In the not-too-distant past, if you wanted to hit golf balls—or “play golf” in any non-mini-golf sense of the word—you had to go to a golf course or a driving range.
Recently, however, a number of blended golf-entertainment options emerged. Assuredly, GolfWRX Members are familiar with the major players and most have probably stopped into one of the venues. Fewer GolfWRXers, however, outside of the northeastern U.S. will be familiar with New York City-based Five Iron Golf.
After visiting the Fifth Avenue location in Manhattan, however, I felt the expanding enterprise’s story was one that was worth telling. Fortunately, Jared Solomon, Co-Founder & CEO, was kind enough to dive a little deeper into the past, present, and future of Five Iron.
BA: Tell me about the initial Five Iron concept and the opportunity you saw.
JS: Our story begins in early 2015 when I was taking lessons from Mike Doyle in a simulator in the back of a men’s clothing store in midtown Manhattan. As Mike’s lessons demand grew, we started dreaming about an indoor facility where he could teach more lessons and golfers could improve their games—all while flipping standard golf culture on its head and appealing to everyone.
With Mike and me clueless as to how to actually execute this grand idea, our final two co-founders, summer camp friends Nora Dunnan and Katherine Solomon (also my wife) entered the scene. With Nora steering the ship and Katherine navigating us through some early legal storms, Five Iron Golf was launched and open for business in mid-2017.
Since opening, we have been offering serious golfers with an urban lifestyle a convenient spot to practice and play with the data and technology to improve their games. We host Full Swing simulators, Trackman lesson studios, teaching professionals, lessons, leagues, club storage, showers, complimentary top-of-the line clubs and in-house club fitting specialists. Serious golfers also love our non-golf amenities with a full bar, fantastic food menu, games like ping pong, shuffleboard, pool or Golden Tee (depending on the location), widescreen TVs, NFL Sunday Ticket, a regular women’s golf clinic, and much more.
BA: Who frequents Five Iron? What’s the breakdown between hardcore golfers, more casual players, and non-golfers? What’s the scene throughout the day?
JS: Every type of golfer. Throughout the course of the day we see a mix of hardcore golfers, casual golfers and those who have never touched a club before. The best way to break it down is to look at a typical day at Five Iron. Opening at 6 a.m. on weekdays, a wave of hardcore golfers come into practice, take lessons, hit the showers and go to work. The morning crew is mostly filled with our members who, for $260 a month, can play between 6 a.m.-4 p.m., store their bags and use our showers at no extra cost. Around lunchtime, it shifts to a mix of more casual golfers coming in for client meetings and afternoon lessons leading into our busiest time: the evening. Thanks to our leagues, happy hour, and corporate events, if you walk into a Five Iron after 6 p.m. you’ll find every type of golfer.
BA: Breaking this down further, can you tell me about your leagues?
JS: Our golf leagues offer a competitive environment for casual and serious golfers to hangout with friends and make new ones in the city. Played over seven weeks with an eighth week of playoffs, teams of four go head-to-head on Monday and Tuesday nights. The format of play gets trickier as the season goes on, starting out with a scramble to ease all skill levels into playing competitively and ending with a 3-ball best ball in the playoffs. Not to mention, each season features sign-up perks and prizes from brands such as Greyson, Imperial Headwear, Mizuno and J.Lindeberg. And the first place team wins a two-hour open bar event for up to 30 people!
Welcoming free agents to sign up has formed a pretty cool dynamic amongst teams. Men and women who never knew each other before have continued playing together in consecutive seasons and even taken their golf friendship to the next level, playing on-course rounds. One team, made up of four free agents, just won our 2019 Spring Flatiron league in their fourth consecutive season playing together.
BA: Obviously, leagues take place in the evening, but I’d like to paint a broader picture. I see you open early. Who’s coming to Five Iron first thing in the morning?
JS: Five Iron Golf was built by golf addicts for golf addicts. When we built out the space, we added showers and a bag room so our members can use Five Iron like a gym in a way – hitting balls and playing for an hour or so, then showering and heading to work, while storing their clubs with us. Our morning crew is made up of true golf nuts, who are mostly our members and can come every weekday from 6am-4pm for no charge. These members are some of our best brand ambassadors and have truly become friends and playing partners to each other and our staff!
BA: I know you offer club fitting…can you tell me more about that?
