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.