“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
With more than a handful of courses situated right in the city or within a 20 kilometre drive, North Bay can be considered a golf town.
Unfortunately snow often blankets the greens for a good portion of the year, leading to a long layoff for players to work on their game. But a new concept is taking root right here in the Gateway City – The Golf Department, a brainchild born from Dan Conlin's passion for the game and his desire to revolutionize the way people swing clubs year-round.
"It's a dream come true," beams Conlin, a self-professed golf enthusiast and the owner and operator of The Golf Department, which is a golf simulator set up inside the Gateway City Brewery location on Gormanville Road, in North Bay.
His journey into this venture began with a passion cultivated in his early twenties. Having played on a college team at Sault College, Conlin’s love for golf was evident, but he grappled with the seasonal interruptions that often caused his game to suffer.
"I loved the game, but every spring, it was like starting from scratch," he recalls. He knew this was a frustration that more golfers in the north experienced and it led him to explore indoor golf simulators, which were prevalent in bigger cities but absent here. "I wanted to bring that experience back here," he explains.
The central feature of The Golf Department is an advanced infrared golf simulator, which harnesses the power of infrared sensors to track a golfer's swing. Using a specially dotted ball, the system meticulously traces the trajectory and impact of each swing, providing comprehensive data that includes swing speed, angle, and club path. Notably, this system doesn't just stop at analysis; it projects the distance the ball would have travelled on a real golf course, offering players a lifelike and immersive experience within the simulated environment that can transport players to iconic golfing destinations worldwide through its virtual course library.
It was a serendipitous encounter with the Gateway City Brewery which had space available, which was pivotal for Conlin’s plans. "It was pure luck," he says, recounting how he stumbled upon the place and eventually persuaded the owner, Jeff Hodge, to team up for this ambitious endeavour. "This location was the perfect fit. High ceilings, ample space, and accessibility – it just clicked."
However, setting up the golf simulator itself came with its challenges.
Conlin had to account for safety measures, considering the tendency of some enthusiastic golfers to hit the ball over the screens or into walls. "I underestimated the skill level of the average golfer," he chuckles, explaining how additional safety features and foam padding became essential enhancements.
Conlin says they are in a strategic location. "Highway access makes it convenient for locals and those from out of town,” adding the site's amenities included the provision of beverages through Gateway's existing liquor license, which Conlin says played a role in sealing the deal for what he wanted to do.
As an entrepreneur, Conlin found himself navigating through other unanticipated challenges. "All the steps and fees involved were eye-opening," he admits. "It's not just setting up a business; it's dealing with multiple entities taking a slice of your earnings. Square, the payment system, is just one example. I get paid by the customer, but a piece of that goes to Square, another piece goes to the bank, then finally I get some of that payment as well. It’s not as streamlined as; you open a business, and you start making a profit."
Despite the hurdles, the response has been overwhelming since The Golf Departments soft opening a few weeks ago. With a single simulator currently operational, Conlin finds himself booked solid, with plans to expand by acquiring a second simulator to meet the burgeoning demand. "We’ve already had to turn people away," he admits, reflecting on the community's eagerness for this unique offering.
Meanwhile, while the second simulator is in the pipeline, The Golf Department has an interim feature: a unique "dart golf" setup. Visitors can immerse themselves in this playful adaptation, where they chip golf balls covered in Velcro at a giant dartboard-like target.
Reflecting on North Bay's strong golfing culture, Conlin believes The Golf Department will cater to a diverse range of players, from novices to seasoned pros. "We're a community of golf enthusiasts, and with our population, the desire for year-round golfing is evident," he observes.
Booking a session at The Golf Department is a straightforward process via their online platform, with rates varying depending on the day of the week. Conlin encourages everyone, from children to beginners to seasoned golfers, to give it a swing. "I want this to be a place where anyone, regardless of experience, can pick up a club and enjoy the game," he emphasizes.
For Conlin, this venture is more than a business; it's the fulfillment of a dream. "I've always envisioned owning my business, setting my pace," he shares. His path, from being laid off, to writing a business plan and now seeing The Golf Department flourish, exemplifies the resilience and determination essential for entrepreneurial success.
As North Bay's golfing community embraces this innovative concept, The Golf Department stands as a testament to Conlin’s passion, perseverance, and commitment to making golf an accessible year-round pleasure for all.
There will be a grand opening event coming up next week on Saturday, December 2nd from 6 – 10 p.m..
If you have a story idea for “Jobs of the Future” send Matt an email at [email protected].