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.”
Discover more on how GOLF Business Solutions can streamline your course operations and help cast a wider net. LEARN MORE.
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.
A thirsty football fan will choose to buy a beer from a stadium vendor to avoid missing some of the game. Moviegoers must endure commercials and coming attractions while waiting for the main feature, whether they like them or not. Own a printer? In many cases, the manufacturer owns you—as a purchaser of replacement cartridges.
Captive-audience marketing and selling can be found throughout the U.S. economy, but you’ll very seldom encounter it in public golf. That’s why golfer acquisition is such an important ongoing activity for course operators in a typical market. And because a public golfer can be so “un-captive,” it becomes somewhat complicated to define acquisition—or its sidekick, golfer retention. “One takes up where the other leaves off” is a fair way to describe their relationship.
In the view of Nicole Roach, senior director of digital marketing for GOLF Business Solutions, course managers can benefit by subdividing acquisition into multiple categories and track the progress of each. “Someone can play your course once, play it multiple times, or join your loyalty program – those are all ways of including them in your acquisition data,” she says. “This can be called ‘acquisition’ if you can just get the person to provide a name and email address or get them to sign up for your SMS messages containing offers and other content.”
The golfer you’ve never heard of who books a round but then cancels it should still be considered one more you’ve acquired, she believes. “You add that person’s data and now your audience is one golfer ahead,” Roach says. “Audience building is what it’s all about.” It helps to know certain patterns underlying your course’s play. So, if you recorded 25,000 rounds last year, was there an 80-20 rule in which 2,000 golfers played 10 times each and the other 5,000 rounds were played by a couple thousand folks playing a few rounds each? Roach points out that when you acquire Golfer A and Golfer B, one may have been totally worth the effort, the other less so. “One way to look at it is to ask whether a given round could have been booked at a higher rate than what you actually got,” she says. “You make that happen by increasing the part of your audience that is relatively less cost-sensitive.” It’s valuable to know your total “uniques,” she says, i.e., the number of different people who teed it up at your course.
To determine a comfortable cost-per-acquisition (CPA), Roach suggests looking at your gross margin (per round) across a full year of operation and using that as a benchmark. “If your margin per round is $8, spending $8 in marketing and other outreach efforts to acquire a golfer is very sensible,” she says. Obviously, you’re not devoting all your profits to this one purpose, just using the margin metric to create an acquisition rule of thumb. If you’ve plugged along and amassed a fairly large and relatively active pool of golfers who are engaged with your course, you don’t want to slide backward. No database goes a year without drop-offs, but the GOLF Business Solutions viewpoint is that losses should be minimal. “It should always be under 5 percent, and with our client courses we shoot for under 1 percent,” she says.
How does a golfer you’ve acquired become one that you’ve lost? That’s always the little mystery that needs solving. It starts with defining the period where the losses occurred and looking closely for whether any notable changes were made. “‘What did we do differently’ is the question you want to ask,” says Roach. That could include emailing golfers too often, emailing them too seldom, changing your message, discontinuing specials, or some other shift.
“That’s where email is particularly helpful,” Roach says. “It gives you the most response data. You can count your opens and click-throughs and usually find what you need to reverse a negative trend fairly quickly.” Of course, there are trends in your database and trends in play—two different (though perhaps parallel) performance areas. On the play side, loss consists of the “defector” whom you’ll program into the software as a somewhat regular customer—with a per-year minimum number of rounds—who stops showing up. “You can set that for 30-, 60-, and 90-day flags to be sent up,” says Roach. “You’re talking about a player who’s gone dormant that the course wants to reactivate more than re-acquire—and there are incentives you’ll use to make that happen.”
Caring for the database that holds and shows your acquired golfers is like caring for the turf on your fairways and greens. Frequent and consistent checkups are the way to go. “We suggest that courses look at their databases on a monthly basis, at least—really the more frequently the better,” Roach says. “That lets you see your trends and gives you a way to aggregate enough results to make good conclusions, plus sufficient time to plan your next initiatives.”
