We designed new driving range experiences focused on lowering the high barrier of entry to golf for a struggling public country club in Hartford, CT.
4 person team
Customer journey mapping
Pencil + Paper
How did I end up designing at a golf club in Connecticut?
A friend came to us one day and said his family’s treasured golf and events business had reached a turning point. It is no secret the sport of golf has hit a slump in recent years. Owing to a dearth of iconic figures like Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, and Jack Nicklaus, younger generations of Americans are playing fewer rounds of golf than ever. Tunxis Plantation Country Club in the Farmington suburb of Hartford, Connecticut, has not been an exception to this downward trend.
Tunxis is now reaching a crucial threshold that only 3% of family businesses make it through: passing the business on to a fourth generation. And in making that transition, our friend came to us with a positive outlook, as he begins the process of becoming a co-owner of Tunxis. He represented Tunxis as a business coming from an industry steeped in tradition as receptive to disruptive innovation and modernization. He then invited us to spend a week living at Tunxis, where we could learn about the business and synthesize design proposals to help reinvigorate and even reinvent the Tunxis golf brand.
Having played golf since the mid-90s, I relished the opportunity to be a project manager for this team. My goal was to leverage both my past experiences as a young golfer and as a busboy in a country club setting to establish rapport with and anticipate the needs of the various Tunxis stakeholders.
The Tunxis staff treated us to half a day of golf on the premises to understand the experience they provide, and help our team become more familiar with the game. We received brief lessons from the club pros, hit off the driving ranges and putting greens, and finally played a few holes on one of the Tunxis courses. The first-timers wearied quickly, a pain point we gravitated towards in wanting to reinvent the golf experience. Finally, we met with the restaurant and special event staff to understand their capabilities and interactions with the golf courses.
After a half day immersive golf experience, it was clear that people had more questions than answers about the business. I led a question-storming session to help fill in our gaps in knowledge about the Tunxis golf business. We were joined by two golf pros who were also able to ask questions, as well as answer some questions.
Customer Journey Map
We went out into the field to visit local driving ranges in the area that are open year round to better understand the competition, and build a stronger mental map of the driving range experience as it stands now. We identified and visited Tunxis' biggest competition, Stanley Golf Course, a driving-range focused golf center called Golf Quest, and finally, one teammate visited the golf-startup Top Golf.
We compiled our experiences at various driving ranges, combined with informal chats with others about why they go to driving ranges, to form a driving range customer journey map (click to enlarge.)
My new-to-golf teammates kept wanting to return to driving ranges once they were able to consistently hit golf balls, yet nobody was anxious to return to the slow-paced environment on the actual golf course. This disconnect between the driving range and the actual course led us to brainstorm the factors that make a place worthy of spending time and money. We also left these living documents up so that others might contribute to what makes a locale “cool” or “fun” to be at. Four themes emerged - expected amenities, social value, branding, and "don't make me think." This last cluster struck a chord with us - how might we inject golf with the instant gratification factor needed to draw millennials in?
I next led the team through the Crazy Eights sketching exercise to solidify some of the ideas we had brewing inside our heads. We drew out and captioned ideas around reinventing the driving range experience, and then presented them, along with our research, to the Tunxis executives. The various stakeholders at Tunxis were happy with the balance these ideas struck between the traditional driving range experience and the millennial need for instant gratification. One longtime member-turned-employee even offered to become a part of any future experience prototype.
Experience Prototyping a better Driving Range
We wanted to prototype an idea we could leave with Tunxis at the end of our visit that could be implemented without greatly affecting the facilities. An experience prototype seemed like an effective way to gather buy-in from Tunxis because we could show it on their property. Using local high school and college-aged "golf buddies," we envision a future driving range where friendly onboarding for newcomers might break down golf's high barrier to entry.
We presented our experience prototype to the Tunxis staff on the final day of our trip. The prototype was presented more like a skit due to time constraints. but still served to show the experience. One staff member even participated, having become very excited by our idea. The client was very happy with the feasibility of implementing these changes at Tunxis, as it requires minimal capital expenditure and leverages the existing strengths of the staff and facilities.
Tunxis and Disruptive service design
Tunxis also expressed interest in more outside-the-box ideas, and I wanted to make sure we left them with some big picture service innovations. We combined the driving range experience prototype with instant-gratification ideas from our crazy eights brainstorming to form a much larger service. The Club at Tunxis blends the social focus of Top Golf with the peaceful environment, dedicated staff, and location Tunxis offers. Although a more longterm goal, Tunxis was receptive to the idea, given that it falls within the zoning regulations as well as in the spirit of the club's future (click to enlarge.)
This project was a great opportunity to become a project manager and lead a team of other designers. It was helpful to apply my own domain expertise in both golf and food service to strike a balance between design innovation and understanding the limits of the Tunxis facilities, staff, and budget. From here, we will keep iterating on both levels of design with Tunxis to work towards implementation of our ideas. Tunxis hopes to begin work on the newcomer-focused driving range this summer.