Jeff Ritter is one of the most polished teaching professionals I know. The guy is involved in everything from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and YOUKU. He is also a walking talking brand and everything from the clothes he has on to the pictures on his website showcase that. I have known Jeff for a few years now, and am excited to visit him at The Raven Golf Club the next time I am in Phoenix. He works with some of the best in the business out there… surrounded by Martin Chuck, Aaron Olson, and Megan Padua. He is surrounded by talent and is using that to help produce lower rounds for players all over the world. He also has a huge focus on junior golf. Jeff is a good friend and it is my pleasure to be sitting with him. Oh, and I forgot to mention the Nike Junior Golf Camps in Pebble Beach, California. And he wrote a book. Man, I could talk about Jeff all day long!
How long have you been playing golf? What is your first memory of the game?
My dad was the head pro at a great club in Pennsylvania, so I’ve been involved with the game since the beginning. I know I’ve been out there swinging since I was 3, so I’ve got to dig deep into my memory bank on this one. I’d say that my favorite experiences as a kid revolve around playing with my friends in our junior golf program during the summer. We played early so we’d have to fight the sprinklers on most of the holes. It had a very Caddyshack like feel to it. You know how the beginning of the movie starts with the sprinklers shooting about the fairways? We would wedge a golf tee into the sprinkler head to keep it shooting in one direction until we hit. We’d often forget to remove it, so it would soak one area of the fairway creating a big puddle. The course superintendent would always hunt us down and yell at us. No matter how often we got reamed, it seemed like someone would forget to remove the tee every week.
You are living out in Phoenix. Tell me about The Raven Golf Club.
The Raven Golf Club Phoenix is an OB Sports property and the home of Jeff Ritter Golf. It’s one of the most unique courses in Arizona as the property is covered with 6,000 Georgia pine trees, which in turn are surrounded by volcanic ash. The course condition is absolutely impeccable and the layout is challenging. I’d say anyone who has made the trip to Arizona for a golf adventure and played The Raven Golf Club in Phoenix would say that it’s among the most memorable in the valley.
As far as my coaching facility, I’m certainly lucky to be there. My lesson tee itself is over 100 yards wide and a good 60 yards deep, providing an endless amount of perfect turf for my clients to enjoy. In addition, we’ve got great putting and short game areas, an indoor studio, plus one of the best views you could ever have hitting balls up against Phoenix’s South Mountain.
What is the “JRG Experience”?
(Laughs.) The JRG Experience is just that, an experience that I believe is unlike any you’ll find in coaching. Golf is a difficult game for sure, but a lot of golfers are even more defeated than you think. My program is designed to turn that around quickly in a manner that reveals a player’s true potential. When someone engages in a coaching session with me, I’ll guarantee they’ll hit shots better than they have in their entire life and in most cases those results will occur immediately. I get people pumped by showing them within just a few swings how good they can really be. When the light goes on for a player, especially if they’ve struggled in the past, that’s when you know you’ve made a real difference in someone’s life. That’s the gift associated with coaching, being able to make something that’s inherently difficult simple for the student. I know there are a ton of great coaches out there, so I’m not disputing anyone else’s ability. I just believe in what I do and know that I’ll deliver!
You are headed to Pebble Beach here pretty soon… for the Nike Jr. Golf Experience. How did you manage to get hooked up with that facility? Tell me more about that program.
I’ve been lucky to be part of the Nike Junior Golf Camp programs for about 10 years now. It’s something that I would participate in during the summers to get out of the Arizona heat. I had built a strong relationship with the company, so this year they asked if I would operate as the National Director of Instruction for Nike Golf Schools and Junior Camps. One of the “perks” is spending my summers in Pebble Beach running the Nike Junior Golf Monterey program. It’s really an ideal situation to be able to coach in possibly our nation’s most beautiful golf destination. Plus, this new position gives me an elevated platform for which to deliver my junior golf message to a global audience.
The thing that makes the program unique is that it’s not just about learning the tools for high performance in golf. We also have special sessions dedicated to instilling the tools and attitudes for kids to live powerfully physically and emotionally as well for the rest of their lives. Golf fitness, nutrition, mental toughness training and dream building are all included and such an important part of our mission. Heck, just talking about it makes me wish I was 13 years old again. It’s such an important program to me and I couldn’t be luckier to have the opportunity to make a real difference with these kids!
You wrote a book. Tell me a little bit more about Your Kid Ate A Divot.
