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December 2006
An Epiphany
By Ellison Clary

Golf is a frustrating game, but there is a teaching method that brings what Richard Brasser calls an epiphany for those who desire to play it well. Brasser knows and uses that method. As the son of a marketer who earned a degree in psychology, Brasser also knows how to promote a business. He’s combined those concepts in Targeted Golf Solutions, Inc.

The company Brasser founded in 1999 allows business people to use golf as a way to impress clients and recruit new ones. It teaches golf in a way that can be branded by the company footing the bill. Brasser says his firm produces clients and prospects that are proud of their newfound links prowess and beholden to the business executive who shared the experience with them.

“There’s no other company in the country that does exactly what we do,” says Brasser, who is president and chief executive of Targeted Golf. “We are a marketing company that is based on teaching how to play golf.”

Based in Charlotte since its inception, Targeted Golf operates in 3,800 square feet in a South Boulevard office and commercial building. The South End location is in the shadow of Charlotte’s skyline, making it convenient for many businesses, Brasser says.

Brasser and his executive team are turning Targeted Golf into a private membership club for business people. By January 1, 2007, Targeted Golf will add office workstations, a bar and other creature comforts to its state-of-the-art golf simulators and teaching services. Wireless Internet is already available.

Membership costs vary with several packages, some of which allow unaccompanied guests and other perks. Loyalty plans and turnkey marketing programs are available, as are special events.

Jeroen Renirie, director of operations, thinks the club atmosphere will enhance the Targeted Golf experience. Members and their guests can play famous courses such as Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, St. Andrews and Oakland Hills.

“You can bring your own clubs in,” Renirie says. “You can use every club in your bag and our simulator will tell you the details of each shot. If our client has a corporate event, we can upload their business graphics on the simulator.”

There will be 24/7 keyless access for members and a concierge who will handle their needs and wishes and those of their guests. Targeted Golf also has plenty of clubs on hand for those who decide to visit on the spur of the moment.

“You can have dinner at The Palm with a business prospect,” Renirie says. “When it’s done, around 9:00 p.m., you can look him in the eye and say, ‘Let’s go to my club and play Pebble Beach.’”

 

Powerful Teaching Method

That’s powerful, Brasser says, but the golf teaching method he and his staff uses is at the core of the Targeted Golf experience. It’s a process that transformed Brasser from a frustrated amateur into a touring professional.

A natural athlete who played soccer for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Brasser was losing his battle to master golf. “I had come to the point where I had just about quit playing,” he recalls.

Then he met A.J. Bonar, a former golf coach at Bowling Green University who operates a San Diego Golf Academy. “He was a bit of a Yoda character to me,” Brasser smiles.

Bonar showed Brasser how to use his clubs and how to make the game athletic, Brasser says. “He transformed my game and I went from a relatively average player to a tour player in a year,” he adds.

Indeed, Brasser competed more than six years on the Australian PGA, the Asian PGA and other foreign venues. He did well financially, “but I didn’t give Tiger Woods a run for his money,” he chuckles.

“I like to say I played with everybody’s brother,” Brasser jokes, citing his competition with the brother of V.J. Singh, who is among the rivals to Woods in global golfing circles.

Brasser, now 39, never won a tournament and by 1999 he was ready for a career change. A knee injury had forced surgery and he’d met Megan, his future wife, through a friend in Chicago.

He was anxious to get back to North Carolina, but realized Wilmington, where he grew up, didn’t offer the dynamic business atmosphere he sought. Charlotte did.

When Brasser started Targeted Golf, his idea was to host corporate events that revolved around learning to play the game more effectively, using the concepts Bonar had taught him. Brasser even gave Bonar, who continues to teach in San Diego, a piece of his company in recognition of his unwitting contribution.

Early on, Brasser recalls, he noticed that the powerful, Type A personality business people who were streaming through his course had an Achilles heel.

“This little game of golf made them absolutely insane,” he says. “Once I told them a better approach to learning and experiencing and having a pleasurable time with this game, they were really emotional. A lot of them had an epiphany, if you like, about their golf game.

 

Generating Emotion Is Valuable

“Being the son of a marketer,” Brasser adds, “I realized that generating that kind of emotion was a lot more valuable than teaching golf.”

