The Pellucid Perspective - December 2013 - (Page 7)

PLAYER DEVELOPMENT An "Island" of creative thinking in player development Michigan course owner tries unique solutions to time, cost and difficulty roadblocks By Jim Dunlap I t becomes more and more obvious that in order for the game of golf to grow or even maintain its current levels of participation, at least in the U.S., traditional models of player development are going to have to change. The triple threats of time, money and difficulty associated with golf have met some subtle shifts in generational thinking and created a perfect storm that has in turn blown a hole in golf 's participation "bucket," with more players leaving the game than joining it. (Even the NGF has acknowledged that fact finally, so you know it's no longer deniable). Those factors, combined with our industry's notorious sluggishness where change is concerned, make what owners Bob and Jojo Griffioen are doing at their Island Hills Golf Club in Centreville, Mich., all the more interesting. Most U.S. operators have opted to make some sort of attempt to address at least one of the three evils noted above. Pace of play initiatives are chiseling away at the time factor, discounting and bartered tee times are creating some bargain greens fees, and strategies like Tee It Forward and more lenient course setups are working on the difficulty aspect at some courses. The Griffioens, however, are taking on all three of those challenges, and tossing in the task of enticing new golf recruits to boot. To summarize, the 18-hole championship layout at the rural Island Hills facility offers multiple "Quik Course" routings within the original Ray Hearn 18-hole design, ranging in size from 5 holes to 12, as well as an 18-hole, 3,000-yard "Mini Course" in addition to the standard 18-hole routing, with each priced accordingly. Each hole of the main course offers six tees to choose from, giving new or evolving players the opportunity to bite off as much course as they want to try to chew. No clubs, and not sure you want to invest $1,000 or so for a top notch set? No problem at Island Hills - the Griffioens will lend you a set of quality Adams Golf sticks for free, and throw in a few used balls as well. Not sure how to get started? Island Hills offers free introductory lessons, for juniors or adult newcomers. To further spread the word, the Griffioens have offered to sponsor the inclusion of a First Tee program within the St. Joseph County school system. "The golfers are out there, I'm convinced of that," said Griffioen, whose successful machine shop business enables him to indulge his golfing passion by trying anything he can think of that might help spread the gospel of the game he loves. "I've got my heart and soul in this thing. We tried cutting prices to get more people out, but I don't like the discount route, and we won't be doing that again next year. We have an upscale course, and if people want to play the full 18, they'll pay the regular rate. If they want to play one of our Quik Courses, obviously they'll pay less." As a test of local interest on a Sunday in July this year, Griffioen offered free golf and free use of equipment to anyone who wanted to come out. Despite less than ideal weather that day, a course record 177 people showed up to take advantage of the offer, which included prizes. Now, obviously Griffioen understands that free golf and equipment, with prizes, is not a viable business model. Even he is not able to offer that on a regular basis, but he is convinced that the turnout did demonstrate some willingness to try golf if it is affordable, accessible and fits into today's time constraints. There are few limitations on what Griffioen might be willing to try to spark interest in golf in his area. Last year, acknowledging that he stole the idea from Jack Nicklaus at Jack's Memorial course, Griffioen put on a 12-hole tournament using 12-inch cups. Next year, he says he is "considering" adding a second, optional 12-inch cup and flag on all 18 greens, despite threats of serious bodily injury from his superintendent if he goes through with that. Since enticing the well regarded Ray Hearn to lay out the Quik Courses within Hearn's original 18-hole design, Island Hills more than doubled its seasonal rounds from 9,000 a year to more than 19,000 this year. Griffioen admits that he hasn't computed how many of those rounds were 18-holes at full rate, but insists that he is heartened by the increased traffic, no matter how many holes they played. Griffioen also admits that the layout of Island Hills' 18-hole course is ideally suited to creation of the various Quik Course routings, which will not always be the case at other courses. He further admits that the relatively isolated and rural location of Island Hills provides him with enough capacity on the tee sheet to work the Quik Course rounds in with the players who are playing the full 18. Griffioen also acknowledges that maintenance and operating costs may prevent some owners from offering affordable golf alternatives, which is unfortunate, but he also contends that some can do it, but won't, which he finds equally unfortunate. And, again admittedly, the Griffioens are not dependent upon Island Hills revenue to pay their bills, which he acknowledges gives him the freedom to experiment with ideas that may pan out for the industry at large, but may or may not bolster the Island Hills bottom line. "If I could break even, I'd be happy as long as we can grow the game at the same time," Griffioen said. "I tell everyone who asks, this is a work in progress, and I can't emphasize that enough. If what we're doing now doesn't work, we'll try something else until we figure it out." Perhaps we should call that philosophy Golf 3.0. n The Pellucid PersPecTive 7 http://WWW.PELLUCIDCORP.COM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Pellucid Perspective - December 2013

The Pellucid Perspective - December 2013
Back to the future for golf course owners
Winds of change blowing in tee time sales world
An “Island” of creative thinking in player development
Europe follows US lead
November golf weather impact: Mother Nature gives golf the “cold shoulder”
Boston, MA: Red Sox nation plays golf too
OB Sports chosen to operate Tucson muni courses
Too tough to chew

The Pellucid Perspective - December 2013