Finally a good question Ricky! (Laughs.)Your Kid Ate a Divot, Eighteen Life Lessons From the Links is a series of true stories that have occurred in my life either on the lesson tee or during my experience of growing up on a golf course. Each one is humorous and reveals the lunacy within each golfer’s pursuit of perfection. Once you laugh, each tale is countered with a “life lesson” that reveals a little Zen based nugget for how to live better. Although the cover is picture of a kid eating dirt, the book is actually much deeper than what most people would expect at face value. Some story titles include: “The Duck of Death”, “The Pink Panther” and the “Tale of the 20 Pound Shoes”. Certainly not what you’d expect to see in the golf genre, but that’s what I like most about it! The response has been great, garnering endorsements from Mark Victor Hansen of Chicken Soup for The Soul, Golf Digest, Ben Crenshaw and even the Napoleon Hill Foundation. I even got to do a book signing on the 18th hole at St. Andrews during the final round of the 2010 British Open. So far I’d say that has been one of the highlights of my career!
Brand is important. How important?
Your brand is how the public recognizes you and how they’re able to share who you are with others. To me, that’s everything. The biggest reason behind spending time on this is that the stronger your brand is, the more value it has to the consumer. The higher the value, the more sustainable income you’ll derive from your efforts. I have a lot of clients that come see me from all over the world. In order for someone to make that kind of commitment, there has to be a certain level of trust that the trip and costs involved will be worth the effort. When you have a strong brand, it becomes easy for people to make value based decisions.
Tell me a little bit more about your relationship with Sligo.
Sligo is the first company that really believed in me as it relates to having a presence that could impact a truly global market. For about 6 years now, they’ve put me in their clothes and haven’t been shy about showing their appreciation. In addition, as I’ve done my best to get their gear recognized in every publication possible, they’ve also done their best to promote Jeff Ritter Golf as well. The brand is off the hook and the guys who run the company are smart, savvy and a lot of fun to be involved with. Their stuff is cutting edge and to me they were one of the first companies that took the lead in creating the perfect blend of the performance based fit with fashion.
You have had SO much success with YouTube… it’s unreal the number of views you have. Tell me more about your experience with YouTube, and how you have managed to accumulate so many views.
If you ever needed evidence of a social media success story, then look no further than Jeff Ritter Golf. I mean, it’s been unbelievable how much my business has grown due to social media platforms, YouTube in particular. When I talk with other coaches I say straight up, “The golf business is the entertainment business and when it comes to entertainment, video is king!” If you’re a coach who has the guts to get in front of a camera, then I’m telling you that the sky is the limit. Because of YouTube over half of my clients now travel from out of town or across the globe for my coaching and my practice in front of the camera has opened numerous doors for other opportunities as well.
As to how I’ve accumulated so many views? I think people just like to hear good information that makes sense. Once someone sees that what you’re saying can really help them and a tip actually works, they’ll come back for more. In addition, I haven’t been shy about giving my information away for free. I’ve got over 100 videos and none of them are saying to buy this or buy that. That builds trust in people that I’m a guy who really wants to help. I think that’s the most important component to your success in any industry.
What sort of camera do you use when shooting videos on the range?
Are you seriously going to make me go look at my camera? Hang on Ricky! OK… it’s the Casio Exilim EX-FH100. The thing was only about $260, but it has a high speed feature that’s perfect for golf instruction. If you’ve ever seen the Minolta Bizhub shots they do on CBS Sports, then you have an idea of the kind of slow action mojo I’m talking about. The first time you use it, you’ll start shooting everything… bugs, traffic, dog slobber. It’s awesome! The excitement has finally worn off for me, but it’s a great tool that makes a big difference on the tee.
What is Cate’s Nutrition Kitchen?
Cate’s Nutrition Kitchen is a nutritional coaching business that will one day change the planet! I’m a bit biased since Cate is my longtime girlfriend, but I really do think she’s got what it takes to make a huge impact on the way people view food and how nutrition can positively affect every area of a person’s life. Her philosophy is based upon what is known as primal nutrition, which is rooted in the consumption of whole foods, while eliminating processed products and cutting out sugars. Being active myself, I always thought I knew what eating healthy was all about until I met Cate.
Everything that I thought was true about food was essentially wrong. Now, I’m dialed in and feel the best I ever have in my life. At 40, I’ve also just landed the product spokesperson spot for a golf fitness company. Cate’s program has been integral in getting me into the kind of shape you need to be in to work in this type of capacity. We do a lot of work together with golfers, but she doesn’t need me to shine. She’s been published in Golf Digest, Golf Tips Magazine, Golf Infuzion, as well as publications in Europe. She’s also the official nutritional content provider for The First Tee program’s national initiatives. Pretty soon she’ll be stealing the entire spotlight which is just fine with me.
