Familial approach: Raven GC engages kids, parents

Raven Golf Club’s new initiatives make it easy for families to get course time.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the April 6 issue of Golfweek

Most parents are familiar with the joys of chauffeuring their children from one appointment or activity to another.

Transport and wait. Transport and wait. Transport and wait.

It’s a maddening cycle that’s repaid with love, but barely.

“No matter how much you adore your kids, and they adore you, there are days you say, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ ” said Derek Crawford, general manager of Raven Golf Club in Phoenix. “That’s just the way it is.”

Empathetic toward parents who were dropping off their children at the club to attend the Wee Ravens kids’ golf clinic, Crawford and his staff brainstormed ways to engage the adults while they waited. Their solution: Simultaneously host a golf-centric “boot camp” where the grown-ups participate in fitness drills designed to help their games.

Kids, happy. Moms and dads, happy. It was the proverbial win-win and one of several ideas implemented since the beginning of the year to make the daily-fee facility more family friendly.

What Raven’s staff discovered during this experimentation is that family-oriented shouldn’t mean just playing golf as a family. Rather, they say, it’s about offering something for everyone in the family.

“There isn’t one silver bullet to suddenly make our sport appealing to families,” said Kris Strauss, vice president of sales and marketing for OB Sports, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based course-management company that operates Raven and more than 40 other U.S. golf facilities.

Embracing an industrywide challenge to grow the game, OB Sports is encouraging each of its courses to find ways to appeal to families. At Raven, the exercise has led to creating programs not so much for the family unit, but for family members, including kids, moms and dads, and grandparents. Scheduling different activities at the same time – for example, the youth clinic and the boot camp, or as an alternative, a custom-fitting session – was done in the name of consumer convenience.

“The key is to think about things that you can do and just try them,” Crawford said.

One of the club’s first efforts produced the Wee Ravens, a clinic that places a premium on fun and introduces juniors to the game, and more importantly, fosters an active lifestyle. That, in turn, led to the addition of the boot camp. Both left hungry customers, prompting the club to add a special breakfast offer: As long as parents pay for a meal, their children get a “free sleeve of golf ball pancakes.”

Accommodating family play – perceived, perhaps, as a slow-moving affair that could derail a club with busy tee sheets – often has been frowned upon by clubs. But there’s plenty of opportunity to carve out time for it, OB Sports officials insist.

Each morning, Raven sells an hour’s worth of tee times starting on the back nine. Dubbed the “B ’n’ B” for “Back 9 and breakfast,” the deal is tailored for golfers who want to play less or have limited time and don’t want to fret about “holding people up” – a common anxiety for less-skilled players.

“No one starting on the front will get there (the 10th hole) until 9 a.m.,” Crawford said. “It’s unused inventory. So we sell from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. It’s great for anybody who wants to get out early, but what we’ve seen most is husbands and wives who want to play together.”

Converting Sunday afternoon lulls into prime-time family time is another opportunity, Raven officials say. The club uses that window to target families and invite them to try out its new Family Tees, which establish a 4,100-yard layout. Using it costs $10 for an adult and allows an accompanying junior (15 and younger) to play for free. The all-you-can-play deal begins at 3 p.m.

The course-within-a-course even has its own scorecard, which is uniquely par-less. It essentially features blank boxes to track strokes played, but there’s no mention of par. The rationale: It eliminates expectations and pressures for the beginner that often lead to disappointment.

“A par-less scorecard allows you to have your own starting point,” Crawford said. “Let’s say a junior comes out to play. He makes a 7 on the first hole, and two weeks later he makes a 5. He’s just counting his shots and realizing that he’s getting better. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

OB Sports plans to share throughout its network the various family initiatives

developed by its courses. Because all of Raven’s programs are so new, the club has yet to collect enough data to gauge their success. Regardless, the most important benefits may well be immeasurable.

“The revenue generated by the family activities itself won’t make or break the facility,” Crawford said. “But this gives the club something people will talk about.”

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