For more than a decade, Dona Lerner made her name as a golf instructor at The Preserve at Jordan Lake Golf Club outside of Pittsboro. That was her comfort zone, until she asked herself a question.
“There’s a time when you say: ‘Am I complacent? Am I making the effort to touch lives?’ Lerner said. “I wasn’t sure that I was.”
So Lerner, along with her business partner Kathy Bounds, moved the Dona Lerner Golf Academy to Brier Creek Country Club near RDU International Airport. The new arrangement begins a collaborative working environment between Lerner’s business and the private facility.
“Our goal is to enhance the experience for the membership, to expose Brier Creek to folks who would otherwise not be there,” Lerner explained. “Geographically, it’s a terrific area. We see it as a big opportunity to expand golf education.”
While she will work to create programs for the Brier Creek membership, Lerner anticipates bringing along her clients who worked with her at The Preserve. Many of them came from communities like Chapel Hill, Cary and Apex.
“We have every reason to believe that 80-85 percent of the business we had there will come with us,” she says. “Plus all that is in that market that is untapped, as well as the Brier Creek membership.”
Along with Brier Creek general manager Mary Claire Gaze and head professional Matt Rink, Lerner will try to tie together various parts of the club experience for its members.
“She is going to grow the game of golf,” Gaze said. “She is vibrant and exciting and someone who loves to teach children, but more importantly for our membership, she is able to teach adults. We have a couple pros who are turning away lessons at the moment.”
Gaze hopes the addition of Lerner will boost play with women. She anticipates doing three times the amount of classes Brier Creek has done in the past. Ideally, they will tap into Lerner’s previous clients to grow the club’s membership.
“If they are part of her clinics and classes, we hope to talk them into making a new home at Brier Creek.” Gaze said. “We’re always looking for more golf members. That’s what sustains us. We are in the dues business. To retain members, you have to keep them active and excited about all of your offerings.”
To further that goal, Brier Creek is offering a “discover membership,” a four-month trial that allows families to use the golf facilities. Seventy percent of those memberships upgrade to a full golf membership, the club said.
“The vision is to enhance the value of that membership for these folks,” Lerner said. “We want to give them a way to play the game better, to enjoy the game more, and perhaps share it with family members who are not currently playing.”
Ever the teacher, Lerner hopes to offer members golf experiences outside of the days they book a tee time. That’s what they had in mind when they came up with Pitch, Putt and Pour. It’s an hour-long putting instruction, followed by a wine tasting.
And when Mother Nature makes it impossible to play 18, there will be an emphasis on different types of instruction. Lerner envisions programs and classes, ranging from one to three hours in length that will bring out a player’s best.
“We want to create an environment where, whether it is rainy or snowy, you might have something you can do at the club that enhances what you do on the golf course,” she said. “It’s about how much you’re getting out of every time you’re at the club.”
Lerner and the staff also envision some destination golf trips. Initially, they might include a golf outing near the beach. Down the road, perhaps a trip to Florida or Las Vegas.
“We will start a little closer, just to see who travels well,” Lerner said with a laugh. “We want to share with them all the golf that is available. The trips would be golf centric with enhancements all around it.”
While Brier Creek is a private club, the Dona Lerner Golf Academy is not. Her instruction will remain available to the public and will occur on site.
For the long term, Lerner is already focusing on inbound golf schools, bringing people from outside the Triangle for instruction at her academy. She has laid the groundwork for hospitality and lodging, and she plans to advertise beginning next year for programs beginning in 2016.
Lerner describes the membership at Brier Creek as “young, active and highly family-oriented.” With that in mind, she hopes her arrival will help direct both adults and children toward the game she loves.
“We want to cross the tennis players with the golfers and the swimmers with the fitness people,” she said. “I would like to integrate all facets of Brier Creek Country Club and bring them into the realm of golf.”