You are TPI certified. It seems like a lot of pros have that. What is it and how do you use that when you are with a student?
The TPI certification is all about helping pros understand how a person’s functional movement or lack thereof affects their ability to swing a club or perform the tasks set forth in a lesson. There are different levels of certification, but the most basic allows coaches to effectively screen a client for issues in strength, mobility or stability and prescribe a basic exercise regimen. It’s an important part of what we do and is a very helpful component of the coaching process. When it comes to golf or any coordinated physical movement, I learned a long time ago and… excuse my language here Ricky, but “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken sh$#!” That means if you can’t move, you’re probably not going to be able to perform at the highest level. That doesn’t mean that in a lesson you can’t improve a ton working with what you’ve got, but if you really want to be great, you’re going to have to take care of how your body and or mind perform as well. That’s just reality. You get out what you put in and no one cuts corners on the road to greatness!
Do you do a lot of playing lessons?
I wish I gave more, because there’s so much to learn out on the “playing ground,” versus the things we work on in the pure “training” environment on the lesson tee. The problem is being able to effectively have an appropriate amount of time to really get down to business when you’re dealing with a busy tee sheet in prime season. The ideal scenario would be to have a place where there are a few practice holes associated with the course itself. That, however, isn’t feasible for most facilities.
You have an iPhone app. What does the app do? How much does the app cost?
The Jeff Ritter Golf app, available from iTunes, is basically full of coaching material that covers video, text and audio based content. The download is free and there are tons of sample videos, radio interviews and more that you can engage in at no charge. Basically, if you downloaded this thing before a flight, you’d be set with a bunch of stuff to dig into that can really help your game. As with most apps, there’s also a paid feature that generates access to premium content in the form of lesson series that cover all aspects of the game. Each series is only .99 and users can expect anywhere from 6-10 HD quality videos per section.
Golf Digest Magazine called you one the “best young teachers in America”. How important is junior golf to the success of the game?
Junior golfers represent the game’s ability to be able to sustain itself into the future. When I was a growing up, our private club had a deal where any kid could become a “junior member” for only $300 per summer with the endorsement of a full paying member. That was a smoking deal that allowed kids to be able to learn the game in an amazingly supportive environment. Jim Furyk was even a junior member at our club! Every course needs to have a program that welcomes kids and makes it easy for their families to get them involved with the game on a continual basis. Without these kinds of efforts our game is dead.
Do you get to play very much? If so, where do you like to play?
I love the game and I love to play. I know a lot of professionals get disenchanted by playing and look at it purely as a business, but I never forget why I got involved in the first place. I don’t get to play much, especially in season, but there are times during the year where I’ll put together a special trip with friends to have a real memorable experience. The past few years I’ve hit Bandon Dunes, Pine Valley, Merion and Scotland. I love to walk when I play and nothing beats a beer with the guys after you tackle a real monster.
What’s the best round you have ever shot?
I’ve thrown up 66 back in the day, which I was pretty happy about.
I have seen you in a couple issues of Golf Infuzion Magazine. How did you get hooked up with Mike Bury?
I’m very competitive when it comes to anything, especially business, and like to feel that I’m always step ahead of the pack. A couple years ago I came across a promotional video that Mike Bury had put together for one of his coaching products that had amazing production value. My initial though was, “Who in the heck does this guy think he is putting out something so awesome?” Essentially, I was jealous that his stuff looked so good! Anyway, I sent him a note serving as my “touché” so to speak and ever since we’ve been great friends. You need people to push you and I’ve always admired Mike’s work ethic and creativity. He’s always willing to do what it takes to be great, so in that respect I feel like we operate with the same type of mentality. Mike has been gracious enough to include me in a bunch of projects that are always fun, so I hope that’s something we continue to do in the future.
Tell me a little bit more about the Tour Striker Golf Academy.
Well, that’s Martin Chuck’s deal. I run Jeff Ritter Golf and he runs Tour Striker. We are both run our own brands, yet co-manage the overall coaching program at the Raven Golf Club Phoenix. It’s a great partnership that works well for us. Martin spends a lot of time off the tee engaging in product development, and I’m all over the place as well. This deal allows us to service the Raven’s coaching needs, while not being individually tied to the property on an everyday basis.
You work with Martin Chuck, Aaron Olson, and Megan Padua. That is a pretty good team you have there. Are there any other pros at The Raven?
