Centennial, Colorado

Founded: 2002

Privately owned

Employees: 7 (plus a team of freelance writers and photographers)

Allen Walters and Jon Rizzi build content fine-tuned for the Colorado market, but innovations like Golf Passport keep the business in play.

As brothers Dick, Don, and Ray Baker launched the publication, the original plan was to transplant the content from AvidGolfer magazine in the Dallas market to a Denver-oriented publication.

Editor Jon Rizzi would have none of it. “There was no way you could take stuff that was meant for another city and transfer it to Denver and expect it to work,” says Rizzi, who subsequently headed up the creation of fresh content for the Colorado market.

Publisher Allen Walters came on board soon after the inaugural issue in April 2002. He describes the magazine’s innovative business model as a “premium” for holders of the Colorado AvidGolfer Golf Passport. For $79.95 a year, members get a subscription to the magazine as well as discounts of 40 to 80 percent at about 60 partner predominantly public golf courses, plus a cart for free.

Today the passport program has about 4,500 members that receive the paper magazine — printed in Denver at American Web — as well as digital content via ColoradoAvidGolfer.com.

Partner courses don’t pay to be part of the program — it’s a win/win for both Colorado AvidGolfer and the program, says Walters.

The key, say RIzzi, is it helps courses book unfilled tee times. “The perishable inventory is on weekdays between 1 and 5 p.m. — it’s not the best time of day to play golf.” But a 70 percent discount sweetens the deal.

Because the program offers golfers discounts, the recent recession “didn’t really hurt us,” he adds.

There are a total of 30,000 rounds of golf played each year through the passport program,” he says. “That rivals the average golf course in the Denver metro area.”

Adds Rizzi: “It’s almost like its own little golf course.”

About 80 percent of the magazine’s content is Colorado-oriented, but the neighboring states — especially Arizona come wintertime — get some play as well. “Denver is a huge feeder market for Scottsdale, and also for Cabo [San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico],” says Rizzi.

Relevant content and discounted green fees are just two of the perks for passport holders. There are also days when private courses open to members and three annual tournaments events, retail and travel discounts.

The multi-pronged strategy has helped Colorado AvidGolfer “earn its way into the Colorado golf firmament,” says Rizzi. The magazine is now the official publication of a host of Colorado golf courses and organizations.

“Instead of hitting you up for ads and write a column about you, we really view this as a partnership,” Rizzi says. ”We’re threads in the tapestry that is Colorado golf.”

Challenges: Continuing to improve “a very strong digital product,” says Walters. “We’re seeing tremendous growth in our Web traffic.”

The website saw nearly a half-million page views in the last year, a 100 percent uptick from the previous 12 months. The key, says Rizzi, is fresh daily content that’s not in the print magazine. “We have a digital manager I work with very closely,” he says. Readers “certainly want to know if they can get a screaming deal of 70 percent off.”

Opportunities: “Our events are big opportunities for us,” says Walters. “To be relevant to the advertiser, we needed to offer more than just paper and ink.” So 10 years ago, Colorado AvidGolfer launched the annual Audi Corporate Cup at the Red Sky Golf Club near Vail and has subsequently added a three-event Tournament Series and the Cordillera Couples Experience, coming up in September.

Readers are invited to play in the events, which have allowed Colorado AvidGolfer to move from the printed page to the golf course and bring in a variety of sponsors. They’ve been a big hit, adds Walters. “We typically sell these events out every year,” he says.

Needs: New golfers. Only about 10 percent of the U.S. population golfs, and the number is declining. “We’re not going to grow the business without more people playing the game,” says Walters.

Colorado is “not losing golfers at the pace some other places are,” notes Rizzi, calling Colorado AvidGolfer “doubly niched” in terms of sport and geographic market.

The sport needs a paradigm shift to get younger players to hit the links, says Walters. “We need the shot in the arm that skiing got when snowboarding was introduced,” he argues. “Golf courses are going to have to reinvent themselves.”

“Avid does not mean able,” Rizzi adds. “It’s a hard game. Some people view that as a positive — because it is challenging — and some people view it as a real detriement. It’s our job to the promote the fun.”