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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
New numbers show how pandemic impacts public golf
Unprecedented disruption of day-to-day business at America’s golf facilities prompted GOLFNOW to conduct surveys of golf course operators in March and April – the first concluding on March 26 and the second on April 15. A total of nearly 1,300 responses came back, divided between the two questionnaires. It will come as no surprise that difficulties identified in the first survey were described as all the more challenging in the second one.
The most definitive data point covered by this research—whether the reporting facilities had closed for play—increased from 42 percent to 62 percent, in just the couple of weeks between surveys.
For many of those remaining open, manpower has been reduced by layoffs and furloughs. In the March GOLFNOW survey, 24 percent of respondents reported having laid off at least half their workers. In our April follow-up, that percentage had increased to 39 percent. Another 12 percent responding to the April survey said they had furloughed or laid off between one-quarter and one-half of their workforce.
Mild winter weather in large parts of the U.S. have combined with the shutdown of most entertainment options to actually increase early-spring golf activity in some places. That showed up in this research, with 24 percent saying, in March, that rounds played had increased over the same period in 2019. In the April survey, 15 percent said rounds were even or increased.
Changes to payment practices are under consideration at many courses, with some operators describing online prepayment as a necessity for doing business. Short-staffing has been commonplace and the need to maintain safety precautions is vital, two factors that favor the “park and play” approach and discourage in-shop payment.
A pair of questions in the April survey touched on that topic, the first one revealing that, among respondents who remain open for business, 52 percent are not accepting cash. The second question asked generally about forms of payment and provided multiple response options. A combined 17 percent said they had either “changed to online payments only” or “changed to credit card by phone only.” Six out of 10 said they were still at the golf shop counter, collecting payments and checking golfers in.
Continuing with the shutdown is, not surprisingly, a daunting prospect. When asked in April how long their course could go without green fee revenue during golf season before their business “suffers irreparable damage,” 27 percent said less than one month, 50 percent said from one to three months and the remaining 22 percent said they could go three months or longer.
On that basis, interest in government relief is something you would expect course operators to demonstrate. Almost two-thirds, 63 percent, said they had visited the SBA.gov website in search of information about CARES Act programs to assist small businesses in distress as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.
Projections and speculation about the country’s transition from the COVID-19 crisis to a gradually more open economy have mentioned golf as an activity more easily restarted than many others. That may be a partial reason for the fairly optimistic outlook that emerges from the April study, which concludes with the question: “What do you expect business levels to be like following the COVID-19 outbreak?”
One in three, exactly 33 percent, said business would be “about normal.” A spirited 8 percent said “much better” than before and 22 percent said “slightly better” than before. Meanwhile 29 percent felt it would be “slightly worse” than before the crisis and 9 percent said “much worse.” Researchers who produced the two studies, along with all their colleagues at GOLFNOW, wish to express gratitude to the course partners who took time to complete their questionnaires.
If your course is currently – or soon to be – open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s highly likely the safety of your staff and customers is paramount among your daily considerations. If you’re a conscientious operator, like Kelly Morrow at EagleSticks Golf Club in Zanesville, Ohio, you’ve made all the right moves – incorporated a touchless payment system for online tee times, advocated CDC-recommended social-distancing throughout your facility, collaborated with industry colleagues about best practices – all the while continuing to do your best to keep your working areas and golf cart fleet sanitized and virus-free.
“We were diligently washing and scrubbing our carts but couldn’t be 100 percent sure we were actually disinfecting them effectively enough to protect our customers,” said Morrow, the course’s general manager. “Plus, we were relegated to whatever products were in stock at the local Walmart, and that was changing day to day. Everywhere we turned, we were met with shortages.”
If you do a little research, you can find a long list of disinfectants available for sale – all EPA-approved and containing active ingredients that destroy the COVID-19 virus. So, problem solved, right? Not exactly.
