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November 2018

GPS Guides Player Growth at Sun City


By Scott Kauffman

Practically everyone in the golf industry agrees the game needs to find new ways to attract more juniors and help make golf course ownership a sustainable business for generations to come. However, evident by the endless amount of junior golf academies, ubiquitous camps and various programs rolled out by golf’s governing bodies, it’s a fragmented approach to say the least.

In other words, what is the most effective way to truly convert junior participants into actual future golfers and newfound revenue? Sun City Country Club owner/CEO Tom Loegering believes his Phoenix-area course cracked the curriculum code through a not-for-profit program called Golf Program in Schools or GPS.

Started by Loegering in 2015, GPS is an effort to expose as many Phoenix-area middle schoolers as possible to the lifelong benefits that golf represents. Ultimately, Loegering, an 80-year-old retired entrepreneur and active civic leader, hopes to raise the quality of life for teenagers but also the surrounding communities where many of the students and schools exist.

What distinguishes GPS from so many other junior development programs is Loegering’s charitable organization brings the game to the students as part of their respective school’s physical education class with a weeklong program.

“This way, every student, regardless of life situation, has access and opportunity to our program,” says Loegering, whose organization offers it at no cost to the school district or student

Over the course of four days, students are taught the basics of golf – things like grip, posture and swing (GPS) - with the help of certified PGA pros and other volunteers. Then, students enjoy a “field trip” to Sun City where they get to walk the 18-hole course, hit the driving range and practice their short games.

Upon completion of the course and filling out a survey, each student receives a certificate granting them a complimentary membership to enjoy Sun City’s facilities during the summer months until they graduate from high school. The only caveat to playing for free: each student needs to bring a paid adult.

That’s where Loegering believes he has the “blueprint” for something that not only grows the game, teaches valuable life skills and enhances society, but also truly drives business. For instance, Loegering’s overall revenue was up about 9.5 percent in 2017. This year through September, Sun City increased golf revenue by 15.3 percent, food and beverage income was up 34 percent, and Loegering projects overall revenue to more than double.

The number of students is also growing. In the first year, Loegering’s organization introduced the game to 80-plus students in the Peoria Unified School District. Now it’s grown to 10,000 students. Loegering’s immediate goal is bringing the game to every middle schooler on the west side of Phoenix — an estimated 68,000 students at 241 schools.

If Loegering achieves that goal, and eventually franchises the concept nationwide, the future of golf starts to look promising at Sun City.

“The golf course business stinks and summer in Arizona sucks because I’m told nobody likes to golf in the summer here,” says Loegering, whose summer rounds increased to 1,786 this year compared with 1,599 in 2017, in part because of the growth of GPS. “My family has about $4 million invested in this property and the return on investment has been zero. I’m in my 12th year of owning this course and I’m sitting on a business that breaks even.

“I love this course and that’s my problem. For the first time, I feel there’s a reason to keep doing this. It would be a housing track if I wasn’t doing this program. … Golf has a lot of good (junior) programs, but show me one that’s actually designed to help a golf course owner.”

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer and the managing director of Aloha Media Group


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