As far as coaching, it’s just us. Martin and I formed a business partnership and we brought Aaron and Megan on board to help us build the program. The only way you can accomplish anything is to work as a team. A lot of facilities just want to collect rent and will let a bunch of pros that don’t have any common goals throw turf around, but to me that’s a short sighted waste of time from a business perspective. The real win for a facility takes place when they see the value in growing something special. That takes time, money and ongoing support. I wish more facilities would see the value a great coaching program brings to the property as well as their bottom line as a business.
Do you set your lesson rates, or does The Raven? Speaking of rates, what does a lesson with you cost?
Jeff Ritter Golf is my own business, so I control all rates and programs. I’ve never been busier as a coach and the supply and demand scale has finally caught up with me. Beginning this fall an hour long private coaching session will be $250. I’ll also offer half-day 3 hour programs at a fee of $600, as well as full-day 6 hour offerings at a rate of $1,000.
Do you do online lessons?
I do conduct online lessons which have been a pretty consistent by-product of my YouTube following. Due to my Nike programs which take up most of my summers, I only offer the online coaching from September through May each year.
Do you watch a lot of golf on TV? Who are some of your favorite players?
I watch golf on Sundays during the back 9 if something good or exciting is going on. Otherwise, I just stick to tuning into the majors, which I’ll usually watch the whole way through.
As far as favorites, it’s not like it used to be when I was a kid where I’d really be into the players. I like seeing Tiger in contention just because it always makes things interesting. Otherwise, I just want to see a good back and forth competition.
What is your favorite training aid?
I’m not a big training aid guy, mostly because there’s nothing on the market that’s totally infallible. The best thing a player can do is to learn what unique ideas are most applicable to their improvement and then develop an awareness that’s both visual (video and or mirrors) and result based (divot/contact patterns and or ball flight) to make their most effect action a reality. As far as training aids go, I really do feel like the Tour Striker is the best on the market. I’m sure the readers will say, yeah right… this dude is just pumping up his buddy, but the numbers speak for themselves. It’s a good product.
Bubba Watson won The Masters this year. He has never had a golf lesson. As an instructor, how do you react when you hear something like that?
In the movie Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon’s character is a clearly gifted mathematics whiz. His girlfriend, played by Minnie Driver, is in awe of his talent and asks him, “How do you do what you do?” Damon says something to the effect that just as Beethoven knew how to play a piano; he too has the same gift with math. That is… it is unexplainable, but it’s easy to them. It just makes sense without any explanation. So when I hear that Bubba never had a lesson, I think it’s awesome. The guy is gifted. He’s an artist and one of the truly unique among us. He’s not perfect and has his ups and downs, but he simply has an ability to control a golf ball more than most players, even at the highest level. That’s pretty cool!
There is a big shift happening right now… pros are getting away from teaching and gearing more towards coaching. Is there a difference between the two?
I think “coaching” sounds better from a marketing perspective, but let’s get real here. When someone shows up, you either help them or you don’t. If you’re coaching someone are you helping them more than if you’re teaching them? Knock that one around a bit and you’ll be half way to an Abbott and Costello bit of “Who’s on first?” If I had to come up with some type of difference, I’d say that “teaching” might be the initial presentation of information or the basic plan that you’re going to put into play. Once the student understands the task at hand, then perhaps you’re in a position to “coach” them through it. To expend a lot of effort trying to differentiate the two is likely a waste of time in my opinion.
What is your favorite golf movie?
Caddyshack always and forever. I like the inspirational, storytelling side of some of the movies out there such as The Greatest Game Ever Played, but in general, golf doesn’t transfer to the silver screen as well as other sports in my opinion. Caddyshack is pure comic genius; funny, stupid and clever. In life you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself. Caddshack reminds the golf industry to not be so serious.
Beer. Wine. Liquor. What is your poison?
I like an ice cold beer in a frosted glass after a round with the guys or a nice glass of wine with my girl.
It gets hot out there in the desert. How do you stay cool in summer months? I am sure you use a lot of sunscreen!
In the past, I’d lean on the fact that I had an indoor studio right on the grass lesson tee. After 10 years I’ve decided my best course of action is to leave for the California coast. I still coach for a portion of the summer in Arizona, but now I at least get a break during the hottest months in the middle.
I am Tiger’s biggest fan. Do you honestly think he will break Jack’s record?
Although he has certainly made the task a lot tougher, I do think he’ll eventually do it. When he was really cooking, people were saying he would win 10 green jackets and dominate the record books for the other majors as well. Now I think he’ll still break Jack’s mark, but not by the margin that we all thought.
Do you play any sports other than golf?
I grew up playing everything and rarely spent a moment where I was inside or not chucking a ball around. Now it’s more toned down, but I still throw football or baseball with my buddies when I can. We even keep gloves and balls in our studio at The Raven and throw at the end of the day when the lesson tee is cleared. Playing keeps you young, so that’s what I always intend to do.