Golfers have lots of choice, so the very fact that you’ve built a large following of players who are engaged to a certain degree and could become more so is a tribute to the quality and consistency of what you bring to market. And some of them you’ll please to such a degree that they’ll find you downright captivating.
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By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor, GOLF Advisor
At GOLF Advisor, our editorial staff writes expert golf and travel content about courses all over the world. But many of our readers come to see what other golfers – not those in the business but just like them – have to say about a golf experience. It could be to help them plan their next local round or to aid in their next golf trip.
Our five-star ratings logic weights the most recent reviews in order to provide the most accurate reflection possible of the current experience. In 2019, we're on pace for a record year of course reviews from our community at GOLF Advisor. Since revealing the platform at the end of 2012, we have more than 30 courses that have over 1,000 reviews and more than 2,600 with over 100 reviews! These active courses have a leg up against their peers by providing authentic information on what the facility experience is like. Such a mass of reviews provides golfers with further confidence about whether the experience is right for their next round.
GOLF Advisor sets itself apart from other consumer review platforms because only golf courses are reviewed; you can't review a car or your dentist here. Also, the other general platforms only have one overall category, so, it's difficult to truly know how into golf the reviewer is. GOLF Advisor not only has overall category, but SIX subcategories that let the golfer rate everything from conditions to friendliness. And their profile shows how many reviews they've written, as well as the option for handicap and age information. Golfers can filter reviews by which players and reviewers are most like them. Useful!
Even the highest-rated courses on our platform receive negative reviews or comments from time-to-time. If what the review said rings true, comment on it using your official GOLF Advisor course account and let them know you are aware of their experience and working on it. It's also totally within your right and constructive to readers to point out anything in their review that is a misunderstanding, or statements that are factually inaccurate. It's possible that even if the reviewer is well meaning, they were provided with bad intel or were misled. By having your staff actively engage with customers about what they liked or didn’t like, you are sending a clear message that your facility is looking for any possible ways to improve.
It's not too late to join in. There are many tools in your arsenal to help encourage golfers to share their experience. Be sure to include a link to your course page in email and social communication. You can also add a ratings widget to your golf course website. Ask your GOLF Business Solutions rep for window decals and other signage. But face-to-face communication is also key! Your pro shop staff, greeters and outside service staff should all be asking for feedback on the experience.
If you have a GOLF Business Solutions booking engine, you can have your rep turn on post interaction emails to trigger a notification to golfers to write a review based on their last visit.
For courses in the north, be sure to take advantage of the last month of peak season to grow your review count, and for courses in the south, prime time is right around the corner! Don't let the sun set on your chance to receive more reviews!
To learn more about GOLF Advisor, CLICK HERE.
Years after Bobby Jones had retired and Jack Nicklaus was dominating pro golf, writers would ask Jones hypothetical questions about how he, in his prime, might have handled Nicklaus. “An athlete can only measure himself against those who are competing at the same time he’s competing,” Jones would reply, sagely.
It’s similar for competition on the business side of golf—you can only endeavor to succeed in the market where you’re located, serving the clientele that’s around you. Mark Carlson, a veteran course operator who oversees the 36-hole Nemadji Golf Club in Superior, Wisconsin, knows this well. Average income for golfers in Superior—and the considerably higher average income for people 15 minutes away in Duluth, Minnesota—are kept firmly in mind by Carlson as he sets his prices and policies.
“Annual household income on this side of the state line is just over $39,000, well below the national average,” Carlson says. “In Duluth it’s a few notches higher. I run 100 group outing events a year, and 60 percent of them come from Minnesota—I get good pricing on that business because I’m able to attract it from the wealthier market.”
Meanwhile, golfers on the Wisconsin side can only afford to be regulars at Nemadji if they’re paying a reasonably priced green fee for the area, so Carlson strategizes—and deploys technology—based on that reality. His particular style as a GOLF Business Solutions partner course is shrewdly arrived.
“My rep, Dan Bury, is focused on tee times that go unused and deliver zero value,” says Carlson. “I’m focused on the same thing. All the technology I get through GOLF Business Solutions helps me fill that sheet and get those golfers in the door. For me to price aggressively and blast out emails to my locals is pretty easy, because the price I’m starting from is already at the lower end.”
