Sun, Dec. 15

Golf much more than hitting a tiny ball with a big stick

Gwen Hanna

Gwen Hanna

The first time I learned about the game of golf was in high school. I took it as a physical education course since we had to choose an activity in order to get school credit. I wasn't very good at it, and it amazed me why anyone would want to use a stick to hit a tiny ball across the grass.

Fast forward several decades, and not only do I have the great fortune to live on the golf course of Oakcreek Country Club, but I can honestly attest that the game of golf as well as the industry, has many interesting aspects that I could have never imagined as a high school student.

Here in VOCA we have access to several golf courses. As golfers, we may sometimes sing its praises or curse its demands, yet nevertheless, it's fun if we give it a chance. Historically, did you know that the first recorded golf club was the Gentlemen Golfers of Leigh in 1744?

In fact, St. Andrews dates back to 1552, but it was not an official recorded golf club. Our Oakcreek Country Club became a golf club in 1968 with 9 holes-the current back nine. Miller Barber beat Bob Rosburg playing the 9 holes twice, winning $5000 to Rosburg's $3000. Both men also earned golf course homesites. In 1972, the second nine -- now the front nine -- opened. Since then the course has been recognized as one of the finer golf courses in Arizona.

Some fun facts: The United States has one golf course for every 18,514 people. Scotland, one for every 9,379 people, and even chilly Canada has 15,480 folks for each course! We should consider ourselves lucky to have only 18 holes since golf originally started out with 22 holes at St. Andrews. It was later reduced to 18, which became the industry standard.

Our course holds its own with the rest of the clubs. The USGA sets the standard with "rating" and "slope." Most golfers, present company included, do not need to worry about the "rating" since it usually pertains to scratch or near scratch golfers.

Only 20 percent of all golfers have handicaps under 18. The "slope" determines the degree of difficulty relative to other courses from the various tees. Ours are teal, gold (formerly known as red), white, blue, and black.

The norm or average for all courses in this country is 113. The slope from our teal tee is 114, so even our most forward tee equals the norm of other courses. The slope of the black tees, which is the furthest back, is 131, and I marvel when I see professionals playing from those distances.

Our course is 6824 yards long, which can't compete with the International Golf Club in Massachusetts. It measures 8325 yards for a par of 77. Oakcreek Country Club's number one hole is our longest at 565 yards (a par 5) but no competition compared to hole number seven of the Sano Course at the Satsuki Golf Club in Japan. It is 909 yards for a par 7.

Golf as an industry continues to evolve and change, and we've made some of our own to keep up with the times. For instance, we recently added the teal tees to make it more fun for beginners, juniors, and those young at heart and older in age that might find the yardage challenging or intimidating even from the former red tees. It also helps to step up the pace of play, because us learners can hit for shorter distances to get to the green.

Economic influencers have also changed the face of golf. Many exclusive courses lost members as discretionary income became scarce. Our course at one time had initiation fees as high as $6,000 for VOCA, and $12,000 for non-VOCA members.

We have since drastically reduced those rates, and today waive our modest initiation fee with a 3-year commitment. Additionally, we no longer make distinctions between VOCA and non-VOCA in our club memberships.

There was a time, when our "exclusivity" meant that golf members took precedence over outside guests who came to play our semi-private course. We now take the position that all players are equally important to our business, and strive to create an environment that accommodates everyone. Thanks to this strategy, it has so far helped us to minimize our increase in golf membership dues, and it has proven to be a viable strategy towards profitability.

In addition to the actions taken by heeding trends, internally we have made process improvements that have helped our golf business. We've made a concerted effort over this past year to enforce our policies more rigorously, put discipline back into managing our tee sheets, and taken control over inventory management of our merchandise. We've worked collaboratively with the operators of Redstone Restaurant to successfully host tournaments and other events, all of which have provided our guests and members with a satisfying total experience.

As always, we will continue to improve. However, one thing is for certain. Year to date, our golf financials look substantially better than they did a year ago, and people have asked, what have we done differently. It hasn't been one thing, but a combined effort of the many changes we've made based on golf industry trends, as well as more diligence in the way we conduct business and improve internal process. It all adds up to this: We have a great golf course, in a wonderful community, and the leadership will strive to keep it moving in the right direction.

Moreover, we offer golfing fun for everyone. Whether you are a beginner, a duffer, a scratch player, or anything in between, you can meet new friends, get a bit of exercise, and maybe improve your game. If you're not taking advantage of the opportunity to get and stay active, all puns intended, you might be missing the ball! Is it tee time yet?

Note: I would like to thank Loretta Benore. Her contributions were instrumental to this article.

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