Starter with a tablet.

Solutions for golfer acquisition

Aug 21, 2019

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.

To learn more about our solutions, CLICK HERE.