On his two 18-hole regulation courses, Carlson expects to log 50,000-plus rounds this year. He’s managed Nemadji an amazing 44 years, and over the past 15 seasons he’s leased the facility from the city of Superior; those lease payments have added $2.4 million to the city’s treasury—while around him, other government-owned courses have been draining municipal coffers. His promotional emails are loaded with exclamation points, always delivering on his core belief that “value is the whole deal” to his base clientele.
One recent email, with a value proposition that included a free beer with green fee, included a photo of an icy Coors can that stretched from the top of a computer screen to the bottom. Constructing promo emails so that all their information is current and consistent involves some technical tweaking that Carlson doesn’t have time to do. At that point, he calls on Bury to go behind the wall and make the necessary changes. “Dan is good enough to do it, which I certainly appreciate,” says Carlson. “But if he doesn’t have the time I’ll send it out anyway. My regulars only look at the big headlines.”
Carlson even has a (non-digital) marketing ploy offering golf at a green fee of zero. His target market is people within a certain driving distance who may never have heard of Nemadji and whose no-charge golf rounds go undetected by the regulars. “These out-of-town people pay their $14 cart fee, they buy something to eat and drink, and they might spend a little money in the shop,” says Carlson. “Why wouldn’t I want that money – which added up to $50,000 last year – when the alternative is to get nothing?”
There’s an old golf-business saying that applies here: People who are successful all do things differently, while people who fail all do things the same way. “Mark has a philosophy that aligns with the GOLF Business Solutions point of view on inventory yield,” says Bury. “That being said, he doesn’t dive into the details of the technology and services we can provide, so our team helps him out, where we can. He’s old-school but at the same time he’s very innovative, and we love working with the guy.”
Moral of the story: Know your market, be aggressive, bring in great technology then use as much of it as you need to use, to be successful.
To learn more about what GOLF Business Solutions can do for your facility, CLICK HERE.
As the functionality wired into tee-time booking systems gets more sophisticated, resourceful course operators are always on the lookout for new ways to leverage it during special weeks on the calendar. Recently, we’ve seen courses make adjustments to their booking function based on predicted high demand during major championships, but similar strategies can be incorporated for a variety of nearby events – or even tournaments or activities you may host, yourself.
Ronnie Wright, Jr., the PGA Director of Golf at The Golf Club at Middle Bay in Oceanside, N.Y., used his GOLF Business Solutions online booking sophistication to exploit this year's PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park, a neighboring Long Island course.
“Knowing the PGA Championship would be down the road from us, we knew that a slew of out-of-towners would be coming here not only wanting to watch the tournament but also hoping to play some golf themselves and maybe entertain clients,” said Wright. “We asked Lindsey Wellenstein (Wright’s GOLF Business Solutions representative) to get with her team and make adjustments to our reservation settings.”
To begin with, the course changed its standard seven-day-in-advance policy so that times for PGA Championship week could be booked 90 days out. The Golf Club of Middle Bay was a member-only facility until five years ago, and its GOLF Advisor ratings are eye-catchingly high. Wright felt that, given the chance, golfers from far-off places would be eager to book his course. “We sold tee times to people from California, Canada, Japan and really all over,” says Wright. “We sold times we wouldn’t have sold, and we sold them at a premium.”
Wright captured his premium fee by having GOLF Business Solutions disable his dynamic-pricing tool for that one week. “We set things up so our normal triggered price drops got eliminated,” he explains. “That allowed us to enforce our weekend rack rate of $83, including cart, for the entire period.”
Similar strategizing helped the 36-hole Bayonet and Black Horse Golf in Seaside, Calif., make hay out of this year’s U.S. Open at nearby Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Pat Jones, the facility’s director of golf, worked far in advance of the U.S. Open with Charles Fralix III, his GOLF Business Solutions rep, on business strategy. The idea was to make the Bayonet and Black Horse inventory as attractive yet high-yielding as possible on GOLFNOW. Jones asked that all tee times for the two courses be sold in a package with cart, lunch, beverages and a souvenir logo hat included – there’s your attraction angle – easily justifying a basic $225-per-player fee.
