all of its clubs.

“We are delighted with the outcome of our investment in free Discover Golf places,” said Rob Spurrier, group academy manager at Crown Golf. “We were inundated with requests for places on the programmes and overwhelmed by the fantastic attitude of all the players.

“There are many taster session-type coaching initiatives across the country, which often have a higher initial attendance, but we have never before seen such a huge take-up of the sport following a coaching initiative. We intend to run the same project across all Crown Golf clubs in 2012.”

Crown Golf was able to secure the £600 grants because those 16 clubs have achieved GolfMark accreditation, which is awarded by the EGU and the EWGA in recognition of junior and beginner-friendly golf facilities.

“The Discover Golf initiative is clearly successful,” said Richard Flint, golf development manager of the EGU. “It is a testament to the skills and dedication of the coaching staff that so many people are continuing to play golf after their initial free lessons. We hope to see similar figures in the years to come.”

A non-Crown Golf club that has achieved GolfMark accreditation this summer is Dartmouth Golf and Country Club, which offered a week of free coaching in April, including nine holes of golf, a 15-minute lesson with the pro and a bucket of balls to be used on the driving range.

Twenty-four people took part in the sessions and 10 went on to become members. “The money raised from this definitely covered the cost of the free coaching,” said a spokesman. “The coaching was limited to off-peak hours when coaches wouldn’t be busy, so managing it like this guaranteed it wouldn’t have any real cost to the club anyway.

“There will be another Open week running next spring.”

Craig Townsend, the Devon Golf Partnership’s county development officer, recently visited the club and was impressed with what he found upon meeting both the coaches and pupils involved in the free programme.

“It is an exciting time for golf in Dartmouth with strong links being developed through a number of parties in a friendly and accessible location,” he said. “Dartmouth Golf and Country Club, and in particular Ian Smith, the junior organiser, and Rob Glazier, the head professional, have worked extremely hard to achieve the GolfMark accreditation for the club.

“The award shows the club is junior and beginner friendly and has an environment that welcomes newcomers to the game through a variety of initiatives and coaching programmes.

“It is the first step in a development plan at Dartmouth GCC which will focus on beginners’ coaching, junior development from beginners in local schools to the elite juniors striving for county recognition and increasing membership numbers in all categories.”

The resort’s established junior academy now boasts more than 40 members, each paying more than £30 a month, who meet every weekend to develop their golf through a range of off- and on-course coaching with PGA professionals.

And last year, Bramshaw Golf Club in Hampshire, which became GolfMark accredited in 2009, delivered 45 free one-hour sessions to several groups of, in total, 45 beginners (25 adult females, 16 juniors and four adult males), at a cost of £1,920 to the club, which was part-funded by a £500 EGU beginners’ coaching grant. The golfers were then offered extra lessons at a discounted rate and six months of membership from October to March for just £100 with no joining fee, followed by a £100 discount from the full annual subscription for 2011-12.

The result was that 25 of the 45 beginners took part in the discounted lessons, 21 became winter members and of those, 14 became full members. The club pro made more than £1,400 in extra coaching, while the club made more than ten times that amount in additional membership sales and clubhouse spending.

It was so successful that Bramshaw will now do this every year, and in 2011 the sessions ran from May to June, all taught by assistant pro Dave Bartlett to 43 people.

“This particular recruitment initiative need not be confined to those clubs with GolfMark accreditation,” stated Bramshaw’s general manager, Ian Baker. “It would work at any golf club. This year all places were taken within about a week of the programme being advertised via an email only to our members who are registered to have access to the members’ area of our website. We did not need to go public with the offer due to those responses and word of mouth. Fifteen of the 43 have since paid for further coaching and I anticipate that between 15 and 20 of the 43 will take up the offer that will be made in October, of £150 for membership through to the end of March 2012. I expect, in total, the 2011 programme will also generate about £13,000 in subscriptions, excluding other revenue such as from selling equipment and coaching, but that will certainly run into the thousands as well.”

Similarly, in 2006, Oswestry Golf Club offered free taster sessions to lady beginners. Twelve ladies took part and eight joined the club, equating to a phenomenal 66 per cent conversion rate. In addition, in 2010, Duff House Royal Golf Club in Banff, Aberdeenshire, marketed to potential members that they would not need to pay a joining fee for the year and membership entitled them to one free coaching lesson – as a result more than 100 people joined the club.

The coaches

The key to these successful initiatives is of course the professional golf tutor, many of whom graduated from the PGA training programme, which was founded 50 years ago, and it is probably helpful that the PGA’s captain this year, Eddie Bullock (right), a former golf club manager and managing director, and a keen member of the GCMA, clearly understands how clubs make profits.

“I think it’s important to look to the future and see that golf is a developing game,” he said. “The service industry within the game must be improved and we have to look after our customer base.”

And a team of PGA professionals, which is doing just that, has teed up a special landmark after giving free lessons to 6,000 newcomers in the last 12 months.

Jon Woodroffe has spearheaded the campaign at the World of Golf facilities where he is group golf development manager.

With sign-up rates to the golf programmes running at 500 a month across the four sites in New Malden, Croydon, Sidcup and Glasgow, Woodroffe believes he has hit the perfect recipe to driving up participation rates, particularly among beginners.

“We embarked on an initiative to get more people into playing golf by offering free beginner group classes,” he explained.

“Among the main reasons identified why people do not take lessons are cost and embarrassment, but in a friendly, relaxed group environment, that is taken away while giving lessons for free obviously tackles the cost factor away.

“Also having worked for 30 years on golf ranges I know that when people start golf without lessons they have an initial improvement but because they do not get the basics of grip and posture shown to them by a PGA professional, the improvement stalls, they lose interest and then are lost to the golf industry.

“With our PGA professionals teaching them the fundamentals on their six, one-hour free group classes, the improvement is more sustained and greater.

“This project is now a year old and the four sites combined have now put 6,000 people through the free lesson programme and the rate shows no sign of slowing down either with sign-ups averaging 500 a month.

“We are obviously proud of this achievement but more importantly want to encourage more people to come and have a go and find out just what a fantastic game golf is.”  

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 13, 2011 13:53
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