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The Latest from The Index

Ideas to turn new golfers into repeat customers

Jun 23, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has created a surprising boon for the golf industry. While regulars are back at their local tracks, operators also are seeing a lot of new faces teeing it up on their courses and doing their best to figure out how to turn these first-timers into repeat customers.

Many facilities are reporting tee sheets booked from morning until evening, even during traditional slow times like weekdays. With little competition from cancelled youth sports, closed restaurants and other shelter-in-place initiatives, golf has been deemed one of the safer activities for people to enjoy. Could this be a great opportunity for the game to build on the current momentum for future growth?

Jim Jones, director of golf/superintendent at Fairview Golf Course in Lebanon, Pa., said online bookings were up 300 percent in May. “It is like a renaissance,” he said. “After 2001 and 2002, you never thought you would see 250 and 275 golfers (in a day). It is a little different. It is kind of crazy looking at a tee sheet (these days).”

Perhaps most exciting of all to Jones, many of the golfers are new faces. Jones admits he was leery of joining the GOLFNOW platform 18 months ago, but the move has paid off for Fairview and the other courses owned/operated by the Distinct Golf Group, including Hidden Valley, Wedgewood, Willow Hollow and Bunker Hill.

“We are seeing so many new players,” he said of Fairview. “Our starters are saying we are teeing off people we haven’t seen before. We are pretty established (in the community). The GOLFNOW platform has placed us in front of new customers.”

More families are playing together, too, an encouraging sign. “Late in the day, younger kids are trying out the game,” he said. “We are seeing kids who might need to hit range ahead of time, but it is their chance to enjoy the game. The demographic has dropped. We are a younger audience than we were at this time last year without a doubt.”

PGA Director of Golf Chad Donegan tells a similar tale at Landa Park Municipal Golf Course, a city-owned facility in New Braunfels, Texas. Donegan said the course used to average 150 players a day but is now seeing between 190 and 210.

“When we first reopened, we were walking-only the first eight days,” he recalled. “During that time period, we would have adults who would bring kids to walk along. We’ve seen some of them back with kids, whether they played or just joined the parents.”

Turning these new customers into repeat customers is the next challenge for every operator.

Donegan said that starts with a good first impression. “We have a good staff,” he said. “One of the first questions we ask is ‘Have you played the course before?’ If no, we have a spiel about the routing of the course, where the amenities are, where to find the grill, something cold to drink or hot to eat. We point where the warmup area is and make them feel at home. We are taking the extra time to acclimate them to the facility.”

He goes out of his way to talk to faces he doesn’t recognize. “I double check to see if their needs were taken care of,” he said. “I tell them thanks for coming out and playing. I make my way through the clubhouse frequently during the day.”

Fairview has hired an extra staffer as a “director of player experience” during this busy time since there are so many new procedures due to COVID-19. “We tried to have some key staff people who are experienced in customer service,” Jones said. “It can be a touch and go for people who don’t (know the facility). We have spaced out our tee times. We were at 12 minutes (intervals). Now we are at 10 minutes. We give each group a couple extra minutes on the tee. They don’t feel like they are pushed out like cattle. It is more of an experience.”

Both men lean on their GOLFNOW Plus teams to help communicate with customers virtually via social media and e-mail. Landa Park re-opened allowing only pre-paid rounds set up by GOLFNOW. The course remains credit-card-only and may stay cashless going forward. “It is something we have discussed,” he added. “We will have to see how that plays out down the road.”

Donegan doesn’t have the staff resources to post to social media daily. GOLFNOW handles the course’s Facebook page. Conversely, Jones said his staff uses Facebook, and sometimes Twitter, effectively thanks to guidance provided by GOLFNOW Plus Specialist Lauren Champion. He said whenever he has an idea about an e-mail promotion or social media graphic, she delivers on-point in a timely fashion. He cited a recent Father’s Day promotional e-mail that was well received. He considers Lauren a part of the staff at Fairview.

“She and I work well together,” he added. “We got on the same page early. She helped us with the (COVID-19) closure, but she was really good at reopening, getting out the rules and guidelines, trying to keep people in tune with the new rules and the specials in the pro shop.”

Bolster golf course marketing through visuals

Jun 16, 2020

Photos and videos are proven ways to impress and engage with your audience.

You’ve maintained and updated your golf course to make it stand apart, but that’s just job one when it comes to image. Job two is marketing your course in distinctive, eye-catching ways that will increase golfers at your course. Society is more visual now than ever before. People respond strongly to what they’re shown - whether it's a first impression or cumulatively over time.

“A course’s website and its promotional materials can help create an emotional connection that keeps customers engaged and builds their loyalty,” says marketing expert Lindsey Mammen, director of creative solutions, GOLFNOW. “One of the best ways to do that is through photography and video that’s lively and well-executed.”

Mammen drives her point home by citing statistics from digital marketing firm HubSpot, which states that embedding videos in landing pages can increase conversion by over 80 percent. They also say that adding a video to marketing emails can boost click-through rates by 200 to 300 percent. “It’s worth reviewing your visual presentation, and asking whether it’s got this kind of potency,” she said. “Will it attract, inform, excite, and charm the people who see it?”