Meanwhile, parts of the two tee sheets (one for each of the two 18-hole courses) were organized as shotgun blocks, while other parts stayed in normal sequential form. All of the packages were set up to get prepaid by the booking golfer. Where the sheet remained in its normal matrix, a dynamic-pricing tool was turned on, to set the fees according to demand. On two separate days there were times that sold for a peak price of $275.
“All the public-access courses in this area know and prepare when there’s something big coming up on the calendar,” says Jones. “Whether it was us, or Poppy Hills or Carmel Valley Ranch or whichever facility, we all had strategies to maximize revenue.”
One key adjustment along the way involved prepayment. “At first, we weren’t requiring up-front payment, but we tested it and found that nobody minded. We heard that same thing talking to other courses, so we flipped the switch to prepayment,” says Jones.
The approach that emerged from Jones’s brainstorm sessions with Fralix proved successful, to say the least.
“We didn’t 100 percent sell out,” Jones says, “but I’ve got our records from 2010 when the U.S. Open was also here at Pebble Beach, and revenues in 2019 were much higher. In 2010 they averaged about 450 rounds a day, and this year we averaged 400 a day, but back then the green fee was around $140 and this year we were selling at $225 all the way up to $275.”
Pasatiempo, the renowned Pacific Coast course with its Alister MacKenzie jewel of a layout, used an interesting strategy to parlay this year’s U.S. Open into business success. Poring over the records from 2010 and 2012, when there were U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach and the Olympic Club, respectively, general manager Scott Hoyt set his revenue goals based on total spend more than premium-priced green fees.
“In a 10-day window from Friday, June 7 to Monday the 17th we bumped our fee from $275 to $295, then at a certain point we moved it up to $310,” says Hoyt. “Still, that was a modest premium—one course actually doubled its rate—and as a result we had a steady flow of positive comments about our pricing.” Once the policy was set, Hoyt closed his office door and crafted a lengthy, highly detailed email that would go out to everyone who had booked for the 10-day period. It asked about walk versus ride, need for rental sets, need for caddies and forecaddies, dining plans, and other ancillary-spend categories. Golfers responded enthusiastically, eager to get all aspects of their visits to this bucket-list destination squared away.
“We begged and borrowed rental sets to cover the need,” says Hoyt. “We called in caddies from all over – even some of our members took loops. Our F&B operation maxed out on sales. On one hand, people were super-thankful we gave them the opportunity to reserve everything in advance – customer experience was through the roof. On the other hand, we made money like never before.”
Compared to June 2010, Pasatiempo eclipsed revenue from that entire month in only a four-day period this year. “And June of 2010,” adds Hoyt, “had been our biggest green-fee revenue month ever.”
Obviously, the two U.S. majors that move around may not be coming to your area anytime soon, but even lesser events like the U.S. Amateur or the two senior majors could potentially spike up some demand. The key is knowing how the best booking engines can accommodate those unique scenarios and using them to maximize your revenue and exposure when they occur.
To learn more about our tee time booking system, CLICK HERE.
New Sea Island State-of-the-Art Performance Center Beckons
When you break daily routines and reduce distractions, heightened productivity and focus are the likely results. That’s precisely why corporate groups hold off-site meetings or why a novelist might travel to a remote cabin to create an optimal writing environment. This is a concept with which many golf instructors also can relate, which is why you might see their students join them at a destination that’s set up for serious golf lessons and training.
This was the original concept behind the PGA Golf Club in Florida, which offers visiting PGA professionals and their clients with access to its multiple courses and 35-acre learning center. Proponent Group, golf’s largest member organization serving full-time instructors, operates a visiting coach’s program with host facilities located in eight U.S. states, plus Bermuda. On a less formal basis, many veteran teaching professionals team up with colleagues for “home and away” golf-school sessions, which also provide their students with the opportunity to visit somewhere special to work on their game. Sea Island, the landmark golf resort in the Golden Isles region of Georgia, has come up with the Sea Island Pro Program, which invites golf professionals to team up with its new Golf Performance Center staff to provide an unparalleled experience.
