When was the last time you spent money on anything without first checking reviews and ratings online? Verifying what others think of the product or service you’re considering has become integral to the buying process. It’s true for washing machines, hotels, restaurants, shoes and plumbers, and it’s true for golf courses, too.
Mike Lowe, Vice President and General Manager of GOLF Advisor, has been involved with golf’s leading source of course ratings and reviews by golfers for golfers since its inception. “We saw the potential for user-generated reviews and built a great foundation on GOLFNOW,” he said. “Within a year of our launch as a separate brand in February 2014, GOLF Advisor already had become the internet’s leader, having aggregated nearly 300,000 reviews.”
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GOLF Advisor’s rapid trajectory has continued. Today the website hosts nearly 900,000 reviews covering over 15,000 courses worldwide. Recent moves, like expanding GOLF Advisor's travel footprint through a new GOLF Channel television series, hosted trips and more, will help ensure golfers deciding where they want to play next will continue to begin that search at GOLF Advisor and GOLFNOW.
To continue to nourish that user confidence, GOLF Advisor expands its content offerings well beyond merely posting user-generated reviews. Trust is essential, says Lowe. “When you’re on GOLF Advisor versus Yelp or others, you are getting expert editorial from our writers. These ratings and reviews from the experts are matched up with peer-to-peer reviews. Additionally, from our angle, you know that the golfer giving the course you are looking at five stars is John Smith who is 55 to 64 years old with a three handicap. It gives you, the golfer, the best of both worlds — reviews from experts and from the actual golfer that you relate to. When our writers say you can expect a great experience, you can see if golfers like you are saying the same thing.”
They can choose to engage or not to engage. But the fact is we see the golf courses who do get involved really benefit.
That attention to high-quality content has paid off in the metrics that matter most. “When we launched we had no presence in the search engine rankings,” Lowe said. “Today, a major percentage of our traffic comes from search. We rank extremely well for destinations and also really well for golf courses. That strong SEO presence not only is great for getting new customers, but also, once that golfer finds us, they use us as one of their stops. They look to us for advice.”
There is no question that the ratings and reviews of your course on GOLF Advisor matter. Lowe says his team is blunt in explaining that fact to operators who may take a casual approach to customer reviews or ignore them altogether.
“It’s free, there is no cost to them to respond to reviews, change photos, feature their strongest characteristics and so forth," he continued. "They can choose to engage or not to engage. But the fact is we see the golf courses who do get involved really benefit.”
Mission Inn Resort & Club in the Orlando market can attest to the benefits. “To say that the GOLF Advisor reviews and ratings have helped the resort is quite an understatement,” said Drew Toth, director of sales and marketing. “Golf rounds and golf package growth are up substantially.”
Michael Bowery, director of golf for Mission Inn, echoed that view. “We have a whole mix of business we have cultivated over the years — corporate business, golf tournaments, fundraising events. When we get everyone together before a shotgun start, I’ll share the story about how special this place is. When I tell them they are about to play El Campeón and it is consistently a top-rated golf course in the state of Florida on GOLF Advisor that gets their attention.”
Bowery pointed out that Mission Inn’s exemplary ratings and reviews on GOLF Advisor are a key element in the selling process. “The tough part is getting the golfers’ attention and getting them out here. Once they get here and experience Mission Inn, they come back. I mean, we have a group that has returned every year for 43 years. But when people are planning a golf event in Orlando, and they see our rankings are so high, they add us to their rota.”
“Ratings and reviews are the most powerful part of the marketing mix,” Toth said simply.
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To maximize that power, it’s important to consistently nourish your connection to the golfer and engage him in the review. Thanking someone for complimenting your course goes a long way to cementing a loyal customer relationship. And when a golfer cites something that was lacking in his experience with your course? Acknowledging the customer’s issue directly, perhaps even offering a bounce back round at a discount, is a proven way to restore a customer’s faith in your product. Their review is also an opportunity to focus on what to fix at your facility, especially if you see the same complaint more than once.
Lowe likes to remind operators — especially those concerned about negative reviews — that the overall average for courses is 3.9 stars out of five. “Most golfers are sharing great experiences. And on those occasions where there may have been a bad review because of course condition or a temporary situation at the facility, our algorithm heavily weights the most recent six months. A bad review in the past isn’t going to poison your rating forever.”
Whether it’s mitigating a less-than-stellar review or upping your ratings review game and reaping the rewards, Lowe offers some simple advice any operation can start employing today:
Enthusiastically and consistently solicit reviews.
They are valuable currency in today’s marketplace, and the more of them you have, the better. Keep marketing materials handy and conspicuous throughout your facility — stickers, posters, table tents. “Print up business cards that ask golfers to visit GOLF Advisor and rate their round,” Lowe said. “Have your cart and bag drop staff pass the cards out. Train them to ask every customer about his or her round and ask for the review. Some operations have iPads or computers available to employees so they can ask for the review right there with the customer.
“And most importantly train all of your staff to greet guests, communicate politely and deliver top-shelf service. I work with some courses that reward any employee who gets called out in a review by name. That’s one way to incentivize great service and ensure a great review.”
Finally, Lowe advises all courses to put their best foot forward on GOLF Advisor by updating photos and content and to dedicate some time daily to engaging with reviewers. That two-way conversation is your opportunity to thank customers, acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake and show every potential customer considering your course the kind of experience they can expect.