Those products are extremely hard to come by, according to Nate Clemmer, whose company, SynaTek Solutions, provides turf products, technologies and transactional programs for the golf and agricultural industries. He understands where operators like Morrow are coming from.
“The supply chain is the important thing here,” Clemmer said. “It’s not that these products aren’t being manufactured but, because of the special circumstances we’re all living in right now, most of them are being re-directed to medical facilities first, and rightly so.”
With the help of SynaTek, GOLFNOW is now helping members of its ClubBuy group purchasing organization with the ability to buy an EPA-approved golf cart disinfectant solution at a discount.
NeutraFect solution has been added to the list of ClubBuy products, helping golf course facilities better adhere to safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other medical experts during the COVID-19 pandemic. NeutraFect is found on List N, which is made up of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. When mixed properly, a ½-gallon bottle will yield 32 gallons of disinfectant. The solution also is sold separately or by the case (four bottles; 128-gallon yield).
More information about how to purchase NeutraFect at a discount, as well as Best Management Practices for Golf Cart Disinfection, can be found on the ClubBuy website.
“We are very happy to have access to this resource,” said Morrow, who recently ordered a supply of NeutraFect for his operation. “We intend to use it in ‘high touch’ areas throughout our facility when things ramp back up. I want our customers and employees to feel safe when they are on our watch.”
“When we get to the other side of this curve, I don’t think we’ll get back to what we knew as normal,” Clemmer said. “Safety practices like this can be a really good thing for the industry. If we’re all smart, our ‘new normal’ will permanently adopt new best practices.”
A membership in the ClubBuy purchasing program is free and open to any company, club or organization.
“ClubBuy has become a huge resource for us to not only save money, but also to find solutions,” Morrow said.
A resource for real-time updates about golf industry news and information related to COVID-19. With over 9,000 golf course partners worldwide, we aim to keep you informed as we move through these challenging times, together.
HEADLINES FROM THIS PAST WEEK:
March 30th, 2020
- USGA: What happens if you don't maintain a golf course?
- The Indy Channel: Carmel mayor reverses golf stance
- BOCA News Now: CORONAVIRUS: Are Boca-Area Golf Courses Tempting Death?
- Change.org: Golfers petition state to reopen golf courses
- GOLF Channel: Olympics receive official 2021 date
- Golf.com: A recent study reveals interesting findings about internet searches for golf in the U.S.
March 31st, 2020
- GOLF Channel: Augusta National donates $2 million to fight COVID-19
- Washington Post: Trump extends social distancing until end of April
- The Golf Business: 'Very few people have asked for a refund'
April 1st, 2020
- Golfweek: Are golf courses considered essential businesses?
- Golf.com: A recent study reveals interesting findings about internet searches for golf in the U.S.
- Myrtle Beach Online: Carolinas are making efforts to keep courses open
- GOLF Advisor: Indoor golfing activities can keep the kids busy while they’re home from school
April 2nd, 2020
- NBC News: Arizona mayors slam COVID-19 stay-at-home order that allows hair salons, golf courses to remain open
- Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Coronavirus Florida: Area golf courses in limbo
- Desert Sun: As desert courses re-open despite county mandate, golf industry debating next step
- GOLF Channel: R&A denies report Open Championship canceled; still exploring options
April 3rd, 2020
- Orlando Sentinel: Golfers can keep hitting links in Florida with some adjustments
- GOLF Channel: PGA Tour confirms one of its executives has tested positive for COVID-19
- Golf News Hub: New Jersey Club sends truckloads of food and drinks to area hospital
April 4th, 2020
- The New York Times: Lawsuits swell as owners, from gun shops to golf courses, demand to open
- GOLF Channel: Mike Whan’s ultimate puzzle: Putting the fractured pieces of his tour back together
- New York Post: Three golfers’ intricate plan to beat coronavirus order blew up at McDonald’s
Better Revenue Management and a Streamlined Operation
Credit for inventing “customer journey” as a service concept goes in part to a Swedish airline executive, Jan Carlzon, who also introduced the world's first separate cabin for business class. The “journey” metaphor went on to become a core idea for anyone who serves the public.