Any golf professional with plans for a group excursion of this type should look first to Sea Island. With a heritage of world-class golf and brilliant instruction that complements its natural beauty and sophisticated luxury, Sea Island's 17,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Golf Performance Center is a gleaming citadel of game-improvement.
The Sea Island Pro Program is a multi-win concept, rewarding the “have-student-will-travel” golf professional handsomely. Any golf professional who participates will receive a $50 Sea Island resort credit for every paid room-night housing a student. This applies to all of the resort’s stellar overnight options: The Lodge, The Cloister, The Cottages, and The Inn.
In addition, the professional’s room and golf will be complimentary in every instance where he or she is accompanied by a traveling party of seven or more. At the end of the year, a Sea Island gift card is sent to the professional, which can be redeemed for room nights, food, beverage, resort activities or to purchase merchandise from the Sea Island website.
Sea Island is home to the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic, hosted by Sea Island’s own Davis Love III. It has three championship courses, including the fully renovated and soon-to-reopen Plantation Course. The resort community is a primary residence for more than 20 touring professionals, which was a factor in the drive to design and build the new training facility.
Partly due to the timeless beauty of the region, and partly owing to how much golf soul is embedded here, Sea Island can continually add sophisticated, luxurious amenities and never lose pure-golf ambience. It’s the only resort in the world to receive four Forbes Five-Star awards for 11 consecutive years. As for the new GPC – Golf Performance Center – the manager of the facility never gets tired of hearing people rave about it.
“My office is right by the front door,” says Craig Allan, “and I can’t count how many times each day I hear ‘this is awesome’ or ‘it’s unbelievable.’ The new GPC has been an overwhelming success and we expect it to be the go-to place for world-class instruction.”
There’s been a trend toward adding high-tech game-improvement centers at top resorts – Pebble Beach included – but this one sets itself apart via its “heritage, diverse offerings and spectacular views,” according to Allan. As visiting golfers make their way through the GPC, what they notice most is the vast array of options, including six hitting bays loaded with technology, a fully outfitted gym and a state-of-the-art putting studio – all to improve their game. “The facility is laid out in such a way that students can flow from one area to another as they work through the various components,” says Allan. “The putting studio, spectacular gym, and our fun group bay with its Trackman Simulator have been especially big hits.”
Golf instruction has become oriented away from “one-off” lessons toward longer-term relationships between coach and student. That mindset proves best for skill development, plus it’s the most satisfying way for an instructor to build his or her practice.
To learn more on how GOLF Business Solutions can streamline your instruction business, CLICK HERE.
The day new ownership arrives at a struggling golf course is not the day every problem gets solved, a fact of which incoming manager and part-owner of Nashville National Golf Links, Jonathan Williams, was keenly aware. A veteran of 25 highly productive years in the financial services industry, Williams has circled back to golf as a calling, decades after his late-teen years working on golf course maintenance crews.
“I was one of those kids who was happy to get to the course at dawn, mow the greens, adjust my cutting height and head back out to mow the tees, fairways and rough,” he recalls. Williams loved to play the game, as well and became a low-handicap golfer. Preparing to head back to college one September, he was encouraged by the golf course superintendent to forget about the investment business and study agronomy instead.
“I was flattered, but I stuck to my original career decision," says Williams. “As far as providing for my family and building our finances it was probably the right decision. But it always felt like work until the day I enrolled in a class on entrepreneurship while in graduate school. That class reignited my passion to be in the golf business.” In August 2016, he took over Nashville National - newly renamed and surrounded by Tennessee's natural beauty - and began guiding it into a new era.
“As you might expect," says Williams, "there was a pretty long list of deferred capital projects waiting for us. We had decisions to make about prioritizing improvements.” The course originally came online in 1998—under a different name—and in its heyday facilitated upwards of 20,000 rounds a year. Williams says the course hasn’t seen those numbers since 2008, although the turfgrass has improved dramatically under the nurturing of a new superintendent.