Building blocks for visual marketing can include the course and clubhouse photos, course videos, and the design production. With the arrival of drone technology, golf courses have gained a useful and relatively affordable visual option—flyover video and still shots. In the past it was unusual to see aerial visuals of public courses, but lately, there’s more of it showing up.

Pictures and videos on websites start with homepage beauty shots and can extend to images that cover the services listed across the website. To gain a more visual advantage, courses might look at improving the imagery they use for those secondary assets. In general, pages for practice facilities, leagues, instruction, junior clinics, or 19th Hole dining seldom get a strong visual showcase. According to Mammen, “relying on text explanations to impress a site visitor who’s curious about those aspects of your business is a lost opportunity.”


Stand out from the crowd with professional drone footage and imagery

Outbound marketing, such as email and social media posts, will need to reflect or echo the visual “signature” found on your site. Email marketing fights for your audiences attention and strives to be remembered. The inbox of any customer you’re marketing to gets filled up with messages from a wide array of sources. Remember, the level of sophistication in branding and selling utilized by other marketers is what you're measured against. Engage your audience with your style of snapshots and links to short videos through email and posted across your social channels.

Promote your strengths with creativity

Sometimes a different approach to video can be effective, but keep in mind that it should be faithful to the brand you’ve created. Take the out-of-the-box efforts of Palm Beach National Golf & Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida for example. Mike Dahlstrom, director of sales and hospitality, takes on the character of “Mikey D,” who horses around on-camera to make a point. In his short videos, Dahlstrom hangs out with regulars, paddle-boards across water hazards, and runs beat-the-pro trick shot competitions.

The tagline “P2B” is shown in a GIF animation during the intro and outro of Dahlstrom’s amusing home-movie presentations. That’s done to continually support a brand identification of Palm Beach National as the “place to be” for golfers in the region. Also, a pop-up box with "book now" call-to-action is shown to engaged users as the video clip is rolling. It’s clear that Mikey D has a particular talent for performing, and this course is dedicated to investing in marketing all facets of their business.

Palm Beach National’s approach isn’t for every golf course – and it shouldn’t be. Palm Beach National wins by focusing on visuals and staying consistent with their brand and key messaging - a lesson we can all learn from "Mikey D".

So, if your competition is sending out lively, engaging messages with clear visuals - take notice. Your recipients love the game, but marketing to them is solely based on rules of engagement.

To learn more about our marketing services, CLICK HERE. 



Engaging with golfers early and often, for success later

May 19, 2020

Right approach can strengthen customer relationships during crisis

No training or prior experience could have prepared course operators for market conditions brought on by the virus pandemic. And yet there’s been a display of innovative problem-solving well worth recognizing, as golf navigates this health crisis en route to better times. Those successes form a strong base to build on as courses work to build their revenues in the second and third quarters.

What golfers will remember about the early part of the season is a combination of contagion-fighting policies and customer-care messaging. Anywhere courses have been open, golfers have responded enthusiastically to the thoughtful decision-making on the part of managers.

Bismarck Tribune, would be frequent and likely quite positive. Prominent stories about such unique moves as installing a four-inch PVC pipe in the hole of each green provided reassurance and helped Doppler’s operation establish credibility.

“Our local media has done a good job informing the community about the steps we’ve taken to keep everyone safe,” says Doppler. “It’s put us in a good light and it’s resulted in golfers knowing what to expect when they get here.” 

Information about “eliminating touch points” was posted on the parks department website and starters on every first tee were trained in how to continue the information campaign. “Range balls in the past were distributed in buckets from the golf shop,” Doppler says, citing one example. “Our solution for that problem was to keep a trash can full of practice balls on the starter’s cart and dump out a basket for each player ourselves. As a staff we’ve been constantly checking to see that golfers seemed to feel safe here, and that’s really been the case.”

The Bismarck golf system got a major boost—as did many other golf operations—from its switchover to online prepayment of green fees, using GOLFNOW technology as a platform. Ways in which that move bodes well for the future, according to Doppler, include the capability to data-gather on individual purchasing patterns. “We’re now able to build a profile of the customer,” he says. “Which golf ball to suggest, or what brand of beer—they can see that their preferred items are available and order off the app, even while they’re out on the course.”

At semi-private Beekman Golf Course in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., the job of engaging effectively with golfers started with lots of staff meetings to gather ideas and get team members in synch with the safety and service program. On-site signage was relied on heavily at the outset, along with messages on the voicemail greeting and lots of staff-to-customer explaining. That included information about precautions taken to ensure that staffers, themselves, were ultra-compliant—down to designated bathrooms in the clubhouse.

“Based on all the safety measures we took, we built up a lot of goodwill,” says Jon Phillips, general manager of the facility. “We were a pretty well-honed operation from the start, at a time when courses across the state line in New Jersey weren’t open, so I would see a lot of New Jersey license plates in the parking lot. In that sense we’ve been able to expand our audience.”

On an industry-wide basis, there are lobbying and public-information campaigns spreading the word about the simplicity of social distancing out on the fairways. GOLF Business Solutions through its GOLFNOW, GOLF Advisor, Clubhouse Solutions and ClubBuy brands also is offering course operators a constant flow of information, services and products that can help them navigate the challenges of operating during the health crisis. That effort, along with frontline stories of golf staffs going all-out to problem-solve under trying conditions, contribute to the important work of golfer engagement now and in the months to come.