When GolfSmith closed its doors nationwide in 2016, one of its biggest in-store partners, GolfTec, could have gone down with the ship. It was clearly a big economic blow. Instead, 2017 was a banner year for the brand, as it taught nearly one million lessons worldwide, opened more than 40 new centers domestically and internationally, achieved recognition from several key influencers, and launched a premium club fitting program as part of a successful brand refresh.
The company was named among the “Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Sports” by Fast Company, made the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America, and was honored as one of the National Golf Foundation’s “Top 100 Businesses in Golf.” Seven GolfTec were acknowledged for excellence by their local PGA Sections.
The GolfTec coaching team is comprised of experienced instructors, the majority of which are PGA professionals who have taught thousands of lessons. Each goes through a rigorous multi-week certification at GolfTec University including continued advanced training to master the analysis of golf swing mechanics, the technology utilized by GolfTec and the most productive teaching techniques.
“[Last year] was crucial for our business. We continued to build on past momentum and ushered in some very exciting changes and new programs that will pay big dividends in the future,” said Joe Assell, GolfTec’s CEO and co-founder, as he and his team blazed through meetings and recruitment sessions at the PGA Show in January. “Our growth and success are results of our ambitious company-wide attitude, first-class technology and a team of outstanding coaches who continually strive to make our students the best they can possibly be.”
The changes are in full force. In April 2017 GolfTec unveiled a complete brand refresh that included vibrant new in-center design schemes, updated logo, enhanced club-fitting program and advanced in-bay teaching technology, which is rolling out gradually with state-of-the-art cameras and lighting that provide enhanced high-resolution video for both in-bay playback during lessons and online viewing post-session. These cameras are custom-made for GolfTec and integrate with the company’s updated and proprietary motion-measurement TecSwing system used in the millions of lessons taught to date.
They’ve invested heavily in a new clubfitting curriculum, too, bring all instructors to their headquarters in Denver for three additional days of training on what they call their “component wall,” where customers will find more options than ever. The TecFit proprietary custom club-fitting program offers an extensive array of component club head/shaft combinations in addition to leading-edge technology and software that combines swing characteristics with ball flight data to help properly identify the optimal equipment for each student.
It all adds up to a renewed commitment to cater to the customer as an individual — where they are in terms of ability and interest level — not a cookie-cutter project. And that, conversely, depends on complete philosophy buy-in among their teachers.
“We teach them the facts and the up and down, the whole ability range, and then we’re delivering that to our customers,” he continued. “They can get it in more bite-sized and relatable pieces instead of trying to stretch them all the way to the tour player[level]. It doesn’t matter who you are, you can be David Leadbetter or Butch Harmon, if you want to teach at GolfTec, you have to attend and pass GolfTec University. It’s pretty stringent process to certify all coaches.”
Nick Clearwater, who Assell calls the “dean of Golf Tech University,” bases all methods on carefully compiled research. “We started by testing 200 Tour players on motion sensors to build this model swing,” Assell added. “That has evolved into a few million amateur swings — all the data on seven and a half million golf lessons — and we [continually] modify the database structure to make it easier to measure and catalog all the motions. We can correlate swing positions to handicap — ‘well, you do this and a Tour player does this … here’s how your swing needs to evolve to get five or ten strokes better.’ And we can prove it all. It’s been integrated into GolfTec University.”
Though most GolfTec first-time students start with five or 10-lesson packages, it makes more sense progression-wise (and, yes, business-wise) for them to stick around longer; hence Assell’s use of the word “coach.”
“We used to sell smaller increments, but it’s really a disservice to our customers to see them get halfway better and then set them loose in the middle of their changes. So really to make sure we can make people better, we ask them for a bit more of a commitment, and it works.
“Getting 25 lessons or over a one-year period is more about having a coach for a year. We find that golfers then just make that part of the way they play golf. They have to have a coach. I’m on the National PGA of America Employment Committee. We had some community meetings and they said they’re starting to use the word coach and we’re like, ‘we switched to coach seven years ago.’ [Traditionally] a pro is someone who says, ‘oh, your grip should be here or your arms should be here,’ but a coach is a mentor and friend and advisor and support system, somebody who makes sure everything is in line to help you.”
After a student has gone through his or her GolfTec experience, Assell said the company is dedicate to keeping the conversation going, with one salient question at the center of it all.
“We survey our customers every year on various things. But one of the questions in our survey is is, did you get better? We just straight-up ask how did it go. Our average annual improvement is seven shots for students, and that’s across the board. It’s one thing to go from shooting 120 or 113. That’s the easy seven shots. But at a meeting this morning we talked to a recent student who didn’t know that number. He said, ‘I went from 13 to a six.’ There you go. Seven shots.”