“The irrigation system was in rough shape when we got here and, as a result, we had poor turf on several of the greens,” says Williams. “On the review websites, the strongest of the comments about our greens were pretty merciless.”
Just 12 months into his tenure, real trouble came along in the form of Hurricane Harvey. In addition to high winds tearing through the property, Williams found himself dealing with nine inches of rainfall in a 12-hour period and the complete washout of a green complex. Golfers couldn’t play a full 18 holes for some time. Once things were getting back to normal, the greens were hit with infestations of moss and algae, which took many months to eradicate.
Zack Hawayek, Area Sales Manager for GOLF Business Solutions, enjoyed his conversations with Williams even before the two became partners. It was Williams’ opinion that Nashville National needed to mature a bit before it could reap the benefits of being part of the GOLF Business Solutions GOLFNOW tee-time marketplace.
“We were in various stages of a rebuild,” he said. “If all the business that GOLFNOW could bring me arrived here a year or two ago, it all would've backfired because the product wasn't ready. I explained that to Zack and he understood.”
As his greens were nearing full recovery, Williams hired a new young golf professional, Connor Hendrickson, who during his interview had spoken enthusiastically about GOLFNOW as a marketing tool. When Hawayek next made contact with Nashville National, he was told they were ready to join the platform.
“I knew it would work, to a degree,” says Williams about the decision, “but the actual amount of business GOLFNOW brought us was a big surprise and a pleasant one. It blows me away that every time I open up my email I will see five or six new GOLFNOW confirmations for tee times.”
Williams said it’s a rare experience to have a new revenue stream open up for your operation and boost real-time cash flow – and give you every indication that it will continue to do so.
“The success with GOLF Business Solutions is directly connected to being able to hire more staff, as well as allowing our superintendent to implement a full agronomy plan, including upgrading turf equipment,” says Williams. “From a budget standpoint it is helping us tremendously.”
“Nashville is the No. 1 bachelor and bachelorette party destination in the U.S, even ahead of Las Vegas,” Williams explains. “So now, I have free spending 20-somethings and 30-somethings flowing to our course via GOLFNOW, requesting high-ticket items and service. They book through GOLFNOW when they’re in their home market, so naturally they use it when they go on the road.”
Plenty of upgrades needed by an under-maintained course are plain to see, but the fix that brings in a new and powerful tee-time booking system is less visible. And yet, as they discovered at Nashville National, it’s often that kind of upgrade that makes all the difference.
To learn more about how GOLF Business Solutions can streamline your course operations, CLICK HERE.
Courses find solutions to beat the heat
Bishop Pickering was having the round of his life, so he chose to ignore the onslaught of a violent thunderstorm and kept playing. At this point, you may know this famous scene from the movie Caddyshack doesn't end well for the good bishop, but it does make us wonder. How can one's love for the game can be deep enough to play in any conditions – even when the mercury is hitting record highs?
For some, love may not come without an incentive. That's especially true for many courses in America's Sun Belt during the dog days of summer. Oppressive heat can keep golfers at bay, creating challenges for operators working to attract new golfers. They're hoping at minimum to keep their regular customers on the tee.
Taking on the challenge
Several GOLF Business Solutions' course partners are taking this challenge head-on this summer. Deep down, golfers just want to play golf, but sometimes it takes a little something extra. Realizing this, these partner courses have introduced promotions and initiatives to combat the heat and keep their customers on their fairways.
Desert courses beat the heat with new promotions. "Heat is a way of life in Arizona," says Tony Barten, General Manager of the acclaimed Legacy Golf Club in Phoenix, "and we prepare for the hotter summer months with a variety of things that help our golfers notice it less."
Handing out mango-scented iced towels and ensuring water stations located around the course are always chock full of ice and water are a few of the special touches Barten says they incorporate at the Legacy Golf Club.
"Legacy attracts golfers with aggressive pricing," says Barten, who notes that a golfer might pay a little less during the hotter parts of the day. Prices are tiered based on demand, and there may be three to four rate breaks throughout the day.
