Twenty miles out in the country, amidst the cows that border the fairways, lies Battle Lake Golf Course, a haven for stray dogs, and home of one of the top golf shop merchandisers in America.
Cog Hill, TPC at Woodlands, Troon North, Grayhawk, Kemper Lakes …
and Battle Lake Golf Course in Mart, TX???
In 1996, Golf Shop Operations, the premier golf merchandising manual ranked the 100 Best Golf Shops in the United States, picking the top 20 in five different categories.
As one analyzes the privately-owned daily fee courses, there are several recognizable names such as Cog Hill and Kemper Lakes in Illinois, Troon North, and the TPC at Woodlands. However, one stands out, Battle Lake Golf Course in Mart, TX.
How does a golf shop at a course in a small Texas town out in the country get recognized with the big, well-known resort courses?
Chuck Higgins was a manufacturing sales representative who called on electrical wholesalers in Southern California, when he began to “develop the burning desire to get back into golf.”
Higgins, a two-year All-American golfer at the University of California – Davis, had not been able to play very much golf after graduation.
“In Southern California, it is hard to find courses that you can play and get tee times. And the country clubs were too expensive to join,” says Higgins. (While missing golf) “Hey, I even took up tennis.”
He decided to contact a friend and “pursue the idea of could you buy a golf course?” “I felt it was a great way to get back into the game, especially on the business side of it.”
Higgins was advised to look at opportunities in Texas, and in September of 1990, purchased Battle Lake Golf Course along with his brother Tim, who became the course superintendent and a partner.
“The course is a neat layout, but it had some rough edges,” says Higgins. They then implemented some changes, including the addition of cart paths around the greens and tee boxes.
But the main focus for Chuck Higgins became the golf shop.
Golf in the SouthWest
establishing the “feeling”…
“I wanted the golf shop to be the centerpiece of our golf course. We are 20 miles out of town in the country with cows bordering the fairways,” says Higgins.
When the golfers came inside, “I wanted to establish the feeling that they have reached a nice place.”
“The old owner didn’t think he could make money in the shop,” says Tim Higgins.
After taking over Battle Lake, Higgins quickly renovated the golf shop, expanded the products lines, built new displays and improved the lighting. They also redid the logo and revised the shop’s merchandising philosophy, believing success would come as long as they offered the right product, at the best price, with great customer service.
Higgins also realized that more people were starting to play golf and buy new equipment, and decided “it might as well be from us.”
How to Increase Sales by 913%!
How do you expand golf shop sales by over 900% in 6 years when you are located out in the country?
Battle Lake Golf Shop
There are several key factors that Higgins believes has led to the success of his golf shop.
Nice Displays – Creative displays such as the “Fishing at the Lake” are used to dress up the products.
Latest Products – Higgins carries the latest products from the leading golf manufacturers, including Cobra, Taylor-Made, Ping, Callaway and Titleist.
Low Prices – “We are committed to having the best price in town. People will travel a little further to save some money.”
Customer Service – “We offer what we call the 30-day full-credit guarantee, no questions asked. Say a customer can’t decide between a 8.5 degree or 9.5 degree Titanium Driver. He can take the 9.5 and play with it, and if he doesn’t like it, bring it back for the 8.5.”
Higgins has had a customer bring back shoes after they used the shoes for a couple of weeks and developed a blister. “I want them to have the right size, and a good fit,” says Higgins. “Sure, in some cases we may take a financial hit, but I am interested in developing long-time customers.”
Often, he is able to get the costs of the merchandise returned back, by offering the products as used, which in turn satisfies the needs of some of his other customers. Golf in the SouthWest
Higgins knows he benefits from the positive word of mouth by his golfers and customers, who may mention to their friends “how Chuck at Battle Lake took care of us.” This is what builds long-term relationships.
A majority of sales at Battle Lake are hard goods (equipment & clubs), which differs from most public courses. “Most public courses are soft goods oriented, and have lost this segment to the discounters.”