Who does all of your graphic design work?
I have a company called Square It Up which does web design and personal branding. Our chief designer is Will Gaines. He is the magic man when it comes to creative graphics. Like I said, business needs to be entertaining on a variety of levels and I can’t stress enough how important it is to positively connect with consumers on all points.
You are a member of the Golf Business Network. Tell me a little bit more about your experience with GBN.
The Golf Business Network has been great. The most important aspect is that the instructor’s division is run by Lorin Anderson, who is big time as it relates to business practices in our industry. Having someone like that to bounce ideas off or consult with, has been a big help for me. Last year I was named to the GBN advisory panel. We meet a few times per year to discuss how the GBN can better serve the professionals within the network. It’s an honor to be in a position where my ideas can be of help to others who are doing their best to make a living in the game.
Have you read The Big Miss?
I haven’t read it, and honestly had no intention of giving it look. I do have to say that they’ve done a good job of marketing to the point where everyone now seems to want to know more, but to me a book like that exhibits poor form. I’ve never had to turn down however much money they paid for the story, which I’m sure isn’t easy to do, but a man’s reputation should mean more than a few bucks. A lot of that stuff has that “tabloid” feel where my general motto is, “Garbage in… garbage out.”
I know it was a few months ago, but did you have fun down at the PGA Merchandise Show?
I had a great time, but it was also a lot of work. There are so many people to see and you’ve got to compress it into such a short period of time. Each year I donate 40 bucks to Dr. Scholl’s for those squishy shoe inserts and by weeks end they’re beat. This was a good year for me though, as I presented for Sligo, PING as well as the GBN. In addition, I was able to line up some new endorsements for 2012 which likely wouldn’t have happened unless I had made the trip. At the PGA Show, the entire world of golf is in one spot. If you’re on your game you can accomplish a lot at this event.
What’s in your bag?
I’m on staff with PING, so I’ve to the Anser Forged Irons, i20 hybrids and woods and tour wedges. The irons are the best I’ve ever hit!
You were on the cover of GOLF POWER. Man… you are a celebrity here. Can I have your autograph?
I’m writing it on a cocktail napkin as we speak.
Who is in your dream foursome?
Golf… Jack, Arnie, Seve and my dad. Screw it, we’re playing five. Outside of golf, I would say… David Lee Roth, Harrison Ford and J-Lo.
There are four majors on the PGA TOUR. Which one is your favorite to watch, and why?
The Masters hands down. I’ll never forget when Nicklaus won in ’86. Jack was my idol and I went berserk watching him pull off what was then considered impossible. Another reason is that I go nearly every year which makes it special as well. The best thing to happen to me in college was having roommates from Augusta, which has paid off over the years. I once got to take my dad into the clubhouse which made him happier than I’d ever seen him.
You do a lot of public speaking. Do you ever get nervous before you present?
I’d call it more of a nervous excitement. I don’t dwell on a talk for weeks or have anxiety leading up to an event. Just like anyone, I want the people to get something out of what I have to say. A little nervousness to me keeps me on edge so I can deliver my best stuff.
Can you imagine your life without golf?
I can and I don’t like it!
What is the “Make The Turn” program?
The “Make The Turn” program is a series of products that I have in the works designed to help golfers unlock their potential in all aspects of their game. To me the “Turn,” is when someone is able to make the shift from ordinary to extraordinary in golf, business or life. I expect the products to hit home in a variety of areas that I think will be of real interest to people. The line will have text, audio and video based content and I’ll likely expand the program to a series of 2-day schools that I hope to hold at various domestic as well as international locations.
You have a lot of irons in the fire… when do you sleep?
I was just getting caught up until you laid this massively long interview in my lap Ricky! Just kidding. I’ve been lucky to be able to do so many things in a lot of different areas that are of interest to me and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. This isn’t my practice life, so I figure I’d better get after it while I can.
The next time I am in Phoenix, let’s play some golf. How many strokes are you going to give me?
Why don’t I just let you win now so we can talk about all of the cool stuff you’ve got going on!
Jeff, I could sit here and ask you questions all day. I truly appreciate you taking the time to answer all of these questions. It means the world buddy. In all of the interviews that I have done, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Thanks Ricky, I certainly appreciate your interest and that of your readers as well. I’m just a guy who loves what I do, who’s lucky that people care about some of what I have to say. I’m not sure it gets much better than that. I once read where Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” If you surround yourself with good people, who also have that zest for sucking the marrow out of life, you’re sure to have one heck of a ride!