JS: We always hated going to driving ranges or even other golf entertainment options that only had beat up, outdated equipment that never seemed to get replaced. In all of our house sets, we offer new Mizuno JPX919 irons and a mixture of the newest hybrids, woods and drivers by the top manufacturers – all free to use with any booking! You also have the option to choose which ball you’d like to play with – we have just about every major brand.
We’ve partnered with Club Champion in our two NYC locations to offer our customers access to customized equipment that is made especially for them by master fitters and builders. Club Champion is available six days a week at both NYC locations for everything from a putter regrip to a whole custom bag fitting. The way our two businesses align it is a naturally symbiotic relationship with 5i and Club Champion under one roof.
BA: Can you discuss membership options? Is there a way for a golfer to walk in off the street and log some simulator time…à la a bowling alley?
JS: Anyone and everyone can walk into a 5i and (availability permitting) be hitting balls in minutes; there are no membership requirements. We pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive golfing experience.
That being said, in order to cater to our dedicated regulars we created what we like to call a “too-good-to-be-true” membership package. For $260 a month our members get unlimited off-peak sim rentals, bag storage, and a 20% discount on peak rentals, lessons, and at the bar. We’ve also recently introduced spousal add-on memberships at only $100 a month to encourage more families to take advantage of our membership program.
BA: Any other offerings you’d like WRXers to know about…?
JS: A few for sure! We have some of the top teachers in the area who supplement lessons with technology to make the Five Iron lesson experience more helpful than normal outdoor ranges. In addition to getting accurate ball and spin data from our Full Swing simulators, we use tools like Trackman, Body Track, and several video analysis apps. These allow players of any skill level to learn why their shots do what they do and to come up with a customized improvement plan that can be monitored over time.
Also, women in golf! We are passionate about helping women feel comfortable learning the game in a friendly and convenient setting. Our women’s golf clinic, Sip & Swing, runs on a monthly basis through the fall and spring providing group instruction, an open bar, food and prizes. Each event is led by our female golf professionals, creating an inviting environment for women to network and make new friends while working on their game.
We’ve also partnered with Grueter Golf to strengthen our mission and support theirs: “getting girls on greens since 2016.” During the fall and winter they host a monthly group clinic, Weekend Warmup, at Five Iron, featuring instruction from our PGA professionals, drinks and prizes. Pairing their Five Iron clinics with on-course spring and summer events, Grueter Golf has done an incredible job breaking down barriers to the golf world and creating a welcoming environment for all women.
BA: I assume the adult beverages flow during league play and corporate events, but what food and drink do you offer beyond said libations?
JS: As one of our members called our food “laughably good for a golf place,” we pride ourselves on having a great menu. Our head chef, Maria Martinez, has developed a creative and innovative selection. With flatbreads, sliders, veggie wraps and a quinoa-kale salad, you’re able to pick a meal that is not only delicious but also suits your mood.
BA: Anything that has pleasantly surprised you?
JS: The strength of community. We started with a membership offering that was supposed to be a too-good-to-be-true deal allowing players to have unlimited hitting time in our off peak hours (6 a.m.-4 p.m.). Two years in, our members have become some of our best brand ambassadors. They play in our leagues, rep our swag on the course, and bring their company events here. Building something that others have come to love as a sanctuary and a reprieve from their busy day has been incredibly important to our growth and a very pleasant surprise.
BA: Have you learned anything new about golfers?
JS: We see a ton of players come through who have never touched a club, let alone played on a real course. There can be a stigma in the game where people assume they need to be better than they are to play golf. The truth is, most people aren’t that great, and we are OK embracing that and getting new golfers to let their guards down. There is plenty to learn, but our stance is that playing golf really isn’t that hard. Anyone can enjoy the game, especially when you’re in a simulator where you don’t have to worry about losing any balls, dealing with bad lies, or having a group or ranger tell you to go faster. The rules and etiquette people have anxiety over are non-existent here. Wear what you want, play music, use our clubs, and in general relax and enjoy hitting balls! Also, plenty of people who stopped playing when they moved into the city started to pick up the game again because of the ease of access. When you come to 5i it’s easy to get bitten by the golf bug.
BA: Tell me about the newest locations. You have the two locations in NYC…what’s the plan beyond that?
JS: With our two locations in Manhattan and three on the way in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago, our goal remains the same across the board: make golf more accessible and less intimidating for everyone. We prioritize a superior customer experience over everything else on a daily basis and plan to bring that to each location. That being said, building a strong team and empowering all of our staff to take ownership and make decisions is critical to our long-term success.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
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