The following article was posted by Sandy Jamieson, founder of 1Club – an easy, fun and affordable pathway into golf. It’s a great read and highly recommended by ausgolf for beginners to the great game.
Having been in the game of golf most of my life and working in it for over 30 years, it suddenly hit me one day that golf wasn’t in a better place despite my input and that I had a responsibility to change that.
My early golf story was a familiar one for many. I fell in love with the game when my parents bought me a cut down 5-iron, and I started chasing the feeling of a well-struck shot for hours on end. Time whizzed by on the local school oval, at the public course or jumping the fence to a private club and the thrill of a well struck shot or the sound of the ball going in the hole was my world.
After becoming a PGA member and full-time coach, golf was good to me. I worked hard and the resultant rewards and experiences were things most people could only dream of. Travelling the world coaching some of the best players, visiting and playing some of the most famous courses and having access to the best clubs and facilities where I could coach were ‘money can’t buy’ experiences.
Eventually, family brought me home to Melbourne, Australia, and I settled into life at one of the famous Sandbelt clubs with a full membership and waiting list. While still coaching some professionals, the majority of my time was spent fixing the slice or hook of a handicap golfer in preparation for the mid-week comp.
Life was good but nine years went by, during which the golfing landscape changed. The club no longer had a waiting list and the membership wasn’t full, which was the same for all but four of the top clubs in Melbourne. Other non-Sandbelt clubs were fighting for survival and the public courses I had lined up for hours to play as a kid were all but empty! The game that has always been my passion was in trouble and as a PGA member of 25 years I had done nothing to stop it. I asked myself: was I actually part of the problem?
Obviously, golf needed more participants to fill the public courses and filter up through private clubs, but how do you get people to want to play golf? It was time to ask some hard questions and be prepared to face up to the answers, no matter how hard, and contrive the innovation to change the downward trend to the game I love. To improve the game’s future and the fortunes of clubs and public courses became my goal. This is what I asked myself:
Question 1: How many golfers had I created during my 25-year coaching career?
I didn’t know because whilst I had run many beginner clinics in my early days, it was difficult to get new golfers on the course because it was so busy. In truth, beginner group lessons had been a great way to earn money. Up to 10 in a group for an hour a week for five weeks, followed up with advanced clinics was a great business but I had no stats on how many actually became golfers.
My focus had been on climbing to the top of coaching pyramid to coach elite players rather than building a wider base at the bottom that would probably have produced better elite players anyway due to more competition. I had personal success but was part of an industry failure and had to put my hand up and own my fair share of it.
Question 2: What experiences are on offer for today’s beginners?
In most cases the same as they were 25 years ago. It seems that every public facility or driving range is still offering group clinics on the range as their main way into golf, typically one-hour clinics over five weeks teaching the technical fundamentals of golf.
The main difference I found was that no longer were individual clubs or half-sets available but rather golfers had to buy a full set requiring also the purchase of a big bag and trolley. So not only was there now still a large time commitment required over an extended period but also a large financial commitment before a golfer knew if they liked it or not. It was off-putting to many.
Question 3: What was the perception of golf by non-golfers?
Through reading as much as I could and simply talking to people, I found some common threads. Golf is a hard game that takes too long to learn, everyone is so serious with so many rules that if you break them you will be told off and its expensive lessons, clubs, green fees and memberships put it out of reach.
Question 4: How did I fall in love with golf?
I simply had one club and some balls and I hit them wherever I could. I didn’t take technical lessons; my father showed me around a course so that I could do it safely without upsetting the other users and I just played.
As I got better, I added more clubs to help me answer more of the questions the game put up and eventually had technical lessons from a professional to help me become more competent at swinging the club.
I once asked this question in a social forum for golf professionals: “Before playing on a golf course, did you take formal lessons, and how many clubs did you have?” Out of some 200 responses, only four had a full set of clubs, all of them hand-me-downs and only six had had lessons! Keep in mind these are all PGA professionals, so one could easily come to the conclusion that the best way to take up golf is with less equipment and no lessons. Truth be told, there were no formal hurdles like lessons and equipment put up in front of me when I learned, simply a few fences to jump and golfers to dodge.