Higgins also feels “tremendously fortunate” that he is able to own his golf course. Although he does not have the funds of the larger corporately owned golf courses, he is able to implement his own programs and quickly adapt to changing market conditions.
His success formula works! Golf Shop Sales have increased by over 900% since the partners purchased the course in 1990.
Golf in the SouthWest
“Do you realize if you also buy a glove, you will double your number of raffle tickets?”
Battle Lake Raffle
Perhaps Higgins’ most innovative and successful promotions is his annual Raffle Sale.
For the 1997 Raffle Sale, Higgins gave out over $6500 in prizes, with 40 total winners.
The way the raffle works is each customer gets a raffle ticket for each $10 spent, with a $40 minimum purchase.
However, the customer is able to double his tickets with a $100 purchase; triple with $500 purchase; and quadruple with $1000 purchase.
The Raffle has been enormously successful since it started in 1993. Sales have increased over 500% in four years. The number of raffle tickets put in the raffle bin have increased from 2000 to 15,000.
Higgins effectively uses the Raffle Sale, as a lead-in to people visiting his shop. Instead of the customary “how can I help you?” Higgins and his staff use the opportunity to inform the customers about the sale, and point out how you can get more raffle tickets by making an additional small purchase, such as a glove or sleeve of balls.
Another promotion, Higgins uses is a free green fee for every $100 purchase. This gives his customers added value for purchasing from Battle Lake, and increases play at his course.
In 1996, Battle Lake Golf Course was selected as one of the Top 100 Golf Shops in the United States by Golf Shop Operations, the premiere golf shop trade journal. Battle Lake was one of 20 courses selected in the privately-owned daily fee category.
In 1996, Chuck Higgins was selected as the Merchandiser of the Year for the Northern Texas Region. He was also chosen as a finalist for the national award.
In 1995, Higgins was selected a Co-merchandiser of the Year for the Northern Texas Region, along with Bob Smith of Tenison Park.
Golf in the SouthWest
“On the Tee” with Chuck Higgins
When did you start playing golf?
CH: “When I was 12 or 13, we would go down to the local par 3. Where I really got into golf was when I was 13 and I started caddying at a country club. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I had quit baseball and the other activities, and was head-over-heals with golf, and played as much as I could.”
What is your favorite golf memory?
CH: “When I was a junior in high school, I caddied for Arnold Palmer. That was a pretty big thrill.”
Have you ever made a hole-in-one?
CH: “Yes, when I was 15 in a junior tournament, and I have tried to duplicate it ever since.”
If you could play golf anywhere, where would it be, and who would be in your foursome?
CH: “I would like to play Cypress Point where I have never played. As of today, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.”
What I like most about golf is…
CH: “The integrity of the game, guys calling penalties on themselves. With the growth of the game, I hope this is the one thing that will be maintained.”
What advice would you give to those people considering becoming PGA Professionals?
CH: “I think we all agree that financially it is difficult for those that are assistants, and in some cases head professionals. It’s not the most lucrative path. But what I believe is that if you are doing something that you really love to do, and you are involved with something that is a passion and a dream, the money will take care of itself down the road, one way or another. And what you gain from the enjoyment of doing what you have a passion for will offset what you may not have gained otherwise.”
Golf in the SouthWest Reflections from the Editor
I enjoyed my visit to Battle Lake, and appreciate Chuck taking the time to share some of his insights and secrets. He appears to be one of those rare people who truly love what they are doing, and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
I sense that Chuck’s mission is not yet complete. The new driving range brings opportunities and challenges. There are still refinements and changes he would like to make on the course. He mentioned rerouting hole #17, so that the hole would follow the lake.
Somehow I believe that ten years from now, Chuck will have accomplished his goal of rerouting hole #17, and as he is heading home in his golf cart, he will be thinking of redoing another hole that isn’t just quite right, or developing a new promotion that will top the success of the Raffle.