BY KURT DUSTERBERG
Ryan Dailey was thinking ahead, even before his first child was born. The PGA teaching professional knew the golf course provided a good environment in which kids could build a healthy outlook on life, and the soon-to-be-dad wanted to put together something specific: a community where kids could come together and thrive.
“In the beginning, it was all about, how do I get five other kids his age to come out here so they can hang out and be outside, to be in an environment where people aren’t swearing, there are no drugs,” Dailey says. “It’s a good atmosphere for them to grow up in.”
Operation 36 is the result of a decade of fine-tuning his approach to teaching the game. Dailey began by putting together an after-school program in 2009 while he was a faculty member at Campbell University in Buies Creek.
But retaining the kids year over year at Keith Hills Golf Course was difficult. Just learning the fundamentals did not hold the attention of his young golfers. They needed something else.
“It takes playing the golf course, getting them out there on a consistent basis, being able to hit different clubs, shooting certain scores,” he says. “When they make their first par ever, their first birdie, those experiences keep you hungry and excited.”
But pars and birdies don’t come easy on a standard golf course, so Dailey developed Operation 36. The trick was to teach the game on a much smaller scale, where measurable success can happen in a couple of weeks rather than a couple of years. Enjoying success on the course begins with a few easy steps.
Golfers play nine holes from just 25 yards away from the green. You have four shots to make a “par.” Once you shoot or break par for nine holes (36 or better), you move to 50 yards and try to repeat the achievement. With each successful round of par, golfers move back 50 yards until they are beginning each hole from 200 yards away. Then it’s back to the actual tee boxes, where there are five more steps. That’s 10 divisions in all, but only when a golfer is ready.
“To get someone to feel competent, you can do all of that from 25 yards away,” says Dailey, who has licensed his program to 730 courses in 15 countries. “The average score for the first time they play is a 48. They will usually beat 36 after four or five attempts. That can take them a month, two months.”
By allowing new players to test out the sport, it also eliminates some of the initial costs. At 25 yards, golfers need just a couple of clubs, which are provided by Operation 36.
“Instead of starting on the driving range, where you have to buy a $500 driver and get frustrated, just see if you like it,” Dailey says. “You can do it with your wife or your kids. It’s amazing how fun golf is at its most basic level.”
The Operation 36 program is offered at 12 courses around the Triangle, with locations in Raleigh, Durham, Cary and other communities. Classes meet twice a week. The first class is reserved for learning the basics of the game, while the second is an evening set aside to play the course under coach supervision.
“There’s going to come a point where they need to upgrade their skills. That’s what the classes are for,” Dailey says. “You’re going to think technically when you’re in class with the coach. But when you’re on the course, you need to problem-solve how to get the ball in the hole.”
Learn more about Operation 36 and its locations at operation36.golf.
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