The golf business has been wrestling with serious problems of which the most important by far is declining participation. The cost to play, the inherent difficulty to become even modestly proficient and the commitment of time away from other pressing activities such as family are cited as the reasons.
Much of the focus to this point has been on “growing the game” with programs to bring in new players especially juniors and ladies plus rekindling the interest of former golfers. These well thought out and funded efforts may yet bring the hoped for results but the management at one of Michigan’s first class golf facilities is not waiting.
They are attacking the problems head on.
Specifically Island Hills Golf Club in Centreville is addressing the time, the cost and just learning how to hit the ball reasonably well with an innovative solution built around the idea of “Quik Courses.”
Quik Course “loops” of holes within the full 18 holes of the 1999 Raymond Hearn-designed layout give golfers a variety of choices, choices to match a player’s ability, available time and wallet.
In addition to the two traditional nines and full 18 hole “loops” there is a Quik Course of five holes, another of 12 plus two different seven hole loops with fees proportionately less than a full round. At the heart of this concept is the idea scoring better makes golf more fun and hole length is a major factor in scoring. Therefore each hole at Island Hills has six tee sets with the most forward playing to less than 3,000-yards for 18-holes, a good distance for juniors and novices or even super-seniors.
Island Hills owner Bob Griffioen purchased the facility four years ago and has been the inspiration for the innovations implemented by president Andy Mears who took over day to day operations at the end of 2012. Mears stressed that the Quik Course concept is an integral part of the club’s operations…not an afterthought. Beginners can receive lessons at no charge, rental clubs are free and the club promotes ‘no-greens-fee family golf’ on Sunday afternoons.
On a recent trip to Island Hills we had the opportunity to talk with Mears at length about Quik Courses.
Q: What was the thinking behind you and Bob Griffioen coming up with the Quik Course concept?
Mears: Actually Bob has been working on the Quik Course idea since he purchased the course in 2010. I arrived in December 2012, spent time listening to Bob talk about his vision for the concept, then set out to help him hone-in the marketing component. The base line approach for the Quik Course is to provide current golfers with the opportunity to play golf within their lifestyle. As the industry struggles to keep golfers connected to the game, we believe current players will enjoy knowing they can play a “Quik” round within their timeframe…in essence, get their golf fix in, without eating up to 4-hours, even more when you count travel time, pre and post-game socializing. For the new golfer, the Quik Course concept offers a graduated way to get into the game without the intimidation factor. 9 or 18 holes can be overwhelming to new golfers. With the Quik Courses providing a 3, 5, 7, 12 and a mini-18 format, the game does not seem so daunting. And, there is nothing wrong should a new golfer choose to remain playing at the number of holes that makes them comfortable.
Q: What did it take to implement it at Island Hills?
Mears: Foremost, good course signage and scorecards for each course. We view the Quik Course as part of the operation, not as a sidebar. Good tee sheet management is crucial, as well as, starter and ranger to help manage course flow. We have not been overwhelmed with Quik Course play, so it has been manageable. But, as golfers become familiar and accustom to Quik Course advantages, play will increase.
Q: What has been your experience so far with the short course loops and especially the 3,000-yard short tees for beginners and juniors?
Mears: Everyone is intrigued. Like anything new, it takes time to get golfers “in the swing” of trying new concepts. The mini-18 is actually for everyone which is why we do not label it Junior or Beginners course. It plays about 3,000 yards using all 18-holes. It is a great way to play more golf.
Q: What changes have you made since starting the Quik Courses?
Mears: The biggest change is taking it seriously. The vision has gone from concept layout, to let’s see what happens, to a full part of the golf operation. We even had a 12 hole-12” inch cup event that sold out…over 220 golfers played the Deer Trail layout. We will do more events in 2014 to get golfers active with the Quik Course.
Q: What other costs were there in addition to printing new scorecards for each Quik Course? Building tees, pathways, etc.?
Mears: Installing new tee signs and directional signs was critical. Our tee signs are like a television picture-in-picture. We show the regular hole layout with yardages, then to the right of that, and a bit smaller, is the layout for whatever Quik Course the particular hole is associated with. We also offer free rental clubs, lessons to beginners and free family golf on Sunday afternoons.
Q: How would be the best way for other courses to start there own short courses and implementing play from forward tees?
Mears: Number one ownership and management must be committed to it. The mistake I see golf courses making is to think the concept will instantly grow revenue – it won’t. The concept is to grow loyalty by catering to golfers needs and developing new golfers. Everyone has 24-hours in a day…so it is simply a matter of how we choose to spend that time. Currently the people who play golf are playing less because they are choosing to spend their time differently. New golfers are exploring golf, but the game has many obstacles, foremost frustration, and they choose to leave. We need to look at the societal evolution we are in and implement opportunity for golf where we can. Island Hills has chosen to give golfers some option for how they play golf and spend their time doing so. We believe providing an avenue to play golf within your lifestyle will lead to you playing more Golf…and that is the bottom-line…more golfers, playing more golf.
Is the Quik Course a long term solution to the participation problem? Early indications are very positive with play increasing over the summer. Mears says Island Hills is in it for the long term and expects play to grow significantly in the 2014 season.