We caught up with Rob Leonard of Harpenden Common Golf Club about the “Tour Shed”, their brand new simulator.
Rob has been the Head Pro for the last 8 years after playing full time. Rob was actually a junior member at Harpenden, about 15-16 years ago. So safe to say he’s been there for a while!
What experience have you had with golf launch monitors?
We experimented with various different launch monitors over the years; we purchased GC2+HMT for a different golf course, but we invested in the GCQuad about a year before we built the studio here.
The GCQuad was fantastic, gave great data, but with selling equipment and lessons, to give it the whole environment of numbers up on the screen and where you can see the ball flight…we converted sales a lot better with the whole thing – the GCQuad and studio together.
What was the process for acquiring the Tour Shed?
It’s a busy club, so we’ve got two practice areas. We’ve had the facilities for practice, but the goal has always been to have an indoor swing studio.
We purchased the GCQuad a couple of years ago, when it first came out, which was fantastic. It was fantastic for fittings – seeing data was great – but the conversion of sales needed this room.
Once you’ve got indoor space, you’ve got the right environment – members feel engaged and conversion of sales are there, definitely.
It’s on common land here, so it was actually a bit of a battle with the council to actually get the planning initially. But, once we got that it was then about the contract between myself and the club. I wanted to fund it myself, because I wanted it as my asset. We were in negotiation for quite a while to get the right contract.
Once we got the right contract, the club was completely supportive – members who were in the work trade held us out when they could; we got it installed and it’s gone down really well. The club is massively supportive of it.
What made you choose Foresight sports technology?
You’ve got to look at camera-based launch monitor technology for inside – radar can’t physically do club-face. And inside, club-face is everything.
So we had looked at other, radar devices. Now radar’s great – don’t get me wrong about radar – but that is outside only. I don’t understand why people have a radar unit inside. It cannot see the club face, so you need a photo-based system like the GCQuad. If you’ve got that, especially with dots on you’re getting so much data, you’re getting exactly what the head is doing through the impact area. You need it indoors.
You’re also seeing more and more GCQuads out on the Tour because the Pros are now trusting it as well as members. More and more of them are investing in the Quad because it’s trusted – its trusted technology and it’s working. It’s working for our members and visitors.
How is the Tour Shed golf studio used?
The main use of the indoor simulator is custom club-fittings. Obviously we’ve got an online booking system so they get a kind of VIP email which tells them what they should bring, and what they can expect. With the fitting itself, you know you can generally improve their data because of the new technology and having plenty of shafts available.
On the day they come down, they get a coffee, they get a gift pack afterwards, so customers feel well looked after and that the fitting is a special experience. So the members feel that they’re getting something different from a standard club-fitting. They’re getting that extra service with us, and then we continue to look after them, whether it’s with a lesson programme or anything else they want after the fitting.
We’ve got the golf simulator experience for customers as well; we offer simulation, so you can rent the space, have a few drinks in here, get a takeaway or use the facilities in the clubhouse. You can hire the area for either an evening activity with a few drinks, or just for practice, or if it’s a rainy day.
We also sell memberships for practice sessions, so you can book in half an hour slots at a time. Members can book a session to look at their numbers, sign up to an FSX online membership which is dead easy – obviously free from Foresight – and people can track their data just like they track their handicap online. With that online FSX membership, it’s dead easy to see improvement.
You’ve also got the Know Your Numbers software as well for gappings – that’s absolutely and dead-easy to us. So someone can just hire the facility and then play Know Your Numbers.
And then you’ve got lessons as well. So for lesson data, you can go into as much data or as little data as you want, especially with your FSX membership. You can track your improvements, track your numbers, see your optimum numbers, see if you’re getting any more clubhead speed, getting more efficient…however you want to look at it.
How often is the studio in use?
So we’ve got 3 coaches here and they’re all champing for the use of the studio! But we’ve also got memberships and simulations as well, so it’s used every day.
Most of the time we do actually block it out, especially at weekends, for potential simulation use because that’s where we get the most income. But then again, lessons can be inside, as can fitting days, custom fittings, etc.
So it’s used all the time. Without it, if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in now.
What has member feedback been like?
Really good. Everyone’s loving it. For the club itself it’s a massive asset, so it’s another sales point over the other local clubs. It’s a selling point. As soon as someone walks through the door, it’s impressive. They can see all the shafts on the wall, can see the clubheads – so they’re impressed straight away.
The only obstacle that we had – or still have occasionally – is that members think they potentially hit it a bit further than they do! The numbers are exact. I know the numbers are exact. Tour Pros know the numbers are exact, but a lot of people don’t really know their numbers. So then it’s our job to get them in here and say right, OK, we can see the numbers that you’re doing now and we can improve your numbers.
That’s going to help their golf, if they know exactly how they’re hitting it; generally most people come up short, so if you’re clubbing up a little bit more, you’re going to hit more greens, you’re going to improve your scores. So it helps in every way.
We’ve just got to say “that’s your carry distance – we’re going to work on it to get your improvements”. So that’s where you can sell your lessons and get your club sales, to get members up to the numbers they would expect or they would like.
So trust in the data is a big factor. You see it on Tour when you’ve got the radar units, which are great out on the range, don’t get me wrong. But inside you’ve got to have a camera-based unit – the GCQuad is absolutely ideal.
How has the launch monitor technology impacted you as a golf coach and club-fitter?
It’s all about having the data right in front of you. I like to train up my guys in the shop to be fitters first of all, so they know their numbers. They know what their optimum numbers for clients are. We’ve got formats to see ball speed, ideal launch, to get you optimum out of it; however,
The guys in the shop love playing around with the shafts, to see what the shafts do which change the ball flight, spin rates, etc. Once they know all that, especially if they’re not coaches, if they’re trained in fitting, then they’re not going to give a lesson while they’re fitting, they just going to fit what’s in front of them. And once they fit what’s in front of them, that new club or different shaft or different loft, different weight is going to help their golf.
Then, when you sell lessons on top of that, you’ve got that customer sold into the whole package. You’ve got their trust – it’s taking about them on that journey. So we get customers in here, we get them the right clubs, then we look after them with lessons and we see them improve – everyone will improve. When they invest 6 months of their time and a new, fitted set of clubs – combined with lessons…they will improve. 100 per cent.
How did you go about marketing your club’s golf simulator studio?
So we’ve called it the Tour Shed because I wanted to brand it outside the golf club. The golf club is very supportive and we can say the Tour Shed in conjunction with Harpenden Common Golf Club, but it is a standalone product.
Because eventually if we were to go down the high street or go to another golf club and say look, we can do a fitting day for you, it would be branded as ‘The Tour Shed’. So people aren’t saying, “Oh it’s for members only, am I allowed in?” – you know you’re welcome here.
With the brand itself, we work hard on social media in all aspects, as well as club clothing, leaflets, handouts, business cards – we try and promote it as much as we can.
What is your return on investment timescale plan?
Luckily enough, we had the Quad before we had the simulator, so we broke it up into two payments. Conversion of sales is up.
What would you advise someone considering investing in a golf simulator studio?
It took me a long time to actually get my contract with the club correct. It’s my investment, but it’s obviously on the club’s land so to get that contract was key. The club are happy, I’m happy.
So investing is key – get one as soon as you can. I personally would try and invest in it yourself so it’s your own money that’s going into it, because you’re more likely to sell more. You’ve just got to have one.