American Golf at Grimsby Golf Centre
In last few years there have been a number of operational issues with the site. The centre has been operated as a FootGolf venue for the last 2½ years, but despite the fact that there was a very welcoming and attractive bar area, and that the FootGolf course was interesting and very popular during the summer months, there was just not sufficient trade throughout the year to allow the business to flourish, especially once the range had been closed.
The decision was made to totally re-launch the golf centre. A complete refurbishment and reopening of the golf range was started, with a new retail partner, American Golf, being introduced. Shortly after opening the results have been overwhelmingly good and the customers’ response - both to the revitalised golf range and also to the new American Golf superstore - have been quite exceptional.
The American Golf superstore at the golf centre has been completely refitted and stocked with all the latest merchandise. On the golf range the refurbishment has seen a completely new look to the centre. In the spring FunGolf, FootGolf and FrisbeeGolf will all be re-launched around the golf course.
The course, which covers just over 35 acres, was originally a nine hole golf course. The appetite for golf in North East Lincolnshire is very strong, but so is the competition and this has had a downward effect on prices. To run a nine-hole traditional golf course well in this environment requires a budget of least £75,000 per annum. The golf course was not getting close to this level. FootGolf is popular across all ages and the course covers 18 holes with large holes. This style of course is also ideal for FunGolf. FunGolf, which uses SNAG golf equipment and a ball similar to a tennis ball, is the perfect introduction to golf and allows families and individuals of all ages and abilities to have a go and get the hang of a golf-styled game. Perhaps most importantly with SNAG golf equipment is it encourages players to hit the ball properly. The clubs are well weighted and a dynamic hit is rewarded with a pleasing trajectory and a satisfying feel for the player. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Tri Golf equipment, which is currently favoured by many junior organisations. This very cheap equipment, which includes plastic golf clubs, does not give anything like the same feel or feedback for the user. With such light-headed clubs and light airflow-like golf balls, a dynamic hit is not rewarded with such a satisfying feeling for the golfer. In many instances, a flick works better. The tendency to flick at the golf ball does not translate well for the young player when they seek to transition into proper golf. As a note to anybody wishing to encourage junior golfers and beginners of all ages, it is much better to provide one or two well balanced and carefully designed golf clubs than simply making do with cut down clubs, or worse still, poor plastic imitations.
On the golf range, the first item on the agenda was the netting. Hawkley Leisure were engaged to completely re-net the whole of the golf range. They did an outstanding job and today the netting is in perfect order, with each panel tautly-held and wired precisely to ensure years of protection from escaping golf balls.
David Steele from Hawkley Leisure spoke to Golf Features:
“We are very pleased to have been chosen to reinstate the netting at Grimsby Golf Centre. We worked through some challenging weather and also some difficult ground conditions, as the range had fallen into disrepair in recent times. We are always proud of our work and I’m delighted that the range is now up and running again. I’m sure it will create enjoyment and happiness to many people for many years to come.”
Three other key suppliers were used in the overhaul of the golf range: European Golf Machinery, Range Automated Systems and Srixon.
Srixon supplied 36,000 one-piece balls and these have been very well received by the golfers, combining top spin rates, great feel and excellent durability.
The differences in one and two-piece range balls are very important. Many people do not understand that the best golf range balls today are normally one-piece balls. In the past, one-piece balls may have felt dead off the clubface and had poor flight characteristics, resulting in dreadful feedback for the golfer. Nowadays, one-piece balls far outperform two-piece balls in the range industry. This is a combination of feel and also the totally different style of manufacture. In terms of durability, a one-piece ball is a porous chunk of high-performance rubber compound, which has been expertly evolved over thousands of trials with millions of range balls being hit to get the best noise, feel, flight and spin characteristics.
The porosity of the one-piece ball means the lacquer forms a perfect key over the ball once it has been finished. This lacquer prevents the ball from losing its flight characteristics as it ages. This is the main reason why one-piece balls can last up to 3 times longer than a two-piece ball and still provide worthwhile enjoyment for the golfer hitting them. A two-piece ball, on the other hand, has an impervious cover that is lacquered during the finishing process. Unfortunately, it does not form such a good key and so the lacquer is prone to flake off in strips as the ball wears. The dimples of the ball can then face further erosion and ball flights can vary hugely with such an uneven ball surface. This creates unpredictable turbulence, and often a dipping flight, which does not correlate to the way the ball was struck by the golfer. Whilst golf ball technology has moved on substantially over time, very little attention has been paid to the construction and design of two-piece range balls. Most make a loud, clacky noise off the face and a few offer very good spin rates. Sometimes they fly further, but this is not always a good thing for the golf operator.
Two-piece range balls tend to fly a few percentage points further than one-piece range balls. Sometimes golf ranges want to just show how far their balls fly, but if clubs are being compared, then either ball type can be used. Golf ball technology has come on enormously over the last 20 years and is very important to select the best balls for your golf range.
Most good suppliers offer a choice of one and two-piece balls and will be happy to send you samples so you can trial them at your leisure. Interestingly, the one-piece balls are normally slightly cheaper than the two-piece balls.
European Golf Machinery supplied the latest golf ball dispenser, complete with full computerisation, NAYAX credit card technology and radio signalled digi cards. In addition, EGM supplied all of the mats, ball trays and tees. The mats they supplied were split into two styles: their own bespoke teaching mats with a thick heavy rubber base, and also the mag strike mats, which use opposing magnets to create a soft, yet sprung, hitting area.
