Concept for fun at the range
By Jeff Davis
If you put one shooter in an empty room, he will be convinced that he’s the best marksman there. And he’d be correct. The argument may start when you add a second shooter.
Spirit Ridge Rifle Golf in northern Utah has developed Rifle Golf – a new concept in shooting range activity that has marksmen coming back and back— and back for more. After shooting a round of Rifle Golf, there will be no doubt who was the better marksman, at least on that day.
Rifle Golf uses conventional golf as a model to create a standardized course, scoring system and set of rules, so that shooters of any skill level can compete, either against themselves or other shooters. The game has been a roaring success.
“We were looking to build a shooting range on steroids,” said Jeff Peterson, Spirit Ridge’s director of marketing.
He and his colleagues came up with the Rifle Golf concept in 2005, and range traffic has doubled every year since then.
“It kept evolving and growing, and now we attract many outstanding shooters,” he said.
Spirit Ridge hosts leagues, tournaments and other competitions, as well as many individuals and foursomes shooters. The level of competition ranges from single shooters who compete only against their own last round, to very intense contests, some recorded for television, with prizes worth thousands of dollars.
A good walk, spoiled?
The golf game everyone knows has been famously described as, “A good walk, spoiled.” While I’m inclined to agree with that assessment for conventional golf, it does not apply to Rifle Golf.
I shot the course with my friend Ron, and, along with three other shooters, we loaded our gear into rental ATVs. Our spotter/guide drove us out on the rugged trail. We were all first-timers, and the spotter was invaluable, explaining the rules, calling our misses, offering adjustment advice and keeping things safe, organized and moving along.
We arrived at the first shooting station after a bumpy 20-minute drive. Four shooting stations ring a central mountain on the six-mile course. Three stations have three “holes” each, with 30 realistic targets at a variety of angles and elevations, ranging from 175 to 910 yards. Shooters can choose from the easier Classic course (targets from 175 to 535 yards) or the more challenging Master’s course (targets from 250 to 910 yards). The fourth station has a ‘bonus’ 1,000-yard target.
Two of us, including me, were using .300 Win. Mags. Two were shooting .30-06s, and Ron was using a .243. According to Peterson this was a fairly typical mix of rifles, although he said .223s seem to be the most popular. Most shooters use a single rifle for the entire course.
Our group was bonding by the first hole, cheering each other’s hits and commiserating with the misses. Peterson said this was normal.
“Most people are here to have a good time, and strangers get to know each other quickly when on the range,” he commented.
We gathered under the shelter’s roof and listened as the spotter explained the scoring and target progression. He pointed out the first target on the first hole: a moose at 338 yards. You get two tries to hit a 6-x 8-inch steel plate in the full-size cutout. If you miss both shots you then move onto a closer target—a coyote cutout at 264 yards. If you hit the moose on your first shot you score an “eagle” for one point; if it takes you two shots, it’s a “birdie” for two points, and if you hit the second, closer target (the coyote), you get a “par” for three points. If you miss all three shots, you “bogey” and receive four points. Low score wins.
Shooting rotates down the line, with one shooter finishing the hole before the next one starts.
There are three holes at each shooting station. For us, after the first hole a natural rhythm set in, and everything moved very smoothly.
“Mule deer, straight ahead, facing left, 474 yards,” calls the spotter. The shooter lines up the shot and calls out, “Ready.” The spotter says, “Send it.” Bang! … Clang! … and the crowd goes wild!
That is, if you can call five people a crowd. As for me, it was more like, “Ready.” “Send it.” Bang! … “Two inches high, and a foot right. Shoot again.”
As the day went on, however, I learned a huge amount about long-range shooting, became more knowledgeable on how to better use my scope and worked on the basics of shooting. My hit ratio got much better, and four hours later I had a sore shoulder, sunburned ears and a score of 26, which Peterson generously said was “Decent for a first-timer.” I wanted to shoot another round!
A round costs $50, and there can be up to six in a group. ATV rental is additional. Peterson said they can normally accommodate singles or pairs, and also larger groups with no problem.
