“If you build it, will they come?” Well, they did for Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, but any smart product manager knows, like the movie, that is pure fantasy when it comes to building successful products and services people want to buy, including tee times.
Most golf course designers and architects consider themselves visionaries when it comes to building public courses, but IMHO many miss the mark when designing courses for “the public”. I’ve played many public courses in my golf career and it seems to me that too many designers forget to ask themselves this fundamental question before they start to dig, “Who am I building this for?”
From the tips, their courses look like masterpieces, but walk up to the forward tees and you wonder if the artist was still drawing with crayons. It’s no wonder the forward tees are played predominantly by women, who really have no choice. First, the markers look like lipstick, and second, they don’t offer what the white/blue/black tees do – fun challenges, risks and rewards and opportunities to improve a player’s physical and mental game.
So what do you do when you find yourself managing a golf club where the tees aren’t serving the needs of players you need to attract and retain?
Just ask Michael Mather, General Manager of the University Golf Club (UGC) in Vancouver, BC. Motivated by the Tee it Forward initiative championed by arguably the world’s greatest champion, Jack Nicklaus, Mather took a look at the market and realized that UGC wasn’t providing the experience a large segment of the golfing population (basically high handicappers) wanted.
“From the forward tees, UGC was close to 5,700 yards, making it quite challenging for shorter hitters, regardless of their age or gender,” said Mather. “We are very fortunate that UGC is a busy facility, but I didn’t want these players looking for a new ‘home club’ because we weren’t able to provide enough options in tee selection.”
So early this year, Mather and his team devised a plan to create a 4th tee option, specifically designed to make golf more enjoyable for new players, juniors, women and seniors who want to tee it forward and reach more greens in regulation – a goal, that until now, was only in their dreams, “We can be ‘that’ club which caters to players of all abilities,” continued Mather, “And encourage them to experience all of the other great amenities UGC has to offer on a daily basis.”
The plan is being implemented over a two year period. This season, UGC introduced 8 new forward Black Tees on the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 14th and 17th holes, for a total length of 5,192 yards. Yes, you read that right – Black! As a marketer, I loved the idea from the start as it removes the stigma of forward tees being XX-rated only.
My golfguy and I had the privilege of playing the new tees recently with our “Golf Coach Extraordinaire”, Ginny Golding. The experience for me was transformative, not just about my club selection on the new holes, but my attitude around the course.
Pretending that the par 4, 2nd was a par 5 was no longer a requirement for me to feel optimistic about my chances on the #1 handicap hole. It felt so great when I stepped up on the tee box knowing that I could par the hole without having to chip it in from the fringe.
I was also delighted that I didn’t have to hit driver, 3-wood, 3-wood to reach the par 5 greens in regulation. And watching Ginny land the 13th in two was a joy to watch. Golf was fun again!
But the icing on the cake for me was parring the long par 4, 9th hole – something I haven’t done in my 5+ years of playing UGC on a pretty regular basis.
After the round, I asked Ginny her impressions about the new tees for her students.
“Probably 60% of my students and those who participate in my annual world golf trips are over the age of 50,” shared Ginny. “They want to extend their game and the quality of their game, but their bodies are changing and they recognize that they just can’t hit the ball as far as they once did. These new tees will help them prolong their participation in the sport they love, truly making golf a game for life for them.”
In 2014, Mather plans to add 6 additional black tee boxes on the 1st, 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th and 18th holes, bringing the yardage down to 4,845 yards. There is little doubt that this will bring back a lot of players who previously opted out for some of the short municipal and executive-type courses in the region.
There is even a desire to incorporate a set of “Happy Tees” (2,500 – 3,000 yards) opening up great opportunities for juniors. It may even encourage some moms, who typically stayed home with the kids while dad played, to take up the sport, making golf more of a family affair.
UGC management should be applauded for investing in the needs of their players and helping grow golf in the lower mainland. And unlike a North Vancouver course that threw darts at their back nine fairways in order to plop tee markers in places no real golfer would ever consider playing from, the UGC black tee boxes are very well designed and placed in locations that offer a challenging, but rewarding and fun experience for shorter hitters.
Congratulations UGC! You have set a benchmark for other clubs to follow.
And for those players who once considered the forward tees a “No Man’s Land”, good only for women and juniors who lack the testosterone to grip it and rip it, take another look at your options at UGC.
Black is beautiful baby! But if that’s too far a leap for you, take the first step forward and consider the White/Red combination. I guarantee you’ll have more fun, lose fewer balls and improve your pace of play (which everyone will appreciate!). Think of it as your contribution to growing the game in BC.
Get your game on track,
Listen to Jack,
Tee it forward,
And play it BLACK!
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