Every golf course operator faces one common challenge – how do we get more people onto our courses? The conundrum of how we get more golfers to play more often is not just a puzzle for golf operators, which is why we have seen a lot of new initiatives recently from the likes of England Golf, but it is actually American Golf who has been leading the charge. Their Club Championships are bringing new golfers into courses and, well into their second year, are fully subscribed.
So why did the retailer decide to dip its toes into events in the first place? Director of Marketing and Communications Daniel Gathercole explains: “Without golfers there is no golf industry. Like anyone whose business is golf we were regularly seeing the reports of dwindling memberships and fewer rounds played landing on our desks. Rather than sit on our laurels, we decided to develop a series of Club Championships that would appeal to different kinds of golfers and encourage people to play more golf.”
The first event they put together was a Junior Championship held at Mottram Hall in 2014. It sold out in days. One hundred children aged 7 to 18 - and their parents - congregated at the Cheshire golf course. The rules were relaxed, parents were allowed to caddy for younger children, and the reaction was amazing. Players of mixed abilities egged each other on and, most importantly, had fun.
Working with the Golf Course Owners Association, American Golf then put plans in place for a full calendar of events in 2015. In addition to the Junior Championship there would be a 9 Hole and Long Drive Championship, making a total of 14 on course qualifying events with a Grand Final at the Belfry. For 2016, Seniors and Ladies Championships have been added bringing the total number of on course events across the UK and Ireland to 34.
When the American Golf team contacted courses to outline their plans there was some reluctance to get involved, but numerous venues have signed up for a second year. Daniel explains why: “There are multiple benefits of being involved in our qualifying campaigns. As well as bringing in golfers from the local area, our PR team works with all of the Clubs to promote their involvement in their local press and we include them in all of our social media activity.”
The chance to roll out new formats has also been appealing as Amy Yeates, Director of Golf at Fairmont St Andrews remarks, “Fairmont St Andrews are passionate about offering complete flexibility and freedom to golfers to play golf their way. Offering shorter format and evening tournaments like the American Golf 9 Hole event gives golfers further choice and freedom which can only help increase golf participation.”
There is no doubt that the Club Championships have had an impact on the participants themselves. Of the thousands of golfers taking part each year there are some real stand out stories. Take Rebecca McGinley, LET access player. She had never taken part in a Long Drive event until she entered the 2015 American Golf Long Drive Championship, which she won with a drive of 279 yards. The impressive part is that when she went to the US to represent American Golf and sponsors Garmin at the World Championships she came third!
Then there is Stanley Lin – two time holder of the PING Star of the Future award. Seven year old Stanley plays off 45 and came home at the Final with a staggering 45 points! However it was not his score that secured him the title of Star of the Future. He demonstrates all the qualities that we want people to associate with golf: a positive attitude, sportsmanship and passion for the game.
Promoting the benefits of golf is high on the agenda at American Golf. At this year’s Grand Final weekend at the Belfry they will be working closely with their official charity, On Course Foundation. The charity uses golf as a means to aid the rehabilitation of wounded, sick and injured servicemen and women. As well as teaching them to play it looks for work opportunities in the industry so each company involved in the delivery of the Final weekend has been asked to offer work placements to On Course Foundation members.
This level of co-operation is invaluable to On Course Foundation as its Regional Employment & Events Manager Mark Schorah explains, “To have the support of American Golf and its partners is fantastic. We are always on the look out for new companies to support the Foundation and our employment programme. We hope that this campaign will show how easy it is to work with us and how much our members have to offer the golf industry.”
Thousands of golfers young and old are actively engaged with the American Golf Tournaments, which is why they are of increasing significance to Golf Course operators. American Golf really is giving back to its on course partners by enabling them to reach new golfers in their areas. The plans in the pipeline for 2017 really are impressive. There is talk of a staggering 11 tournaments, offering a huge range of different types of golf – and therefore appealing to a different type of golfer from the traditional Club member.
Farleigh Golf Club in Surrey has been a partner to American Golf since the outset and has been delighted to be involved as General Manager, Russell Stebbings explains: “For golf to thrive instead of just survive, we need more events like this. We’re excited to be partnering with a forward thinking company, helping drive the sport forward together. The format of American Golf’s 9 hole event is perfect for a society where time is precious and encourages people to get out and get involved. It’s well organised, introduces some of the region’s best golfers to our Club and is an important part of our golf calendar.
There has undoubtedly been a shift in the company’s thinking and this is reflected in its efforts to grow the game as Daniel concludes, “Everyone at American Golf is passionate about the game. We really want more people to enjoy the sport we love and this means working closely with clubs to create events that appeal to nomad, lapsed, young and new golfers. We’ve proven that this approach is good for clubs and great for golf.”