“We work individuals in with other groups, and we host many larger groups, including corporate events, family reunions, sales people entertaining clients and even bachelor parties,” Peterson explained. “With advance notice we can offer catering and even lodging.”
Peterson noted that there is a strictly enforced alcohol ban prior to shooting and on the course.
It takes about three to four hours to shoot the course — and about 30 rounds of ammo for a typical shooter. The range is open from sunup to sundown. Each shooting station has overhead cover on a concrete base with tables and chairs; six individual shooting benches face the range.
“Safety is paramount,” said Peterson. “When moving between stations all firearms must be unloaded and cased. Anyone who is unsafe will be removed from the range.”
As the range and Rifle Golf has evolved and matured new activities and shooting challenges have been developed. For example, last July Spirit Ridge hosted the second annual Vortex extreme tournament, where 50 teams of two shooters ran the course, literally. Scores were based on both shooting and the time it took to complete the seven-mile course on foot. Each team, paying a $500 entry fee, carried all their gear over the rugged, hilly terrain. This event is increasing in popularity, for entrants, sponsors and spectators.
The range sits on 10,000 acres of family land about 90 miles north of Salt Lake City. In addition to the Rifle Golf course there is also a practice “driving range,” situated in a canyon near the clubhouse, with targets in hundred-yard increments from 100 to 1,200 yards.
I have to admit it: I’m hooked. This was a blast to shoot but at the same time very humbling, demonstrating the limits of my ability. My only problem is this Rifle Golf range is about 1,500 miles from my house, one way.
But it’s so much fun, I’m planning to go back.
Will Gun Golf Work At Your Range?
Jeff Peterson, Spirit Ridge’s director of marketing, hopes that other ranges would take a look at what they’ve done in Utah and adapt it to their facilities.
“We think this is like where sporting clays was when that started catching on some years ago,” said Petersen. “We’d love to see a series of Rifle Golf, or gun golf, ranges across the country. Conventional golf courses are all different, but have the same basic rules and scoring system. Gun golf courses can be customized to accommodate local terrain and conditions, but still offer a fun, safe and competitive environment. We have all the room in the world out here, but a small range could have a handgun course, or you could use .22s or put together a unique course that fits into your situation.”
Petersen said that the staff at Spirit Ridge would be happy to talk to other range operators about developing the gun golf concept.
“We’ve got a playbook here on how to develop and promote gun golf. We’d like to see the concept take root across the country,” said Petersen.
Contact Spirit Ridge, or Jeff Peterson directly at 801-725-9752, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some points to consider:
• Safety is the overriding concern. “If something raises a safety issue, we don’t do it,” Peterson said. Whenever firearms are being moved Spirit Ridge requires them to be unloaded and cased. Eye and ear protection is mandatory, and no alcohol is allowed before or on the range. The spotter/guide assists shooters and helps them enjoy the course, but their primary responsibilities are to make sure everyone is safe and to handle any problems.
• The course must fit both novice and expert shooters. Experts can shoot at longer ranges or smaller targets or have handicaps on time or equipment. Everyone needs to have a good time, but also be challenged.
• Rules must be simple, and a “go/no go” scoring system makes things easy. Spirit Ridge uses steel targets, where a hit is easy to see and hear, and there is no ambiguity.
• Create an outrageously difficult stage that can serve as a bonus point or tiebreaker. At Spirit Ridge it is a 1,000- yard target that helps your score if you hit it, but does not count against you if you miss.
• Create a course that does not require anyone to go downrange. Closing the range to go reset targets takes too much time and creates a safety problem. Use targets that need no maintenance or can be reset remotely. Too much maintenance time can kill your profit margin and slow down all shooters. Design targets that are durable and easy to repair. Have a backup target in case the main one is damaged.
• Marketing is essential. Start with your current members or customers and make full use of social media.
• Listen to your customers, test the course thoroughly and don’t be afraid to make modifications if you discover something isn’t working.
• Create leagues and tournaments and offer other incentives to build your customer base.