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Augusta Manufacturer Sponsors Golf Lessons for Employees


June 5, 2007. When Club Car decided to offer free golf lessons to introduce employees to the game, no one knew what to expect. Would employees who work physically demanding jobs on the assembly line producing golf cars and utility vehicles want to spend their leisure time learning to play golf? Would managers in the company's marketing, finance and information technology departments be comfortable hitting practice balls alongside welders, metal fabricators and truck drivers?

"We weren't sure what was going to happen," said Club Car president and CEO Phil Tralies. "We just knew we wanted to find a way to give back to the game and grow the game at the same time."

As the program heads into its third season, all the questions have been answered to everyone's satisfaction. As it turns out, employees from throughout the company are clamoring over the spots that open up every six weeks when new classes are formed. And as far as the cross-functional diversity issue, it seems that managers can hit a banana ball just as far out of bounds as the guys who wield those hydraulic wrenches.

Club Car's grand experiment to encourage participation and support golf courses in the Augusta, Ga., area began with Tralies' belief that golf companies should be the first in line when it comes to supporting the game. "Those of us who depend on the health of the game to support our businesses should be willing to invest in programs that grow the game," Tralies said when he announced the program at the 2004 Golf 20/20 conference. "We should not expect others to do what we're not doing ourselves."

The place to start, Tralies suggested, was close to home. So, each spring, on the heels of the Masters, the internal memos and sign-up sheets start circulating, encouraging employees to participate in the company's customized version of the "Link Up 2 Golf" player development program offered at The First Tee of Augusta. The lessons are free, compliments of Club Car, a business of Ingersoll-Rand Company Limited, a diversified industrial firm.

Since the program began, about 200 employees have participated. Its success has led to an expansion to include league play for extended families as a way to encourage family interaction and keep players involved in the game after their lessons. "My son is 16 and plays a lot of sports. There aren't too many things we can do together athletically, but now we can play golf together," said Helen Pawlowicz, who works in the accounting office and got hooked on the game during her free lesson series.

"We hope more of our associates and their families not only learn the game, but learn to love the game," said Tralies, a member of the executive committee of Golf 20/20.

The love seems to be spreading. "I never played golf before and didn't think I would ever play," said Donald Taylor, a quality inspector on the Precedent golf car production line. "But now that I've learned a few things about the game, I found out how much I like it."

In addition to new golfers coming into the game, Club Car officials say the program is laying the groundwork for other positive benefits. "We're creating a more engaged workforce," said Tralies. "Learning more about the game and being around the game helps our people understand how Club Car products play a part in our community and our industry. That makes them feel better about their jobs."

Company officials think there could be some downstream health care benefits. "Every hour that you can help someone be physically active is an investment in their good health. Over the long term, that could help us lower our health care costs," said Judy Beltz, a manager in Club Car’s Human Resources department.

The biggest benefit, however, may be one accruing to the game itself. "We’re breaking down barriers and misconceptions," Beltz said. "I think a lot of our people thought golf was a game that only the executives played, and that for them it was financially and socially unattainable. We’re proving that just isn’t the case."

To break through the barriers and encourage communications among various departments, Club Car makes sure each class includes a cross section of employees representing a range of titles and job descriptions. Jill Brown, the executive director at The First Tee of Augusta, says learning the game together encourages camaraderie and levels the playing field. "Since everyone’s a beginner, they’re all equal. They’re in an environment where they don’t feel intimidated, and they’re loving it. They’re coming early, staying late and coming back to practice. And they’re worse than the kids if it rains and we can’t get out on the course."

Tralies knows the Club Car program is making only a small dent in Golf 20/20’s ambitious effort to grow participation in the game. Still, he thinks it could be the start of something much bigger. "Every company that depends on golf for its success should be involved in promoting the game," he said. "If we can get employees at companies throughout our industry coming to the course and bringing their children and their friends, we’ll have a positive effect on participation, we’ll support to our customers and we’ll be creating the game’s next generation of ambassadors."

About Club Car

Club Car provides fleet, turf, hospitality and financing solutions for golf, agricultural, recreational and industrial markets. For more information on Club Car, go to www.clubcar.com. Based in Augusta, Ga., Club Car is part of the Compact Vehicle Technologies Sector of Ingersoll-Rand Company Limited. Ingersoll Rand is a diversified industrial company providing products, services and integrated solutions to industries ranging from transportation and manufacturing to food retailing, construction, and agriculture.