Colin Jenkins explains his choices of range equipment:
“The mats provide options for the golfer and have all been secured to the ground so they cannot be moved or realigned, which was previously an irritating issue. The carpet, which surrounded the previous mats, has been carefully re-trimmed so that the new mats fit perfectly into the range bay. I personally find the advantage of using European Golf Machinery over any other brand of ball dispenser is that the machines are built in Woodbridge, Suffolk, so if there is a problem with any of the components during operation, a fix can be found easily. They also understand the robust nature of the environment in which their machines are placed, and so their equipment lasts longer and is better value for money. I am very impressed with their new NAYAX credit card technology: this allows a customer to pay for a single bucket of balls on the range using the credit/debit card, mobile phone or even their watch. It is ideal for modern times and neatly gets round the problem of people running out of change, but still wanting to hit some more balls. We also provide, via EGM, a loyalty card system using radio frequencies. This has proved extremely popular with our regular clients being able to receive 13 vends for the price of 10 if they prepay for their range usage. There are also other styles of technology, including a member card system, which can be linked to the centre’s main computer. Our range also accepts cash, which is still responsible for approximately 50% of our overall take in any given day. There are some people who are still using tokens to operate the golf ranges. With no control at all (with no audit trail for the tokens), it is hard to see how ‘token’ operation can make any sense in the modern age.”
Over the last few years, there has been a rise in the use of robots to collect range balls from the outfield and also to cut the outfield. The decision was taken from an early stage to install the system at Grimsby. However, the first problem to deal with was the overgrown nature of the golf range outfield, which was almost a metre high. An exceptional amount of work was done on the outfield by a combination of local farmers, the Council, specialist grass cutters and the excellent maintenance team at the golf centre headed by Bruce and Ashley Ottley. A good deal of luck with the weather was also very handy! The actual task of collecting golf range balls in all weathers is most unpleasant; it may be quite enjoyable on a sunny day with no golfers trying to hit the person charged with collecting the balls, but most the time it is a cold and thankless task, which often has to be performed at the end of a long day. Initially, many were quite sceptical as to how a robotic ball collection system would work in poor weather and ground conditions. Phil Sear explains:
“We have spent years perfecting the collection and cutting by our robotic system. The basic principle is that our robots exert far less ground pressure on the outfield of a golf range then any other style of bulk collection. The golf range still has to be fairly dry and free of debris, otherwise both the ball collecting robot and the grass cutting robot will stop. Once the outfield’s condition has been established, our robots will perform their functions with ease and very few interruptions. The robots, which are now reliable and dependable friends of the golf range operator, are here to stay and have changed the way that golf ranges are operated for ever.”
The main advantage of choosing to partner with American Golf is not the fantastic array of golf stock, it is not their brand leading position, it is not the great prices they charge - it is simply their attention to serving the needs of the customers. Very few golf ranges will be more interested in the golf of their clients then those with an American Golf store as an integral part of the centre. Avid golfers love American Golf and American Golf seeks more golfers of all types. For a golf range to succeed it must look after several types of golfer. It must be friendly and welcoming to new players, it must look after senior golfers, it must also care for lady golfers and for juniors. For those who are keenest on golf - the avid players (sometimes described as golf nuts by their loved ones) are the ones that regularly use golf ranges. Nobody attracts avid golfers to ranges like American Golf.
Golf Features spoke with Elliot Fleming from American Golf:
“As we grow our network of stores across the country we are always keen to look for partners with good facilities. We want to be involved with golfers when they’re playing, practising, learning, just enjoying the sport, and nowhere is better than a good golf centre. At Grimsby, we have been delighted with the start in our trading so far and we are sure that the centre will do very well in the years ahead.”
In the summer months, FootGolf will return with FunGolf and FrisbeeGolf which will add several new offerings looking to enjoy the excellent course at the golf centre. These versions of the sport are more reliant on decent weather and so it is planned to keep the course open through British summer time hours only, from the end of March through until the end of October.
Josh Trunkfield has just been appointed as the head professional and will be combining his retail duties with American Golf, together with running a full teaching service at the centre.
There is a substantial amount of highly technical equipment involved in the fitting and selection of new golf equipment these days. In the Game Improvement area in the store there is a net, which allows golfers to try all of the latest equipment with further testing available in the fitting bay on the range. A TrackMan provides all of the latest data, which is captured at impact and extrapolated onto the screen for use in the net. When the TrackMan is used on the range itself, it gathers actual data from the ball in-flight; there can be few better-equipped environments to trial golf equipment. All of this technology without suitably trained staff would be completely irrelevant and just a source of confusion; American Golf provide comprehensive training for all of the staff, and each of their retail centres has a least one fully qualified custom fit specialist.
The centre manager for American Golf is James Duckett and he spoke to Golf Features:
“I’m delighted to have been chosen as the new centre manager for Grimsby. We have a great team of highly trained golfing specialists and we are very much looking forward to looking after all the golfers in the Grimsby area. We aim to be the best place for teaching, practising, discussion, socialising and of course, golf equipment sales - the very meaning of a golf centre.”
Golf Features will revisit Grimsby Golf Centre in the coming months as they are about to install the latest LED lighting system on the range.