By David Gould, Staff Editor
PGA Championship week is when golfers in search of quality instruction get a high-powered message to visit pga.com/coach. Following this year’s telecast from Oak Hill, it was reported that 2,000-plus leads were delivered to coaches whose contact information and profiles are shown on the site. That’s a decent number and one that should only grow as the PGA’s marketing effort for instructors builds.
Along with referrals from current or recent active students, leads coming from Lessons.com, Thumbtack.com, Bark.com and pga.com/coach are a significant piece of the customer-acquisition process these days. Working off per-lead fees that range from $5 to as much as $18—$0 for PGA Coach—the coach using the sites gets to view basic information about the potential student and decide whether or not to begin direct communication.
For Phoenix, Arizona-based Jeremy Anderson, Lessons.com is the go-to online lead generator. He uses it not for himself but to build business for the staff coaches at Legacy Golf Club and Resort, where he serves as director of instruction.
The crew at Legacy has step-by-step strategies and even some scripted messages they cut-and-paste into the DM thread every Lessons.com lead initially generates. Anderson helps his instructors recognize what, in his view, is a basically doubt-filled and defensive stance adopted by the golfer who’s reaching out.
“These folks can’t deal with even $1 worth of unproductive lesson-taking,” says Anderson. “They’ll pull a used 7-wood out of a bin and pay $100 for it, and if it doesn’t help them they’ll shrug it off—but with lessons it’s totally different.” If you suspect that these sites attract bargain-hunters, you’re correct—but some frugal types can be swayed. “I tell them my rate is $300 an hour and they can barely wrap their heads around it, but a few of them have been so curious what a $300 lesson would be like, they’ve gone ahead and booked.”
Online lead-gen golfers need extra-careful introductions to the entire experience of working with a teacher, apparently.
“It’s the relationship and the learning environment that come first,” Anderson says. “You avoid giving them anything to make them worse in that first encounter. Starting with our proven DM messages, which get stored on the phone and cut-and-pasted, we’re going for relaxation and confidence. Show them around, talk about your technology, watch them hit balls, let them get to know you.”
Until his associate coaches consistently hit 50 hours a week of paid lessons, they should be willing to conduct NSAs at no charge, at least on occasion, he feels. And the golfers who arrive from online searches tend to need a “pre-NSA NSA,” so to speak. “We’re a volume academy,” says Jeremy. “Our competition is the nearest GolfTec, and what GolfTec spends on customer acquisition is another world from what we spend. So, effective use of Lessons.com and other sites is important.”
The Lessons.com “best of” seal is shown prominently not just on Anderson’s website but on that of his fellow Proponent member Chris Johnston. This indicates a lofty percentage of positive reviews by users who came to each coach for instruction.
Johnston has experimented freely with the sites, making sure to understand their business model before devoting too much energy to any particular one. His location in a quiet corner of the Orlando, Florida market affects how he approaches lead-generation and how the process functions for him.
“Being in the town of Davenport, I’m only going to show up on the pga.com/coach search results at about page three,” says Johnston. As a result there have been scarce leads via that source, but one of them did generate eight lessons over a two-month period, and the student’s wife has also booked instruction with Johnston—again for no out-of-pocket cost. He’s created a profile on Bark.com, but nothing’s come of it. The Thumbtack.com website, where a fee of $5 to $7 per lead is charged, has produced two active clients.
There’s a key moment during the process of lead-harvesting where the instructor wants to evaluate the lead and communicate with the potential client—and the website wants compensation. With Lessons.com there’s a prepayment that buys you “credits,” which you then spend to get active with this or that incoming lead. With Thumbtack, according to Proponent member Paul Tosca, there’s a push from the site to get your money in their hands and keep the filtering process fairly automatic, based on a few preset criteria. For that reason Tosca favors Lessons.com. He also considers its platform to be quicker and more intuitive in its functionality.
As logic would dictate, Tosca uses these lead-gen sites to sell his gateway product, a swing assessment. An incoming lead will be told about the assessment process and informed that it comes with an $85 fee. After that, private lessons are $105, with certain plans available that add affordability.
“The tools were a big help to me when I was getting established,” says Tosca, who made a career change into coaching golf after several decades in law enforcement. “I started using them in late 2017 and over time built my business to where I’m 95 percent booked going out six weeks and taking new students on a wait-list basis. The sites produced about 25 leads that turned into long-term coaching, and about a third of those 25 people made referrals that also turned into steady bookings.”
Cheryl Anderson, Director of Instruction at the Mike Bender Golf Academy, has had a good experience with pga.com/coach. It has been well worth the effort she put into filling out her profile information and posting some quality photographs of herself at work. Like others who charge a particularly high hourly rate, she is prone to causing sticker shock among golfers who contact her from the website, but that comes with the territory.
During the PGA Championship, Cheryl received two more pga.com/coach leads, bringing her total over a year’s time to right about 20. Of those, six actually came out to meet her at the Mike Bender Golf Academy north of Orlando and two of those six have become long-term clients—all for one hour’s prep work and $0 in costs to be on the site.
Since the earliest days of Angie’s List and Craigslist, the habit of searching online for just about anything has become ever deeply ingrained. It’s worked its way into golf instruction and, for the enterprising coach, it’s tended to work pretty well.