head pro at a private club in Naples, Fla., was working on a masters degree in
adult education a couple of years ago when he got an assignment for another
Because much of his work day
was spent on the lesson tee, Becker had written about 25 papers on teaching the
golf swing by that point. It’s what
he knew. When he proposed another
paper on teaching golf, his professor balked. Please, not another one.
"I wondered what else I
could write about," Becker said last week.
That’s when Becker began to
wonder about the 300,000 people who move to Florida each year, many of them
"snowbirds" looking for a soft landing in retirement. How do those folks decide where to live
in the Sunshine state? And for the
golfers among them, how do they choose from the 400-odd clubs in South Florida?
"What process was it that
would end up with you investing $50,000 or $75,000 into your future," said
Finding out turned into a company
Finding out, Becker decided,
would become the subject of his next paper. He called a buddy who was a club pro in
the Northeast, who, in turn, put Becker in touch with a dozen potential
snowbirds who were approaching the "transition" age, in their late 50s and
Becker put together a list
of questions for each "case study:"
How many days a week do you envision playing golf? Does your spouse play? Do you walk when you play? What other amenities and activities are
important to you, like tennis, bocce ball, dining? Do you want to be in a
"bundled community," where the club you join is part of a real estate
development? What’s your budget?
During his research, Becker
learned that Yankees mulling their escape to Florida usually had two methods of
gathering information: They’d talk to friends who had already made the move, or
they’d go on the internet.
"For the average
62-year-old, the internet just wasn’t sufficient," said Becker. "It’s too daunting, there is too much
out there. And calling a golf
club to talk about memberships is
no different from calling a Toyota dealership. They want to get you out there and put
you into something."
That’s when Becker realized
he had more than an idea for a graduate school paper, he had an idea for a
"I’ve been here for 15 years
and I know all the clubs," said Becker.
"With all that information, I was able to filter in my head, without any
data base, what clubs I thought would be a good fit for these folks."
With backing from several
members of his club in Naples – they loved the idea, too – Golf Life
Navigators was launched on March 1,
Becker recruited other
Florida club pros familiar with the clubs landscape, as well as club pros in
the North, who could refer potential clients. To date, Golf Life Navigators has done
165 client consultations. Of those,
GLN has matched about 40 with clubs.
Many more are still planning their eventual move to Florida or in the
"dating" process with the three or four clubs that seem to be a match. Turns out, the typical client is not a
62-year-old, it’s a 54-year-old looking to the future.
Clients pay nothing
Best of all for clients, the
GLN consultations are free. Revenue
comes from advertising by Florida businesses looking for an introduction to the
new arrivals, and from real estate developments. In addition to matching golfers with
clubs, GLN also matches them with houses and condos.
Here’s a condensed version
of my conversation with Becker:
MPG: Different clubs have different cultures. How do you match people with
the right club?
BECKER: We want to know from the clubs what kind of clubs
they have within the clubs? In
other words, do they have a travel group?
Do they have a wine group?
Do they have a lot of people who play bocce? Because the social aspects of a club are
why a lot of people join.
did a survey of 700 members of clubs in Naples to rank in importance of what
means the most to them at a facility.
Surprisingly, for men and women, golf was fifth or sixth on their
list. They didn't care about golf
as much as they did about other things.
For ladies, the No. 1 draw was landscaping. For the guys, the No. 1 thing was the
social aspects – playing a few holes with the boys and having a beer
afterwards, those type of things.
golf is the centerpiece; that’s how we gain our clients. But the clubs within
the clubs is what makes the matchmaking work. How do you find a club with a good gin
game? You can’t find that out on
your own. Personalized local
knowledge is so key to this whole model.
else works for the company?
BECKER: There are nine of us; we are all PGA members. The PGA logo gives the sense of security
have six PGA professional that work for me 40 hours a week; the other guys are
around the state of Florida. If I got a call from somebody who is interested in
Vero Beach, I don't know that area that well, so I have a guy up there I would
have do the consultation because he has been up there for 20 years. I compensate them for what they would
normally charge for a lesson, because I am taking their time.
MPG: What happens when a client comes to you and you realize, for lack of a
better term, they are a complete jerk? What club is going to want this guy as a
BECKER: It is the club’s responsibility to decide who they
want to bring in. I can tell you
that most clubs wouldn't turn anyone away at this point. I let the consumer and the club work it
out. I am kind of the middleman. If the membership director doesn’t think
this person would work out, they just won’t offer them a membership. Out of 165 consultations, I haven’t run
into that yet.
I talk to the membership director, I will give them a heads-up. I’ll give them a bio, from their
profession to their hobbies, then I step away. I get it down to three or four and now
it is time for you to do your due diligence to make sure you buy at the right
MPG: So, do people get three or four free rounds of golf?
BECKER: Not necessarily free any more. It used to be but
now, worst case, you pay a guest fee.
Afterward, they will meet with the membership director, who will then
pair them up with a member with similar interest or from the same city.
Philadelphia a big market for you?
Oh, yeah. Down the East Coast, from Palm Beach County all the way up. I have a group that I work with that is
about 50 Philly guys who come down every march called the Italian Open. We have lot of Philadelphia connections.
MPG: Without mentioning names, can you describe any Philadelphia clients
BECKER: I’m working with about a dozen Philadelphia clients
now. They are all
executives any attorneys. We have
one ship captain. We a lady who is
a retired banker. They are all in
the 54- to 58-year-old range. None
of them today have pulled the trigger on a club but they are in the interview
process with clubs. They want to invest in a condo now and come down in the
winter, until they are ready to become an official snowbird.
MPG: Which is the bigger component for you, the club or the real estate?
BECKER: Real estate.
We have our own brokerage.
When we do the consultation, the last question I ask is, do you want to
do your real estate search with us, too?
Every person says, "Yes."
I talk to our real estate guys to see if any real estate meets their
criteria. Then people will come
down, play golf, look at the real estate before or afterwards, then meet with
MPG: There is no cost to the client.
So who pays for all this?
BECKER: When we started it had never been offered before, so
we were going to charge a consulting fee.
But my partners and I said, let’s figure out a way to have this
complimentary. I didn't want anybody not to call because there was a $250 fee
we did was create advertising programs for local businesses, so when you move
down here you are going to need a pool service, a dentist. That was all advertising opportunities
to create revenue. We have vetted
vendors. It’s all there, trusted
our biggest revenue stream is real estate.
We represent the buyer. All
our agents are licensed. The third
part is our club affiliations with about 75 clubs here on the East Coast and
the West Coast. The clubs pay a yearly advertising. Clubs also get detailed feedback about
why about why people didn't join, what’s wrong. With us, the client is very
honest so we can relay that information.