Racing to the top: GolfTEC in Centennial, Colorado is the worldwide leader in golf instruction

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The signs of success surround Mike Clinton and Joe Assell at their GolfTEC headquarters just outside Denver.

An electronic ticker near the front counter furiously counts off the golf lessons being given by its 500-plus certified coaches around the country. That ticker should hit 4 million later this year. Pins on a set of maps inside a nearby boardroom represent the 160 GolfTEC improvement centers in the United States, Canada and Japan.

GolfTEC, a company that began in 1995 under the name Driving Obsession, has made a profound impact in a short amount of time, blossoming into the worldwide leader in lessons given and the top employer of PGA professionals. Plans call for another 25 GolfTECs to open in the next year with long-term goals of moving into China, Australia and the United Kingdom. Assell, the GolfTEC president and CEO, said the company's motto is "Go big or stay home."

"Nobody is growing at the rate we are in the golf world,” he said. "We are only halfway to our growth potential. We think the U.S. can hold 325 to 350 (GolfTECs)."

What is GolfTEC?

Co-Founders Assell and Clinton, GolfTEC COO, bought the company from former Cherry Hills Country Club Head Professional Clayton Coles and renamed it GolfTEC in 1997.

"The goal was to find a better way to give a golf lesson," Assell said. "It started as an experiment. We were overwhelmed in Denver from day one."

GolfTEC has essentially standardized the golf lesson, creating a legion of PGA pros who use the company's unique software. All coaches are trained at GolfTEC University, an intensive, 11-day, in-house training session.

The misconception about GolfTEC is that the TEC stands for technology. It's true that technology -- such as video swing analysis and software developed by its own engineers -- has played a big role in GolfTEC's rise. It's really an acronym, where the "T" stands for technique, the "E" for equipment and the "C" for conditioning. Assell and Clinton, two former PGA pros, believe players need to focus on these three areas to play their best golf.

Assell boasts that GolfTEC is No. 1 in the world in teaching players technique and aims to be top dog for club-fitting. He's still searching for a partner that can develop a proper fitness program administered across such a vast network.

Key partnerships have spearheaded growth. Sixty-five centers have opened since 2003 in Golfsmith stores, where the customer traffic helps ensure visibility. The tradeoff is GolfTEC can't sell clubs to golfers like its stand-alone locations. GolfTEC also offers two mobile applications, including the new "My Pro To Go" with the Sports Illustrated Golf Group.

Perhaps GolfTEC's most intriguing business is its road show for major corporations such as Mercedes-Benz and Charles Schwab. These companies hire GolfTEC to videotape and analyze swings of customers at various events. Last year, GolfTEC traveled to 35 different PGA TOUR tournaments, including all four majors and the Ryder Cup.

"We go to ballrooms of hotels, bars, or wherever they need us," Assell said. "We (analyzed) 45,000 swings last year."

The proven path

GolfTEC promotes its "Proven Path," a five-step, long-term process to lower scores.

Lessons occur in private, indoor bays without the distractions of the course. At the initial swing evaluation, players are fitted into a harness with motion sensors. This g-Swing software, which integrates video and motion measurement, tracks every move. Warning signs, like a beep, tip off the instructor if the player makes the proper shoulder or hip turn, tilt and bend.

Assell said GolfTEC doesn't sell a swing theory but a fact-based model using the fundamentals provided by analyzing the swings of nearly 200 PGA TOUR professionals. For example, Assell said the average Tour pro rotates the shoulders 89 percent on a swing with a five iron.

"Every human being is different," Assell said. "We work with you and your body and your swing. Not everybody can get to 89 percent. We use the facts and research as a guiding principle, but everyone (on staff) works within each player and their ability. Whatever the client's goal, that is what we work on."

Lessons are filmed and saved online so players can review what they learned later on. If an instructor gives a player something specific to work on, such as a better shoulder turn or impact position, more drills are available online to emphasize the skill. Multi-lesson packages allow players to practice on their own or regularly meet with their coach.

"We tell the coaches all the time, 'It doesn't matter how much technology we have. At the end of the day, it's that 30 minutes of interaction that is most important,'" Clinton said.

An extensive club-fitting process uses equipment from Mizuno, Callaway, Ping, Adams Golf and other major manufacturers.

Inside the GolfTEC experience

Just down the road from headquarters sits the first GolfTEC, a relatively non-descript improvement center hidden in a strip mall in the Denver Tech Center. It's the first and still one of the largest standalone GolfTECs in the country with five bays spread across 2,800 square feet.

It is staffed by six instructors and Direction of Instruction/Regional Manager Ty Walker. A customary layout greets guests. The orange walls, carpet style, furniture and putting green in the lobby remain standard at all GolfTECs.

During my visit, a player in one bay was hitting balls and recording swings on his own, using a "button box," another of the many inventions created by the company. Nearby, another player is getting full instruction from a coach.

Walker has a unique perspective on why GolfTEC continues to thrive. "We try to give the country club experience but do it close to the office," he said. "GolfTEC has morphed. It is continually changing."

He said building relationships and staying creative by teaching new shots is what keeps his clients coming back.

"People who have been here for years might not whittle strokes each year, but it is about maintenance (of the swing)," Walker said. "You should stay on a maintenance program, get a lesson a month and keep practicing.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Racing to the top: GolfTEC in Centennial, Colorado is the worldwide leader in golf instruction
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