By Steve Huffman
Matt Reagan jokes that it’s only taken him and his business partner, Ryan Dailey, the better part of 10 years to develop a new concept in changing how young people learn to play golf.
“We’re an overnight success,” Reagan said, laughing as he spoke.
Reagan and Daily, both PGA professionals, are the developers of Operation 36, a coaching program now used at 445 locations across the world. That number includes three in Greensboro, another three in Winston-Salem and a total of 31 in North Carolina.
It’s a program that’s relatively simple, but making a big difference in the way beginners are learning the game of golf. Operation 36 is basically a challenge course where golfers begin 25 yards from the hole on the green and each time they score 36 on nine holes they move back closer to the tee.
The program, Reagan said, grew out of the iGrow Golf Academy that he and Dailey started in 2010 at Keith Hills Golf Club south of Raleigh. They were working, Reagan said, to change junior golf education.
“What we came up with,” he said, “was a way to get better faster and feel better about it.”
Golf, Reagan noted, can be a frustrating game for even the best players, and especially challenging for those just starting out. It’s easy, he said, to give up.
But allowing players to start closer to the hole and move back as they improve is an idea supported by many professional golfers, and an idea proven to keep young golfers more interested in the game. Along the way, Operation 36 provides curriculum, support and challenges.
The program has six levels and to move from one to the next, players must shoot par or better. After shooting par or better from 25 yards to the hole, they move back 50 yards for the second level. Each time a golfer plays par golf for nine holes, they move back an additional 50 yards.
The eventual goal is to have the golfer play from a course’s regular tees.
“We’re trying to do a better job of helping people develop a quality coaching program,” Reagan said.
Mobile and web apps help players track their progress and make the game more fun to play. For instance, GPS technology tells a golfer where to drop his ball once he’s stepped back an additional 50 yards. A player’s scores are transmitted to his or her coach via a mobile app.
If it all sounds like modern-day, 21st century golf, well, it is. Rest assured, this ain’t how your grandfather learned the game.
Reagan and Dailey now sell Operation 36 technology to golf clubs. The facilities are provided full access to the program, which includes the curriculum with lesson plans, marketing materials and free access to the apps. The golf pros at each individual course then use the technology to run their own Operation 36 program.
But once a club has purchased the software, it’s not left on its own to run the program. Reagan said of the five Operation 36 team-members, two are committed to advising facilities that have purchased the program.
“We’re trying to be the best connection for young golfers to get into the game,” Reagan said.
With the success of Operation 36, Reagan has assumed the role of the program’s CEO. Dailey is now CEO of iGrow Golf. But Reagan said the two have equal roles in both aspects of the company.
The Operation 36 program was only introduced April 1 at Robert Linville’s Precision Golf School at Bryan Park in Greensboro. Already it’s proving a success.
“You can measure the child to see how they’re doing,” said Peter Campbell, junior development instructor for Precision Golf School. “You can see what skills they’ve passed. It provides a clear path for improvement.”
He and Chris Haarlow, Precision Golf School’s director of instruction, said the facility’s junior program has been in existence 21 years. During that time, their students have won more than 60 state championships and been awarded millions of dollars in golf scholarships to colleges and universities.
But Haarlow said the reaction to Operation 36 has been little short of phenomenal.
“It has been fantastic, just unbelievable,” he said. “Kids who didn’t want to practice have come out now. It has made all the difference in the world. And it provides a distinct map for parents to chart the progress of their children.”
Haarlow said the summer youth golf camps at Precision Golf School will be modeled on the Operation 36 program.
Reagan said he’s not surprised his Operation 36 has been so well-received at Precision Golf School.
“They were doing such a good job there with their junior golf program, we knew this would just help make them that much better,” he said.