Golfers booking tee times online begin their journey before they actually arrive at the facility. When the reservation can be made with ease—and price options can be factored into the decision—that customer is off to a satisfying start. As dynamic pricing is used more and more in the golf industry, golfers are viewing it as the new normal and operators are appreciating its advantages.
You can see it in practice at Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., where Kyle Backers is the head golf professional. Tee times there—as everywhere—are perishable assets that draw fluctuating demand based on weather, day of the week, time of the day, competing leisure options and multiple other factors. Pricing dynamically downward to sell times in low demand and dynamically upward to capture top dollar for times in high demand is basic logic, as Backers sees it.
“It’s how the hotels and airlines and sports teams do it,” says Backers, “so it’s pretty much expected by anyone who is looking down at their phone and trying to schedule something they want to do.” When Stonewall began pricing dynamically, the clientele barely mentioned it, much less complained about it.
Not all dynamic pricing is created equal, according to those who work with it every day. A golf course might choose to initially use it in the off-season only, or in-season but only midweek, or in some other limited fashion. Nick Hall, a Plus Specialist within GOLF Business Solutions who works with Stonewall Golf Club, has watched the revenue management picture brighten for his partner golf course there. Hall generally sees courses move from partial use of dynamic pricing to full use. Even then, the price matrix on the computer screen can end up showing quite moderate variances in dollar amount.
You can adopt dynamic pricing and still actively manage rates. For Backers, the days when he handled the tee sheet himself were marked by considerable hesitancy. “Having Nick, our specialist, make our price adjustments turns out to be more effective,” he says. “When it was up to me, I was too concerned about making a mistake.”
A basic goal of this digital tool is to increase utilization and maximize revenue, according to Hall, but you do it based on objective data. “Dynamic pricing is not a blunt instrument,” Hall says. “The parts of the week or day that have shown high utilization are tested and often get price-adjusted upward.” He refers to this as “challenging the ceilings” on price. Not long ago at Stonewall, a tee time that was very much in-demand was booked at $11 more per round than a comparable tee time was in previous years. Backers certainly took note of it. “It was a cool thing to see,” he comments. “That foursome of golfers had a choice to buy the time or not and they wanted it.”
Studies show that giving consumers an array of understandable options speeds up their purchase decisions. To the extent the price-selection factor contributes to more people booking online, that’s absolutely a good thing. Having golfers provide their contact data when they book digitally makes database-building more efficient and it changes the atmosphere in the golf shop as the customer journey continues and players check in.
“One thing I love about dynamic pricing is the way it frees you up to connect with the golfers, getting to know them and making sure they have a great experience,” says Backers. “If I didn’t have GOLFNOW running our tee sheet and managing it in a way that brings the most golfers out here, I’d be sitting at the computer doing it myself—and not doing as good a job.” Even merchandising gets a potential lift, according to Backers. “There’s more time for customers to look around and more time to check whether they might need golf balls or a glove or a shirt,” he reports.
Consumer experiences that are “frictionless” are a holy grail of 21st-century marketing. Booking golf using digital tee sheets that are dynamically priced fits with that paradigm. And it fits with what Kyle Backers sees as a new kind of motivation for the golfer of today, versus what he witnessed earlier in his career.
“It used to be a big deal to play the most expensive course, or the hardest course, and impress your friends that you did it,” Backers says. “Now people want to get a decent deal on their green fee, make a hassle-free reservation, enjoy their round, play music in the cart, have drinks after, and just keep it fun.” When he describes a day on the links that way, it sounds like an enjoyable journey indeed.
Fact: Your Golfers Are Visual and Social
It’s no longer enough to just attract new golfers, but the savvy golf course operator also employs strategies that also build relationships to keep them coming back. Sounds like common sense, right?
