Allison George is the General Manager of Toad Valley Golf Course, but she tries to avoid that title and prefers to be called The Wizard of Fun. Toad Valley is a family owned and run golf facility near Des Moines, Iowa. There are six family members involved with the management of the course so I was curious how she, a high school English teacher up to nine years ago, got to be the head honcho. Her family members elected her because she’s “energetic, organized and bossy” and they thought those characteristics fit the GMs job the best.
Turns out they made a great choice. The course which she describes as “an average Joe course” was built by the family and opened in 1973. It was doing 23,000 rounds in 2003 the year before Allison began to work her magic. At a time when rounds at most courses have been declining, Toad Valley did just short of 34,000 in 2010 despite losing a lot of playing time plus two greens and five fairways to flooding.
A large contributor to this gain in activity was Toad Valley’s focus on women.
Six years ago the course started the Ladies Night Out Clinic that includes nine sessions and runs from early July to late August. It is advertised as “for women who want to know more than just how to drive a cart.” Early on Allison figured out that it would work better if the group were divided into women who are serious about learning golf and another section for women who wanted general information and want to learn more about how to play. The Clinic has grown to 100 people.
Once the women became comfortable with their golf games, they wanted to do something to use what the clinics had taught them. In addition to the Women’s Club and league play, Allison had an idea that would fill the slow part of the week, Friday afternoons and evenings. Thus the Couples League was born. The $30 fee includes nine holes with a cart and four drink tickets. Players bring a potluck dinner.
But there’s a twist not found at other courses. Babysitting is provided at $25 per family. The kids bring a bag dinner and the course provides drinks. While they are waiting for their parents, they play minigolf on Toad Valley’s Field of Greens Mini Links course and watch movies. This unusual service has really added to the Couples League’s success and 50-60 people play each week during the season when the event is held. Most courses are scared to provide babysitting or childcare citing insurance costs. Toad Hollow’s insurance premiums have not increased as a result of offering this service
Allison passed along a key lesson that she’s learned over the years that has greatly helped the course’s success with women. “Men and women approach the game very differently. Men are very technical and want to know all the details.
The key to involving women is that they want to know how to not look awkward.
They don’t care about the technical stuff. In our clinics, we teach them all the little things like where to leave the cart, how to mark their ball and why not to walk in someone’s line on the putting green. We take away the intimidation factor.”
There is a great deal that the golf industry can learn from The Wizard of Fun