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Operation 36: Try to shoot 36 for nine holes no matter your skill level

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Ever tried to take your kids to the driving range? Recently I had my 9-year-old nephew Jack in town. Jack, like most 9-year-old boys is a mixture of curiosity and explosive energy. When he asked me to take him to the range, how could I refuse? One hour later, I had learned a very valuable lesson; teaching little kids is wicked hard. A couple days later, I recounted the story to my friend and fellow Campbell University Alumni (Go Camels!), Ryan Dailey. Ryan, co-founder of Operation 36, laughed hysterically as I recalled the struggles of trying to manage one nine-year-old.

“Been there for sure, my friend!” recounts Dailey, who in 2010 was charged with designing and implementing a program to grow golf among junior players in rural North Carolina, close to Campbell’s campus.

“When we started to look at growing the game, we thought we had one major obstacle; the rural setting. We thought finding kids was going to be hard, but once we had them, we thought they would love us, the game and it would be smooth. Man, was I wrong,” laughs Dailey as he recounts his early days.

“Sure, getting players was hard in a rural setting, but not as hard as keeping them interested! We would spend 2 hours before every class to plan an array of activities to keep their attention for an hour, and spend another hour after sharing ideas on how to make it better next time. We thought we were on the right path by integrating golf and non-golf activities to make it fun,” shares Dailey’s business partner and fellow founder of Operation 36 Matt Reagan, PGA.

Ryan and Matt were stumped more than once trying to create golfers. To get off the ground they started with 3 students and a goal to run a long-term program for 8 months out of the year. They grew to 20 students, 40, 70 and then after year 5…BAM! They lost 30 students! What happened? The fun ran out…

The tagline for Operation 36 is “Creating Golfers.”

“That’s what it boils down to, we are Creating Golfers,” Ryan said. “It’s a lot harder task than you think to guide someone to a point of full engagement in the game of golf. It’s not just motivating them in a class, drill, game or activity. That can be pretty easy with all the fun toys you buy, music you play and endless drills and games you play on the practice tee and putting green.  It’s guiding them on that journey from being motivated in class, being engaged in a drill or activity and then the ultimate, being engaged in the game of golf playing on the golf course. We lost almost half of our program after year 5 because we forgot about the most important part, getting them to play the game of golf on the actual course. Eventually if all you do are games, drills and activities in your programming and you don’t have a set playing component, players will phase out and leave your program.”

So, here’s the game: Operation 36

They tried every playing component imaginable and couldn’t find one that really helped to hook players on the challenge of the sport. They settled in on a format where the goal is to shoot 36 or better for 9 holes. Now students start at 25 yards away from the center of the green and play all 9 holes in a competitive match format.  If they shoot 36 or better, they move back to 50 yards for their next match. If they don’t shoot 36 or better, they remain at the same yardage and keep trying until they develop the skills in class, practice and in match experience to pass.

“We banged our heads against the wall for about a year as we tried to integrate playing golf into the program. After our first Op 36 Match we could see we were on to something for a couple reasons. First, we got around the golf course in under 1.5 hours, where previously even from a forward tee we were pushing 3 hours for 9 holes. Second, the junior golfers who didn’t pass were excited to play again, and the golfers who did pass were asking … what’s next?” says Matt

The original format Ryan and Matt came up with on a drive down US 1 to Pine Needles in 2014 is the same used today. After 50 yards, players go to 100, 150, 200 and then their full tee box based on age. What started out as “for Juniors only” has evolved into a huge success with adults.  It’s a lot easier to learn the game whether you are young or old from a manageable distance where success is experienced right away.

Fast forward to present day. The team at Operation 36 trains coaches globally to implement and manage the program at their own home facility. To date, over 319 facilities use Operation 36 and over 10,000 golfers participate. The team uses the tools, technology and resources to help coaches successfully launch full-service Academies or add a world-class beginner program to their established Academies.

A full 6-level curriculum is included to help coaches know exactly what to teach and when during an Academy Class. Time has been spent coaching over 3,000 Academy Classes to figure out what needs to be taught and how to teach it to have the biggest impact on the player.

To help golfers on the course, golf professionals issue participants with a series of goals to accomplish within the Operation 36 mobile app. The goals are not only educational, but provide a long term roadmap to success. In the next article, Ryan and Matt will share profound results of their having tracked over 2,000 Operation 36 rounds.

“The goal has always been to create a journey or pathway that players plug into and see if they are ahead, behind or right on pace based on their given goals,” Ryan said. “We have arrived at a point now where I can have that conversation with a student and parent. Based on the scores in Operation 36 and the age of the player we share relevant, accurate and impactful data from our research that helps shape decisions in coaching, parenting and training that keep players on track.  I like to compare what we do to a GPS. The student gives us the destination and we use Operation 36 to know where they are on the journey. If they are behind, we motivate them to work harder. If they are on pace or ahead, we communicate that what we are doing is working and let’s stay the course. As our research and number of facilities participating grows, we learn more and more impactful data that only helps parents, players and coaches to be more focused, intentional and motivated. Amazing, effective stuff is coming out of this corridor that we are very excited about, stay tuned.”

To get involved with Operation 36, email support@op36golf.com. To book Matt and Ryan to come speak to your golf association, section or coaching staff, please email Director of Operations Andrew Strom at andrew@op36golf.com. They are also available to do a certification for your chapter, section, or association and are willing to drive, boat, or fly to get there.

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Brendan is the owner of Golf Placement Services, a boutique business which aims to apply his background in golf and higher education to help educate players, their families and coaches about the process! Website - www.golfplacementservices.com Insta - golf.placement.sevices Twitter @BMRGolf

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. E

    Jul 11, 2018 at 12:17 am

    Oh my I LOVE this. Change the expectations and increase the fun!

  2. Dad

    Jul 9, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    “…and then after year 5… BAM! They lost 30 students! What happened? The fun ran out…”
    That happened after 5 years of frustrating golf and they discovered girlfriends and boyfriends… more funner… 😉

  3. swing dr

    Jul 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    This is fantastic, but many courses/ people already do this! A great lesson for parents.

  4. Te

    Jul 9, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    What if it’s Par 35 or 37?
    Dumb idea. Why not just call it Operation Par?

    • Jamie

      Jul 9, 2018 at 6:49 pm

      Obviously you didn’t read the article. 25 yards in 3 shots x 9 holes, then 50 yards in 3 and so on.

    • JR

      Jul 9, 2018 at 7:49 pm

      Bet you’re pissed at 8 minute abs too.

    • Karen Gray

      Jul 13, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      There’s always going to be a negative put downer. You didn’t disappoint. “Helping comments” always welcome. Please revisit your need for extinguish enthusiasm for what these fellows have achieved and the long term journey they’ve traveled. Reconsider your approach and you might be surprised to realize your thoughts are actually being seriously received. Just thinking.

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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