An innovative breakthrough a generation ago, “relationship marketing” now has become commonplace. Nowadays, course operators are considering the golfer “journey.” It’s important, of course, that golfers buy a tee time from you, but what are some of the methods you should be employing to leverage those purchases to create long-term relationships?
That’s what John Brewer Jr., General Manager of Split Rock Golf Club in Orient, Ohio, has been thinking about for years. With the advent of easy-use handheld technology, one of those ways he’s discovered is to incorporate short videos as a high-powered, highly effective tool in that effort. Teaming up with his GOLF Business Solutions Plus Specialist, Melissa De La Paz, Brewer has been planning, producing and posting weekly videos, then tracking the results and continually refining strategy.
"A local company that does video production and marketing for small businesses made a presentation to us that included some of the results they could deliver, in terms of click-throughs and likes and so forth,” says Brewer. "The numbers were basically the same as what we’re achieving on our own, in our work with Melissa, so that was very satisfying to see.”
An outsourced firm may be able to deliver video content that is more slickly produced, but for the team at Split Rock that doesn't seem to matter. Golfers who follow “The Rock” on Facebook and enjoy the videos don't mind Brewer’s simple approach.
“We're doing this to start a conversation with our customers and see where it leads," says Brewer." It's personal. It’s not fancy in the least, and maybe that's why people come into the shop and start talking about our videos and ask us what we’re planning to do next.”
All marketing and selling should conclude with a call-to-action—that’s the accepted wisdom. But in relationship marketing the action isn't necessarily a purchase. In 2019, Brewer worked with de la Paz on a video promoting a used-ball donation drive that resulted in some 20 golfers showing up with buckets of shag balls that had been gathering dust in their garages.
“We had an unexpected range ball shortage and I know for a fact that half our players have a big stash of scuffed balls they can’t seem to toss out," explains Brewer. “We put out our request via video and got a great response. Everybody was talking about it—that's the whole point anyway, the back and forth interaction.”
Mike Hendrix, Vice President of Clubhouse Solutions, agrees completely with the Split Rock concept of video that is home-cooked, folksy and sincerely personal. The point of it is pure connection, not communication of the sort a marketer would use to convince consumers they should change cell phone providers or have their home checked for termites. Getting your home checked for termites might be a necessity but, unlike playing golf, it’s not something you actually want to do.
“When you are selling golf," says Hendrix, “you're basically inducing a person to do the thing they want to do. They want to engage with their favorite activity in their favorite environment. So, let’s just get the engagement process started—and video is the tool for that. It’s natural and easy to consume video—especially on your smartphone, which is where so much content gets consumed these days anyway.”
Led by Hendrix and Clubhouse Solutions Specialist Gabriela Vaughan, the GOLF Business Solutions team produce Clubhouse Bulletin, a rapidly growing video newsletter customized for private clubs as a way for them to connect with members. In this case, the homemade look and feel isn't appropriate, yet there's still a need for a warm, upbeat and personal tone. The natural ease and charm of on-air personality Bailey Chamblee supply those qualities.
By using broadcast-quality production elements, with the GOLF Channel Newsroom as a backdrop, a Clubhouse Bulletin segment holds a viewer’s attention as it delivers engaging content—news, events and important updates. Other production values include professional course imagery, a scrolling information ticker and club-specific branding in each video.
“Club GMs and officers will view a sample segment and assume there's a high cost to get involved," says Hendrix. “But the cost of entry for a club to add this powerful communication tool and really build engagement is very reasonable.” While it's generally a means of connecting with and retaining the existing member, Clubhouse Bulletin enrollment also allows a club to create an outreach video showcasing it for potential new members.
Humans are wired to process information visually––it's how our brains work. Human golfers are wired to enjoy their experiences at your course or club by personally connecting with the people who provide them with service and a great product. Short videos inviting viewers to come and enjoy themselves will make a strong impression—and produce business results that make everyone happy.