So, what to do? The solution/innovation was to reinvent the past, which went back to the start of the game. I still have a cut-down hickory club I bought in a junk shop in North Berwick that reflects my own introduction to the game that had been going for over 100 years but had stopped for some reason in the last 25.
The first challenge was to get a unique club for beginners made, which I had to do myself due to the change in what was on offer by the manufacturers. The club itself is simple with very few options, designed to be inexpensive, but with a few simple additions that make it easier to learn, all of which have been done before but never brought together in just one club.
The second was to find a facility, made easy as public course use was down over 50% in the last 20 years, so I had my pick. I chose Oakleigh public golf course, down to 17,000 rounds per year from 42,000 per year 25 years ago.
I decided to simply call my concept 1Club golf and pitch it as Easy, Fun, Affordable with a promise of having people new to golf on the course within 15 minutes and a good golfer within an hour (a good golfer being someone who can play safely at a speed that doesn’t inconvenience anyone else, understands their capabilities and looks after the course).
There was to be no extended time commitment …. learn all you need to become a golfer in one lesson at a time of your choosing. All for the low price of $100 per group of up to four people or $25 each. I resigned from my job (many thought my career as well) and started at Oakleigh after negotiating a deal that saw me get paid based on how successful I was at raising the player numbers. A deal which meant a significant pay cut if I didn’t make a difference.
Certain staff within the company that managed the course thought I was mad as I refused to teach existing golfers with existing faults, referring them to other coaches and keeping my focus on new golfers only.
Apart from a few signs, non-paid promotion on my social media and some articles written on the crazy once-high-profile coach in different publications, there was no advertising, as I was simply testing my concept.
But from Day 1 it worked. People loved that they could play on the course so easily and that within an hour I could give them the confidence to return and play amongst existing golfers. They brought their friends and suddenly people who had always liked the idea of golf but never tried it were playing multiple times per week.
Even though the pathway I created has four steps divided by three rounds of golf that should be played before the next coaching session, some people haven’t come back for the follow-up sessions because they are just happy playing and developing the four things, I showed them at the start.
In the first six months, the rounds and revenue at Oakleigh Public were up 50%, a turnaround not seen before as a result of a pathway created by a person or organization in Australia to my knowledge. My plan to do something for golf to secure its future and in turn save facilities like Oakleigh golf course had worked.
The pure simplicity of the pathway makes growing the game more than just a throwaway line. It’s something easy to do and replicate. In fact, it is something I want to use to change the future of golf for the better on a worldwide scale. At no point did I set out to create something that would become my legacy to the game, however if it does, that will sit easy with me.
People and courses started to take notice, with my receiving emails and call from all around the world asking how to get involved, which turned my thoughts to how to upscale my simple idea. I was truly excited that I appeared to be on the verge of making a difference and that maybe in 150 years’ time, someone would buy a 1Club from a shop in North Berwick.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, this momentum was initially slowed by restrictions. But then something unexpected happened. COVID- 19 made golf popular again through no thought or action by anyone involved in golf but merely due to the outdoor social distancing and safe aspects of the game. It also helped that many other activities were shut down. Many in the industry were over the moon and celebrating their financial good fortune brought by all the people flocking to golf. The good days were back.
It looked to me, though, as if the desire to innovate in golf stopped. The golf industry didn’t continue looking for ways to attract people to golf because there was no longer the need; in fact, industry members were turning customers away through being fully booked or out of stock.
Golf is a unique sport in that it both draws on the traditions of the past, yet to grow it needs to harness new ideas. We cannot just rest on the short-term laurels created by pandemic-related restrictions on activities other than golf.
An example: between shutdowns here in Melbourne, I had a 24 year old woman come for a 1Club session because in her words, “golf is the new craze”. My concern is that if we try and push new golfers into a game through a system that failed 25 years ago, we won’t capture many of the people who we otherwise might.
We need a catalyst to keep the momentum going and to take golf to new frontiers. 1Club is that catalyst. 1Club goes back to golf’s roots by making the game simple, affordable and fun, even while it is also a unique tool for the future.
The rest of the world is in a period of accelerated change, pivoting businesses overnight to be able to operate and succeed in the new climate. Innovation will be more important than ever. And 1Club is part of that innovation.