Tips from an Indoor Golf Center Veteran
Updated: Aug 27
These are trying times for small business owners, and a lot of people are re-evaluating their business plans. In a recent webinar, Steve Graves Sr. shared his wealth of knowledge with our listeners.
Steve is a veteran in the indoor golf industry. He first opened Play-a-Round Golf in 2006 and had a lot of hurdles to overcome. His target market hadn’t heard of indoor golf, simulator technology wasn’t very accurate at the time, and a recession sat on the horizon. Through hard work and constant adjustments, Steve made it through these hardships with two facilities and a loyal customer base.
As Steve said, “There is no silver bullet in the industry.” Hard work and experience are essential elements of his success.
Play-A-Round Golf first opened on November 17, 2006, in a 13,000 square foot facility. They had 10 simulators, 2 large conference rooms, a café, a pro shop, and two on-staff professionals in addition to 18 other employees. They wanted to be the year-round indoor country club of Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, people didn’t rush through the doors as expected. After a lot of soul searching, they shut their doors on March 30, 2009, and reopened 5 days later in a smaller space with 7 aG simulators and four people on staff.
Steve said it’s easy to fall into an “if you build it, they will come” mentality with the excitement of a new business. It’s important to start with conservative estimates and plan for a slow start.
Play the Long Game
Steve believes future revenue is more important than what you draw in today.
Filling simulators is important, but don't neglect other ways to attract new players to the game. Parties have been a great source of new customers for Play-a-Round Golf. They’ve found that one or two people at a party may be avid golfers, but the rest of the party will have fun and may want to learn the game. Employees suggest games like aG’s darts or mini-golf to appeal to a wide skill range, and discounted lessons are advertised.
Steve also finds that helping people make connections pays off in the long run. When he finds out people play on the same golf course, he’ll introduce them. More often than not, a friendship forms. People will meet up at their home club to play on weekends and come in to practice together at Play-a-Round Golf.
Choose the Best Technology Partner
When a party comes in, one or two folks may be scratch or single-digit players. Those players will be the authorities on whether your simulators are accurate. Business owners need to have equipment that stands up to the test. As Steve said, “Okay isn’t good enough. People don’t want to waste their time.”
Quality isn’t the only consideration. “I’ve been working with aboutGOLF for 14 years. The level of partnership we get from them and vice versa is just incredible. [I decided to go with aboutGOLF] because they called me back. I still remember calling Dave. I actually called half a dozen simulator companies, and he was the only one who called me back. I saw they were real people who wanted to do the right thing for their customers.
“Technology will change. But the people behind it are what’s critical.”
A true partner will help get people in the door and keep them coming back.
Steve’s indoor golf centers host youth summer camps. Steve starts the day at a driving range, they break for lunch, play the short course, and end at Play-a-Round. If it rains, they take the lessons indoors.
Steve finds it rewarding to watch kids take in the etiquette of golf, and he’s found their enjoyment of the game is contagious. It’s not uncommon for kids to talk their family and friends into playing.
They also find it important to offer club rentals, particularly during parties. When a sales team comes in to play, a lot of people fly in without their clubs. They have left-handed, right-handed, men’s, women’s, and children’s clubs of various heights.
To encourage their customers to socialize indoor golf with their friends, Play-a-Round offers steep discounts when members bring friends along to play and extend discounts on classes.
Foster Customer Loyalty
Steve has built his business around creating a place for people to have fun. He aims for a different environment than a traditional golf club. He wants people to feel comfortable and encourages casual attire.
At Play-a-Round Golf, people don’t pay upfront. When they make a reservation, the staff helps them estimate how long they’ll need. They only pay for what they use. Steve knows that forcing people to pay for what they sign up for only serves to discourage them from returning.
To Steve, building relationships is foundational. There are 300 customers who have been regulars at Play-a-Round for the last 8-10 years. He knows them by name and checks in on a regular basis.
Check Out Steve's Advice
Right now, Play-a-Round Golf is busy planning how to reopen while keeping customers safe. It was very kind of Steve to take time away to share his knowledge. aboutGOLF extends a big Thank You to Steve and encourages you to check out our webinar for more of his great advice.