Still, Targeted Golf built its local reputation as an innovative and successful golf teaching company. “We were known for our golf instruction,” Brasser says.

“We know we have a process that when we communicate a message to you in a very particular way and with very particular timing, you come out with your golf epiphany,” says Brasser, citing the statistic that 85 percent of Targeted Golf students shoot their lowest scores ever and 100 percent improve their game.

Part of the reason for this phenomenal success is that the teaching process takes the mystery out of golf. Lots of people who try to play the game simply cannot figure out what they are doing wrong, Brasser says.

“We make golf like other sports,” he explains. “If you hit a shot and it goes off into the trees, you know exactly what happened, you know what to do about it and you don’t have to come running back to us and get another tip. It’s about empowering people to become a better user of the golf club.”

He recalls a local executive who told the Targeted Golf staff he had to learn golf in six weeks because his boss was planning to take him to Augusta National. Though he’d never played the game, he took the course.

“He called me from Augusta,” Brasser says. “He did really well. People congratulated him.”

Over the years,Targeted Golf has grown, but in a strange way. As successful as the golf instruction was, few in the Charlotte region realized that Targeted Golf is also a successful marketer, even though the marketing side was fueling most of the company growth. It was using experience-based marketing – the experience of learning golf – to promote businesses.

Targeted Golf has built a list of national clients that include Siemens, CitiGroup and Inc. magazine.

“What was frustrating was not having the community understand what Targeted Golf does and the results we achieve,” Brasser says.

Slowly, Targeted Golf has brought in well-known local names such as EquiFirst, McGuire Woods LLP, Helms Mulliss Wicker, and Grant Thornton. Mike McGuire, Carolinas managing partner for Grant Thornton, realized the power of improving a client’s golf game, Brasser says, and even good-naturedly embarrassed him at a Charlotte Chamber event honoring entrepreneurs.

Part of the golf teaching process involves drawing on people’s hands in permanent marker, Brasser explains. While speaking from a podium, McGuire acknowledged Brasser and his company and asked Brasser to show the audience his palm.

“Richard and his crew are really sharp teachers,” says McGuire. “They make things simple.”

For his swing, McGuire says, the instructors told him to concentrate on the 18 inches before the club hits the ball and the 18 inches after impact. Thinking about 36 inches, he says, is a lot easier than worrying about the whole swing.

McGuire adds that clients and prospects really do appreciate and remember trips to Targeted Golf. “Plus, it opens more avenues to deal with people,” he says. “You can talk with them on a social basis about golf.”

 

Client Survey Clears Picture

To figure out how to entice more companies into the two-fold Targeted Golf experience, Brasser surveyed his clients.

“What we heard,” Brasser says, “was we need a business environment where a partner in a law firm can bring a client in for lessons, then go to an on-premises business lounge and do some work and make some phone calls. Later, they can check back with their client and ask, ‘How are things going? Let’s get together when you’re through with your lesson and talk business.’”

In short, they wanted a private golf and business club geared to the needs of a corporate executive or a small business owner. Hence the transition phase that is taking Targeted Golf through internal renovations aimed at providing a true “club” experience.

Targeted Golf has had good success with this plan and it shows in the bottom line. “We matched our 2005 revenue in the first quarter of 2006,” Brasser says. “We had 400 percent growth in the first quarter.” That was a significant gain in momentum compared to the 100 percent growth from 2004 to 2005.

Targeted Golf will expand soon, Brasser says. Attractive locations include New York City and Chicago, cities where there are lots of business headquarters and where it isn’t convenient to slip away for some quick links time.

“Maybe you’ve got a stock broker who says to a client, ‘Hey, let’s go play some golf. Come to my club right down the street. We can play Pebble Beach and hang out, have a couple of beers and talk business or whatever you want to talk about,’” Brasser says.

That’s possible because of the various simulators that Targeted Golf employs. “We have more technology in this little golf space than most high-tech companies,” he says. “We can do unbelievable things.”

The company is at a crossroads, Brasser believes, and either fork looks bright. “One path is extreme growth and the other is very rapid growth,” he smiles. Very rapid growth would come organically, he says, but there is the possibility of major outside investment that could send the company on a rocket ride.

“In five years,” Brasser says, “this company will be somewhere between a $20 million and a $100 million company. We’ll have a national presence.”

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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