Nearby, at Arizona Grand Resort & Spa, the management team loves its regulars, but the course also attracts a lot of guests from the on-site resort.
As the weather started heating up in May, the golf course and resort collaborated to introduce a "Burger & Brew" promotion, which combines a round of golf and a hearty meal for a price 'that's nearly half-off retail. The course has incorporated paid social media to support the promotion.
"Our guests love a great round of golf paired with a quality burger and beer - especially in air-conditioned comfort," said Director of Golf Jimmy Bills. "The resort restaurant loves the increased traffic during what normally are the slower summer months."
Florida takes on the humidity
Across the continent in Florida, where heat combines with humidity, Raptor Bay Golf Club in Bonita Springs uses added value to attract golfers in the summer when the temperatures regularly peak into the 90s. It's not out of the norm for golfers to receive a $5 lunch voucher, drink coupons and even free logoed hats with their regular daily green fee.
Texas 'kicks the dust-up'
Texas can heat up quite nicely in the summer, which brings us to several courses in the Dallas area that have preparations in place when temperatures rise.
The Bridges Golf Club in Gunter created an "It's Heating Up" promotion by offering golfers 20% off throughout June. The promotion has generated more than $1,000 and 70 rounds of incremental business so far. Wildhorse Golf Club at Robson Ranch in Denton says it's giving customers the "Shirts Off Our Back" to beat the heat, a deal that includes a logoed shirt and a discounted green fee that has netted the course more than $10,000.
Grab-and-go special heats up in California Sun
In the California desert, Indian Canyons Golf Resort has been a popular choice for golf in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley since 1961, when the likes of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Reagan used to walk its fairways. Summer is the time when customers are offered the 'course's "Grab ‘N Go" special, which includes 18 holes of golf with cart, a choice of a breakfast sandwich or hot dog, and a small bucket of range balls. Through only 19 days in June, the incremental business was highlighted by 63 rounds sold, which equated to nearly $4,000 in sales.
When summer's high temperatures cause golfers to reconsider booking that next round, promotions like these can offer excellent incentives to brave the heat.
To learn more on how you can promote your course, CLICK HERE.
It's a natural assumption that golf courses in or near big cities should attract new customers by adopting strategies that increase awareness. This way, they can take advantage of a denser geographic area.
However, the real question is - can something comparable happen in rural or urban regions? Yes, it can. Perhaps it's because of a willingness by residents of those regions to travel farther for golf on highways that aren't jammed and offer lush scenery. Regardless, increased exposure to golfers online has brought new players to Stillwaters Golf in Dadeville, Alabama - a new GOLF Business Solutions course partner on the Platform.
"New eyes are seeing us on their screens and new people coming in the door," says Witherington. "It has to be because of the Platform because we haven't changed anything else. Within a couple weeks after we got on the Platform, I realized that we had already booked more than 50 rounds that I know we wouldn't have had otherwise."
The Tradition Course at Stillwaters Golf is part of a resurgent golf and lake community with zoning for 1,200 residences in the area. When it opened in 1996, it featured 36 holes of golf. However, Stillwaters' business plan went through changes, and one of the two championship courses eventually shut down. Located in a triangle formed by the three cities of Birmingham, Montgomery, and Columbus, Stillwaters is indeed a long drive for golfers who reside in any of those population centers.
“You have to make the trip to find us,” says Witherington. “So, once you’re here it’s on us to make the experience special enough that you’ll come back and you will also tell you friends about us.” Withering says he must adapt to limited funds for marketing and advertising. “My customers have to be a big part of my marketing,” he says, referring to word-of-mouth recommendations, “but I do need more exposure and reach, which we now have.”
Witherington is a natural who "can talk them into staying for lunch, even staying for live music that night," once he gets them on-property. His course's reliance on word-of-mouth has given him a nuanced understanding of it. "One of the reasons people go to new places and try new things is because they're motivated to tell their friends what a great choice they made," he asserts. "It's one of their pleasures in life, along with the actual experience. So, when we treat them right, we're giving them an opportunity they want which is to sound smart – and in the process they make us look good."
