Career Swing

A newspaper veteran trades in his keyboard for golf clubs.

 Switching from the dynamic, fast-paced world of an assistant managing editor at the Detroit Free Press to the life of a golf entrepreneur who runs after-school programs might seem like a less-than-exciting proposition to some folks, but not to Dave Robinson.

Five years ago Robinson was at the peak of his journalism career as the paper’s sports editor, where he oversaw daily sports coverage and in-depth reportage of major events including three Olympics, the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, and the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit.

He traded in his love for sports when he was promoted to deputy managing editor, where, in the fall of 2007, his duties required him to help administer an employee buyout program. He soon realized he, too, was a perfect candidate for a severance package. “It was great timing,” Robinson says. “My daughter was a junior in college, my son had already graduated, and (I thought) I might be able to swing this.”

Swing he did. An accomplished golfer in college, Robinson (an 8 handicap) took aim at a franchise offering that has its roots in Los Angeles — TGA Premier Junior Golf (Teach, Grow, Achieve). The after-school enrichment program, designed to instruct students in golf, also provides a reading and math curriculum. The program offers five different levels, for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Using a limited-flight ball, the game is taught indoors in a gym or cafeteria, which helps spare parents the usual expenses associated with golf lessons at clubs — not to mention the time involved in commuting. Program operators like Robinson supply the instructional books, the hitting mats, and clubs for the kids to use.

Robinson bought his first franchise, TGA of Macomb in Grosse Pointe, in 2008. Later that year, he opened TGA of East Oakland County, then TGA of Western Wayne County in January 2013. In March, he consolidated his growing enterprise under a new name: TGA of Southeast Michigan.

As this school year draws to a close, he operates 80 six-week classes in 70 schools, recreation facilities, and community centers. The cost to participants ranges from $99 to $119. Last year, Robinson enrolled 1,687 students, while another 591 children attended summer camps. Combined with parent-child events and competitive tournaments, he served 2,500 people.

Robinson doesn’t teach all of the classes; he hires high school and college golfers, retirees, and PGA professionals. “I was pretty well prepared for this,” he says. “I love golf. I’ve always worked with kids. I coached my kids’ little league teams. From a business perspective, I was very involved in the business side of the paper with marketing, finance, circulation, and production. … Scheduling coaches for classes is pretty much the same as scheduling editors, reporters, and designers.” db