Jason Fiore, the 2018 New Jersey PGA Section Merchandiser of the Year for Private Facilities, is the PGA Head Professional at Forest Hill Field Club in Bloomfield, New Jersey.
As is customary at most private clubs, the members at Forest Hill Field Club anticipate our Member-Guest event each year and expect quality service with a variety of enjoyable activities to share with their fellow members and guests. With 72 members, each bringing a guest, we regularly satisfy our members, while impressing their guests with creative and diverse activities that engage all participants and change from year to year. Of course, golf is at the forefront of the week with a practice round Thursday and two days of competitive play on Friday and Saturday. Add to this several social and dining affairs, and we provide a very memorable experience year after year. In addition to these features, we also implement other fun and quirky activities that promote socialization and camaraderie. Some years we’ll have a floating green – other years a three-point contest. During one of my first years at Forest Hill, one of my members and I were watching the MLB Home Run Derby and got the idea of hosting one of our own. So, at our Member-Guest tournament the very next year, we transformed our practice range into a ballpark, with foul poles, a batter’s box, and pitching machine. We had popcorn and hot dogs on hand to add to the baseball atmosphere we were trying to create. Best of all, we had a PA announcer – “Now batting…” – and even some walk-up music for each participant. Using softballs, each batter got five swings to challenge the outfield fence that was 220 feet down the line and about 250 feet to dead center. It was a huge success.
All but a quarter of our Member-Guest participants took part in the home run derby, paying $20 each – the winner would take the entire purse in golf shop credit, adding to an already-lucrative week for our retail business. Even those golfers who did not take part in the Home Run Derby enjoyed the company of others, and left our facility at the end of the event talking about the great experience they had, and the fact that we turned our practice range into a baseball field. After a few years of members asking when we were bringing it back, we did so in 2019, and we repeated the success experienced during that inaugural derby a few years earlier. It takes place after the practice round, during the extended cocktail hour, when members and guests are winding down from the golf of earlier that morning, anticipating the competition to come the next two days. They mingle with others, meet new people, and make new friends. They have an exceptionally good time and talk about it long after its conclusion. With the fun had by all, the feedback we get from participants, and the benefit to the golf shop, it goes without saying that the Home Run Derby will be hosted every two or three years and will be a mainstay in our rotation of special activities. It just took a little creativity and the belief that we could do something different – and we did.