In Witherington's first full year in 2016, rounds played at the course increased from 8,000 to 12,800. Memberships rose from 72 to 287. "We made golf a profit center here," he says. "We want to build on that." He had a previous, albeit brief, experience with GOLFNOW many years ago.
"It was a long enough time ago that I was getting all my bookings off a fax machine," he says. "It was cumbersome, but I was sure that in the meantime the system had been modernized." While that is undoubtedly true, the Platform at Stillwater isn't like the Platform at a lot of other places, thanks to the paper tee sheet still in use at the course.
Witherington and his GOLF Business Solutions' account representative Scott Huskins, worked together to create a more customized approach for Stillwaters.
"Scott set it the tee sheet so that I get an email beep with every reservation that comes through GOLFNOW and into our Platform. He even helped me program my phone, so everything could come through me."
Stillwaters story inspires us to note that whether you're in the city, the country or someplace in between, you still need a way to get people's attention and keep them coming back.
To learn more about how the GOLF Business Solutions Platform can help you attract more golfers, CLICK HERE.
Avoid hidden fees and overcharges for card processing
A great golf course manager knows the customer experience isn't over until the customer drives off. He or she also is savvy enough to realize all the marketing touchpoints that can make an average experience great – including when it's time to pay.
Every operator wants to make things easy for their golfers – booking rounds online, checking in, buying a sleeve of balls, grabbing a snack from the beverage cart, and, hopefully, enjoying post-round food-and-beverage. Golf course management software with fully integrated functionality helps achieve a seamless experience.
Golf Business Solutions' new Payments feature will achieve both the operator and manager goals by making operations run like a well-oiled machine. Payments is a part of a turn-key 21st-century course by allowing the operator to review transactions, check inventories, keep an eye on cash flow, run credit card transactions, and more.
"Payments by GOLF Business Solutions allows you to seamlessly integrate online, phone and in-person payments with your point-of-sale system," explains Charles Kingsbaker, Senior Sales Specialist for GOLF Business Solutions. "With that full integration, the processing of payments requires just one vendor, accepting every payment any customer makes, no matter when or where."
Charles' colleague, Kelvin Wierks, has been part of the team working to build, test, and refine the functionality of Payments. Regulatory compliance, security issues, and the ability to interface with the vast banking and payments ecosystem have dictated a steady pace.
"The payments space is convoluted and complex," says Wierks, Vice President of Business Platforms for GOLF Business Solutions. "Golf courses have been hit with higher costs for payment processing than they rightly should, and the reports they see are too complicated to make sense of. Our mission has been to simplify the contractual process, simplify rates dramatically, and offer the seamlessness of working with a single vendor."
Payments start with transparent and easily understood rates, plus a guarantee of no hidden fees. You can see exactly what you're paying on every transaction, and those transactions can happen via tablet, desktop, online, or in-person. Full integration with GOLF Business Solutions means that wherever and whenever a payment happens, funds will be auto-deposited to your account. All Payments transactions are PCI-compliant (Payment Card Industry), with end-to-end encryption for security.
Early adopters of the technology have been quick to appreciate having all revenue inflows come from one source on a set daily schedule. "You don't have to try and remember when (mobile-device payments middleman) Square is going to pay you," says Wierks. He notes that the GOLF Business Solutions-provided hardware a course receives when it switches to Payments is another facet of the program that gets high marks. "We provide a wireless pin pad and an EMV-compliant terminal," says Wierks. "No more swiping cards – everything has the security of a chip."
Advanced economies have been favoring digital systems over cash and check-writing for a long time, in the name of security, ease, and data analysis.
"Businesses of all kinds, including golf courses, are moving to a 'pay-anywhere' approach," says Kingsbaker, "which makes the relationship with your payments processor all the more important to the entire operation. Going forward, the advantages a course gains from adopting Payments will only increase, because of new products and services that are in the works. Golfers will notice more and more perks, along with the sheer ease of the experience."
Their favorite course is already the place where golfers are most interested in spending their money—adding. Payments technology is a way to simply enhance that preference.
To learn more about Payments, CLICK HERE.