CHANGE OF PLANS leads to big success for Christensen
Christensen, who started his college career at Concordia University, quickly made the switch to transfer to Arizona State. But he decided that he wanted to make a living in golf somehow, and at that point,the wheels began to turn for the college freshman, who was barely a year away from finishing fourth at the Class A state golf tournament and was a part of Sleepy Eye’s second place team during that 2017 season.
Christensen opened the Golf Project LLC in November of 2020. The business, which is located at 5 N. Minnesota St., allows Christensen to continue giving private lessons to golfers of all skill sets. But it doesn’t end there. Christensen’s business also has an indoor golf center that allows the opportunity to use two aboutGolf simulators. The simulator allows golfers to simulate playing on some of the world’s best courses, like Pebble Beach, and they don’t have to leave New Ulm to do so.
The idea of such a business started a few years ago for Christensen and he’s been busy with it ever since.
“I’ll never forget the day, I was sitting in my dorm room, it was like November of my freshman year of college, and I absolutely hated it,” Christensen said. “I just said ‘something needs to change,’ and so I decided to go to Arizona and it just kind of clicked. I thought, ‘what do I like to do,’ and of course I like to play golf and I was wondering how I could make money playing golf. At the time, I wasn’t that good so I wasn’t going to go play (professional) golf because that wasn’t going to work out, and I decided I was going to teach lessons. I was super dedicated to it, I was going to learn everything I could golf related and I never looked back. I’m glad I came to that realization.”
The business allows him to do two things he loves, teaching the game of golf and playing it as well — on simulated courses, of course. Christensen, who is also the Assistant Golf Professional at New Ulm Country Club, previously offered golf lessons based in Sleepy Eye. But he wanted more, and after talking to some people out at the New Ulm Country Club, he got the idea of the simulator and ran with it.
“It kind of came together really, really quickly,” Christensen said. “We talked about it and we floated the idea around at the club and we thought it would be cool to open a simulator place either in downtown or somewhere in New Ulm. We just started putting some ideas together and brainstorming what that would look like and we found a location. It was kind of perfect and it ended up working out really well.”
After deciding on the location, Christensen got everything opened up in November. But it didn’t last for too long because businesses were forced to shut down again due to COVID-19.
“It was tough timing, we were open for two weeks and then we had five weeks off,” he said. “I knew our marketing push had to be huge right away, we had 45 guys coming in to play league right away, every week those first two weeks, so we were spreading the word that way and that was huge. It was tough, it definitely hurt the momentum. We were shut down for five week, but it lasted close to eight. It’s back up, it’s pretty busy now.”
Originally, he opened Caleb Christensen Golf in 2018 when he came back from Arizona. There, he offered private lessons in Sleepy Eye and he also started working at the New Ulm Country Club, which opened the door for new opportunities.
“The first year was pretty quiet, but then the second year [in 2019] was crazy,” he said. “We only did like 60 lessons that first summer in 2018 and then it jumped to almost 400 that second year, so it was a huge jump.”
He was the golf coach at New Ulm Cathedral in 2019 and that also opened things up for him.
“It was a good blend, because it allowed me to keep teaching the juniors and stuff, but it also got me acclimated to the New Ulm community, before that I had never really met anybody or known anybody here, I wasn’t hugely involved with the club yet at that point, so it was a good way to get involved with the community a bit more and get to know people,” Christensen said.
But last summer’s golf season, which started late due to COVID-19 restrictions, allowed him to expand his ideas for area golfers.
“Oh it was huge, just getting to meet everybody, either through the club or through coaching, being involved with the community more was huge,” Christensen said. “When we first started talking this idea over, without some of those people, I don’t think it would’ve happened at all.”
Christensen said that he has a lot of customers from the Mankato area coming over to play the simulated courses and that has also helped a lot.
“On any given Saturday, sometimes half of my people are coming over from Mankato,” he said.
He said that there are 75 courses to pick from, including Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits and Hazeltine to name a few. He also said that there also a few fictional courses and they range from easier courses to more difficult ones. The Indoor Golf Center is open every day of the week with the rate of $44 per simulator per hour and Christensen said that it takes roughly two hours for a foursome to play nine holes.
The Indoor Golf Center also features a 225-square foot putting green for those golfers who need to work on that part of their game.
As for private lessons, Christensen projects an even busier year for him. And he’s just fine with that.
“It’s right where it was last year,” Christensen said. “I think the summer is going to be even busier. Last year we did 450 people, this I think we’ll have around 700.”