From Business Startup, to Breakup, to Startup 2.0—A Backyard Golf Academy

Dec 5, 2023 | News

By David Gould, Staff Editor             

For the past five years, Joe Ingoglia has lived a fascinating and disaster-dodging adventure in business-building. In telling the tale, he’s quick to remind himself and others about his ace in the hole—an advantage that is common to all top coaches.

“What happened to me was a big blow, and my wife wanted to kill me,” Ingoglia says, “but I never lost faith in my ability to grow a teaching business very quickly.” As he points out, it’s a handy hedge against entrepreneurial setbacks.

As for that brush with disaster? It occurred last February, with Ingoglia falling victim to his lack of formal business training. A year-plus of arduous work and $200,000 of his own cash went down the drain, thanks to a business partner’s contractual switcheroo just as their suburban New York indoor golf center was set to open its doors.

“The original contract granted me significant equity in the project, but I hadn’t reviewed that contract with a lawyer before signing it,” recalls Ingoglia. “In there was language that gave my partner leeway to make revisions and cancel my ownership stake.”

Pacing the hallways of his house in Huntington, Long Island, the suddenly fleeced instructor explored litigation but received a fairly bleak legal prognosis. He walked away from the new facility, called Lab 18, and fell back on his coaching chops, working out of a space he’d built during Covid-19.

The extended and renovated garage that contains Joe’s teaching tech and an array of creature comforts for students is part of a single-family home that sits on a level 1.75-acre lot. The garage renovation took place in early 2020 after a pandemic-triggered shutdown of teaching activity at the private country club where he’d worked for nine years. Two years later, with Covid fading as a social concern, Fresh Pond Country Club called Ingoglia back in. He was doing so well in his studio he chose to resign his old club job.

That was never the plan—the garage was to have been a temporary hideout until the coast was clear.

“Before I knew what happened my new setup had created an exceptional business,” Ingoglia says. “At the club I was capped at $150 for my hourly rate but once I was on my own I raised it to $250. The waiting list was huge and the atmosphere was so much more free and loose—I had the outdoor grill right there and we were cooking burgers for everybody.”

Then along came Lab 18. It was the brainchild of a student of Joe’s, a real estate investor in possession of a 10,000-square-foot building. “There’s an indoor private golf club in New York City that he wanted to recreate out on Long Island,” Ingoglia says. “I bought into the dream and we set to work. About $4 million later we had a nine-bay training center with simulators, a bar, a workout area, the whole works.”

Under the suddenly revised arrangement, Ingoglia Golf would be paying $30,000 a month in rent and its proprietor would be nothing more than a tenant—not a part owner looking down the road to the planned exit, an envisioned sale of Lab 18 to private-equity investors.

There was nowhere to go but back to the garage studio. Only this time Ingoglia found himself surveying the whole property, pondering its potential.

“This part of Long Island is where people come who want a lot of land,” he explains, noting that Huntington is located where Nassau County and its close-in suburbs meet the exurbs of Suffolk County, known for its potato farms and sprawling sod nurseries. “The people we bought our house from kept horses on the property,” Joe says. “We’re too far from New York City to commute, and too far from the Hamptons to qualify as vacation property.”

Indeed, the multi-acre house lots of Huntington are what you find in old farm towns throughout the Northeast that haven’t invested in sewer systems and thus require large building lots to accommodate private septic tanks and leaching fields. Ingoglia got the idea to clear trees, bring in dirt by the truckload, purchase massive rolls of synthetic turf, build greens, build bunkers and more or less own the world, instruction-wise, in his region.

Which is basically what’s happened. In the stunning breakup of Lab 18, Joe got back $50,000 of his $250,000 stake. He took that money, plus some cash from his savings, and spun it together with a large interest-free loan from two of his well-heeled students. “I call them my ‘angels,’” Ingoglia says. “They knew my story and they wanted to help.” Specs on the facility look like this: a 3,000-square-foot putting green, a 4,200-sf wedge green, two “real sand” bunkers, a 10,000-square-foot bentgrass surface to hit pitches and chips from, plus other teeing areas.

The aforementioned word “region” is important to keep in mind. The new Ingoglia Golf studio-plus-short-game training center draws from a relatively massive population radius.

“I have clients who come here from Manhattan, and others who come from Westchester County, across the Sound,” says Joe. “That’s hours on the road each way, but they want to be part of this.” That’s got to be an accurate read, since a couple dozen golfers have already begun ponying up $2,000 a month membership fees. “Private club members don’t have actual privacy at there clubs, when it comes to instruction—everybody knows everybody else’s business,” he says. “They come here, they use the back yard before and after lessons, and they’ve basically got the place to themselves.”

He’s already got an arrangement with an area motel for housing clients from out of state. Those visitors will get the standard treatment, plus an 18-hole round with the proprietor. “I’ll have my clubfitter, who is famous in his own right, two staff coaches handling most of the traffic, and I’ll be down to about 25 hours of active teaching,” he says. “I’ll be able to work on the business instead of in the business, which has always been a goal.”

Ingoglia’s goal is repay the loans within four or five years, which looks eminently doable. Revenue goal is $500,000 in 2024 and $750,000 in 2025. He’s planning a Masters party at the academy, which he expects will be a “who’s who” of prominent golf-nut New Yorkers. Instead of burgers on his grill there very likely will be prime steaks.