Golf has been chipping away at the notion that it is an “elitist” pastime for many years now. But the reputation lingers to some degree and, intentional or not, some courses continue to feed the perception. Whether or not that’s good for business depends on which side of the fence you’re on.
“Here’s the bucket I sit in,” said Mike Hendrix, vice president of business services for GOLF Business Solutions. “I’d rather get some money from a lot of people than try to get a lot of money from a few people. I realize I am an outlier to some degree, and there are operators who say they don’t want certain consumers. They want to be one of Golf Digest’s 50 toughest courses in America and market to that golfer. I am 180 degrees counter to that. Getting some money from everybody is a better way to run your business today in my view.” Before concluding you are in the golf lifestyle business — one where all golfers live and breathe the game and are in constant pursuit of the perfect swing — Hendrix suggests operators first ought to consider themselves to be in the disposable time business. At the end of the day, every consumer has a certain amount of disposable time in a day, week, and month. What golf course marketing strategies are you adopting to get their attention and commitment to spend some of those hours with you?
Joe Dahlstrom, COO of Paradigm Golf Group, which manages multiple golf properties in South Florida, as well as the western and southwestern U.S., is blunt about how his company positions those golf properties. “I’d rather have any brand position other than that old ‘we’re the longest, we’re the toughest.’ That demographic is shrinking so fast. If you are banking it all on the four guys who want to work on and groove their swings, you will lose.”
Dahlstrom’s brother, Mike, who serves as vice president of sales and hospitality for the company, added, “We have done the research and the studies, and when you look at the daily golfer, the game has become more of an activity than it has ever been. It’s about getting together with pals, family, as couples for a few hours of sunshine in a beautiful setting and fresh air.”
For that customer, for whom there are many more multiples than the golf-swing-obsessed “purist,” it’s all about the experience. “Our philosophy,” Mike said, “is to ensure that every time anyone comes to any of our properties, they leave believing two things: We are nice and we are cool.”
That means greeting guests by name and engaging them in conversation at every one of their properties. Depending on the market, they may also hand out free popsicles and rum shots on hot days. Palm Beach National in Lake Worth, Fla. – which recently underwent a $1 million-plus renovation to install new greens, tee boxes and more – offers complimentary use of Bluetooth speakers to every group that wants to play their music on the course. It all adds up to creating distance between what they offer compared to their competition.
As such, Paradigm’s brands also require a different approach to management. “We try to identify who the face of the club will be when we start working with a new property,” Mike said. “Our employees have to be cheerleaders for the product, and they have to make the customer feel like he is the most important person in the world. That means our managers become more PR people than, you know, golf geeks. It’s a new concept for some of them, being out front on social media and in videos. But once they see the response, it empowers and inspires them.”
If that seems as though it flies in the face of convention, the Paradigm Group is fine with that. “One of the first questions we pose to a potential client is ‘how do you feel about change?’” Joe laughed. “Because they have to be open to doing things differently than they have historically if they want to see more revenue and rounds.”
He cited a customer in South Florida who increased revenue exponentially by casting a wider net in their market. Joe suggests not relying solely on old promotional models. In this example, the course had granted member status to locals year-round. "Through the tourist season and peak season, these members grabbed all the best tee times and paid the lowest rates," Joe said. "It’s interesting to note that we also noticed they also tended to complain the most and created the most strain on resources, but they generated the least amount of revenue." Joe believes you have to be willing to look at these kinds of programs with an analytical eye and adjust appropriately. "Protecting your prime tee times is the most important thing," he said. "If you are going to give them up to annual memberships, make sure you set up a structure to get maximum value."
Does all of this mean hitting the total reset button for golf operations that are keen to increase rounds and revenues? Not entirely. But it does mean opening yourself up to a broader mindset, which may conflict with some long-held notions about the golf business. It’s what Hendrix and his Plus team at GOLF Business Solutions work on every day for their clients.
“We are much more focused on winning the attention of specific golfers in our clients’ specific local trading zones,” Hendrix said. “Every golfer has a wallet, and we’re trying to figure out what can we do to grow our share of their wallet and steal that person away from more movie watching, binge watching and the other entertainment options in front of him.”
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