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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.


Helping Golf Courses Navigate Challenges Presented by COVID-19

May 07, 2020

Golf courses across the U.S. that are remaining open during the current COVID-19 health situation are getting some extra help through technology and services offered by GOLF Business Solutions to keep their staff and golfers safer.

As the world’s largest online tee time marketplace, GOLFNOW holds a unique position in the industry. Its connection to more than 9,000 golf course operations around the globe provides access to real-time market data any day, any time, which helps golf course operators make better-informed decisions about their businesses. This dynamic data is not available to any other organization, which must rely on information from polling and telephone surveys that can become obsolete soon after it’s collected. Additionally, the GOLFNOW sales team has “boots on the ground” in localities around the world and are continually taking the pulse of golf course operators in their respective areas.

GOLF Business Solutions also is offering any golf course posting tee times online with the option to switch its entire online tee-time inventory to pre-paid. This choice will allow golf course operators to adhere to social-distancing protocols – keeping their staff and golfers safer – while giving their golfers a “touchless” option for playing golf; in many cases, allowing them to go right from the parking lot to the first tee. There is no additional cost for this service, only the standard credit-card processing fees any business incurs when facilitating payments this way.

“These golf courses are trying to maintain viable businesses while also working to safeguard the health and safety of their staff and their customers, so they are facing an entirely new set of challenges,” said Jeff Foster, senior vice president, GOLFNOW. “We’ve been able to provide some of our existing technology in new ways in order to give them options and help them navigate these challenges more successfully, as well as give both golf courses and golfers added peace of mind.”

“We are making our operation the safest possible with the payment on file (credit card),” said Tim Doppler, Director of Golf Operations for the City of Bismarck, N.D. “We have set things up so people are required to put a card on file and they are buying range balls over the phone … we are delivering them to the range and everyone is as safe as can be. This has been the only way we can be open.”

Doppler also mentioned that he will continue to sell green fees and season passes in the same pre-paid fashion into the future.

Additionally, as government directives in certain states are requiring the closure of bars and restaurants, GOLFNOW is offering golf courses with dining facilities the ability to keep their kitchens open. Through its burgeoning SmartPlay service, which is available to courses using GOLF Business Solutions’ G1 course management technology, courses can continue to offer food via delivery, both on the golf course and, in some cases, within the community.

Todd Creek Golf Club, a full-service golf course facility located in Thorton, Colo., recently closed all seating at its on-site restaurant and bar as a precaution due to COVID-19. By using the SmartPlay component of G1, the club is able to offer food through a full-service window, as well as delivering it to golfers playing the course. Additionally, Todd Creek is offering residents of the surrounding 55-plus community an option of picking up food items from its clubhouse or having them delivered to their homes from a limited Food Pantry menu.

“SmartPlay has worked wonders for our community pantry that we initiated with the current pandemic,” said Jeremy Casebolt, General Manager, Todd Creek Golf Club. “Giving our community the ability to place their order online for pick up has helped ease the stress during these irregular times.”

 

EXPLORE MORE ON OUR COVID-19 HUB →


Sign of the times: rapid adoption of pre-payment online

Apr 29, 2020

“Necessity for doing business,” say course operators

When COVID-19 recedes and Beekman Golf Course returns to normal, the staff might not have to resume its love-hate relationship with the golf shop phone. This spring’s bizarre circumstances caused the 27-hole course outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to require that all bookings be made online and all fees paid at time of booking. General manager Jon Phillips, who’s also a co-owner of the facility, was forced to enact this policy and now dearly hopes he can keep it in force.

“Warm weather got here early and just about every activity besides golf was banned,” says Phillips. “We held a meeting to figure out how we could handle the demand while keeping ourselves safe and the golfers safe. Having every staff member picking up the same phone and having golfers coming into the shop for check-in were clearly unsafe practices. We found a way to avoid both.”

Technology allowed Beekman’s skeletal staff to funnel golfers from the parking lot to the first tee while maintaining social distancing and preventing people from touching objects and surfaces others had also touched. Stir-crazy golfers responded unflinchingly, to protect their own well-being and to keep the course from having to close.

“When you called our phone, the greeting would tell you to book online and pay in advance,” says Phillips. “People learned about the new rule that way or they found out from their friends – there was a lot of word of mouth about it.” There was also a lot of cooperation because Beekman’s regulars and newcomers understood that they were taking all the right steps necessary to make their golf environment safe. For the staff, online booking was gold – keeping it that way has emerged as a new priority.

“I keep thinking about the 1,500 calls we get every week in the summertime,” says Phillips. “If we can stick with our payment policy – now that customers are getting in the habit – we can eliminate the majority of our phone calls each week, which would make running our business 100 times simpler and improve the level of service we provide.”

Once he realized his standard procedures were out the window, Phillips contacted GOLFNOW and requested details about the pre-payment option. Senior Specialist Scott Jewell set to work upgrading the Beekman tee sheet and arranging for prepaid green fee dollars to hit the facility’s bank account.

“Over the past year, GOLFNOW has been continually innovating our payments technology and we were quickly able to pivot to meet the increased demand of providing pre-paid tee times,” said Jeff Foster, senior vice president, GOLFNOW. “Now, more than 500 courses are either offering a prepaid option or have signed up to implement the GOLFNOW technology, a number that continues to grow as more states are opening back up and golf courses start to come back online.”

“I knew GOLFNOW could do this,” Phillips says, “but I was surprised at how rapidly everything happened. Their first step was to flow the cash to us, which they did immediately. Then pretty quickly thereafter they set up our software for tracking deposits and managing the funds internally. During that conversion period I would send Scott 50 or 60 emails a day—it was like he had come to work for us full-time.”

A similar case of innovation in the face of disruption has unfolded this spring for the Country Club of Arkansas and its general manager, Tim Jenkins. Sometime in February, Jenkins found himself on a golf operations online forum devoted to just one topic – the questions and even chaos surrounding coronavirus and its threats to human health and the economy.

“We were able to get out in front of it,” says Jenkins, whose early spring weather in the Little Rock region turned very favorable for golf. He realized that standing in the shop loading 16-digit card numbers and expiration dates into the computer, with the phone ringing constantly, was clearly not viable. “We brainstormed for every idea we could think of until we had an operating format that we felt would ensure safety. Central to that was payment in advance online.”

Jenkins reached out to his GOLFNOW specialist to ask about installing the pre-pay feature and within 48 hours the requirement was built into C.C. of Arkansas’s account. He and his team used their voicemail greeting to explain this new approach and echoed that with plenty of signage—including tournament-style placards on the golf carts with each player’s name and their tee time. When golfers showed up, they found the cart key—disinfected— already in the ignition, plus any beverage or merchandise items they had ordered online. Equipped with the Visage communications system, the carts became rolling receivers of coronavirus information and instruction, another vital tool in the course’s pandemic-countering strategy.

“Our golfers were more than okay with pre-payment,” reports Jenkins, who heard thankful responses to the stocked and staged golf carts. “People would walk over and see their name, see their beer, their range balls, and whatever else they asked for, and they’d be tickled,” he says.

During one busy morning Jenkins paused to reflect that, different as the new system was, it actually bore a strong resemblance to what consumers experience elsewhere. “Think about it,” he says. “How often do our customers fly into an airport, walk past the rental car counter and go straight to their vehicle? I’m going to guess that’s how they do it every time. It’s only golf that was still doing things the old way.”

There’s a long list of inventions that emerged from sudden, disruptive events and occurrences. From what course operators have experienced during this pandemic, you’d naturally expect that pre-payment of green fees online might just join that list.