PGA Members changing the game in Atlanta - PGA of Australia

PGA Members changing the game in Atlanta

As Jamie Arnold and Tim Stewart paced the 2,500 square metre space in east Atlanta scribbling a potential floor plan on the back of a napkin, the concept of an indoor golf facility wasn’t the key. It was the idea.

Any idea.

The latest idea.

The craziest idea.

Most importantly, whatever got them to the best idea.

There would be what Arnold references as the “light bulb moment” but it was only possible because they disregarded convention and asked the simple question: ‘What would we want from an indoor golf centre?’

“Everybody that walks in asks, ‘Where did you design this from?’ And Tim and I say, nowhere, because we’ve never seen this before,” says Arnold, a PGA of Australia Tournament Member since 2007.

“We’ve travelled the world playing golf and there’s nothing like this.

“The only way we could make it work was being creative.”

Through his father Colin – a PGA Professional of 50 years who spent more than 30 years at Cronulla Golf Club, Arnold has had a connection to the PGA from the day he was born.

Winner of the Australian Amateur in 2006, Stewart became a Tour Professional in 2008 before completing the Tour Professional Articulation and becoming a full Vocational Member in 2016.

He says that Arnold’s career playing in the US and his own international playing experience was critical in shaping their vision.

“Initially, our goal was to bring golf to the forefront for parents with kids and try to get golf to be more accessible for people over here, like it is for us in Australia,” Stewart explains.

“We tried to build our facility in a way that we could maximise its impact for people looking to learn golf without any of the typical barriers for entry.

“Our opportunity to travel around the world playing golf at so many amazing facilities really helped us in our concept and with that, avoid mistakes we had seen and build what we thought a golf facility should look like from our perspective.”

The genius in the space that is now Golf House Academy is its versatility.

Arnold describes it as a football field that can be split into four quadrants.

When completely opened up – with glass walls that encase the High Performance Swing Lab – people who walk in can see the entire space from front to back, including the 18-hole, 111-foot-long putting green.

But the space can be split in half for group lessons, cordoned off for individual lessons or separated in such a way that a group of friends can come in and hit balls beside each other as they would on a range.

It was that flexibility that made Arnold, Stewart and their business partners reframe who they thought it would appeal to.

Observing the success that Aussie Kids Golf Academy was having in the city, Arnold saw opportunity in the family demographic in the east of Atlanta yet has been surprised at the clientele they have attracted in the first three months of opening.

“Families come in with their kids and want to do a lesson while their son takes part in a clinic,” Arnold adds.

“This is accessible for everyone, whether you’re a tour pro or an absolute beginner.

“There are no dress codes, we have golf clubs, we have everything.

“There’s a massive market of people that tell us that there was nowhere for them to practice or play.

“It’s been massive among women who can be intimidated going to a driving range.

“We crank the music. We ask what kind of playlist they want to listen to and off we go.”

Making the space open, light and inviting was also a key focus in the design.

Skylights bathe the facility in natural light and the detail in the furnishings was such that people come in and show no inclination that they want to leave.

Complementing that atmosphere is a staff that treat visitors more as friends than clients.

“Our secret sauce is people come in expecting X and they leave with X and Y,” says Arnold.

“Part of that is our culture in Australia, being personable, nice, giving them a great experience.

“If the lesson’s an hour and they’re not hitting it well or whatever, our coaches will regularly run 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes over.

“Our staff are absolutely phenomenal. They’re really good people. They’re not clients, they’re really friends.”

Arnold acknowledges that property prices in Australia can make it prohibitive to establish a centre the size of Golf House Academy.

Yet he urges PGA Professionals looking at new business opportunities to explore every idea and to not be afraid to do it differently to everyone else.

Among their innovations, Golf House Academy boasts retractable vinyl walls that give the space flexibility and a game-changing use of impact screens that completely altered how they could maximise their footprint.

“The width of the back space is almost 20 metres so if you use a net, you need four feet between it and the wall,” Arnold explains.

“Tim had the idea of using an impact screen which means you only need 30 centimetres off the wall. That gave us an extra five or six feet, which was huge.

“Once that happened, everything fell into place.

“That was a light bulb moment for sure.”

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