Years after Bobby Jones had retired and Jack Nicklaus was dominating pro golf, writers would ask Jones hypothetical questions about how he, in his prime, might have handled Nicklaus. “An athlete can only measure himself against those who are competing at the same time he’s competing,” Jones would reply, sagely.
It’s similar for competition on the business side of golf—you can only endeavor to succeed in the market where you’re located, serving the clientele that’s around you. Mark Carlson, a veteran course operator who oversees the 36-hole Nemadji Golf Club in Superior, Wisconsin, knows this well. Average income for golfers in Superior—and the considerably higher average income for people 15 minutes away in Duluth, Minnesota—are kept firmly in mind by Carlson as he sets his prices and policies.
“Annual household income on this side of the state line is just over $39,000, well below the national average,” Carlson says. “In Duluth it’s a few notches higher. I run 100 group outing events a year, and 60 percent of them come from Minnesota—I get good pricing on that business because I’m able to attract it from the wealthier market.”
Meanwhile, golfers on the Wisconsin side can only afford to be regulars at Nemadji if they’re paying a reasonably priced green fee for the area, so Carlson strategizes—and deploys technology—based on that reality. His particular style as a GOLF Business Solutions partner course is shrewdly arrived.
“My rep, Dan Bury, is focused on tee times that go unused and deliver zero value,” says Carlson. “I’m focused on the same thing. All the technology I get through GOLF Business Solutions helps me fill that sheet and get those golfers in the door. For me to price aggressively and blast out emails to my locals is pretty easy, because the price I’m starting from is already at the lower end.”
On his two 18-hole regulation courses, Carlson expects to log 50,000-plus rounds this year. He’s managed Nemadji an amazing 44 years, and over the past 15 seasons he’s leased the facility from the city of Superior; those lease payments have added $2.4 million to the city’s treasury—while around him, other government-owned courses have been draining municipal coffers. His promotional emails are loaded with exclamation points, always delivering on his core belief that “value is the whole deal” to his base clientele.
One recent email, with a value proposition that included a free beer with green fee, included a photo of an icy Coors can that stretched from the top of a computer screen to the bottom. Constructing promo emails so that all their information is current and consistent involves some technical tweaking that Carlson doesn’t have time to do. At that point, he calls on Bury to go behind the wall and make the necessary changes. “Dan is good enough to do it, which I certainly appreciate,” says Carlson. “But if he doesn’t have the time I’ll send it out anyway. My regulars only look at the big headlines.”
Carlson even has a (non-digital) marketing ploy offering golf at a green fee of zero. His target market is people within a certain driving distance who may never have heard of Nemadji and whose no-charge golf rounds go undetected by the regulars. “These out-of-town people pay their $14 cart fee, they buy something to eat and drink, and they might spend a little money in the shop,” says Carlson. “Why wouldn’t I want that money – which added up to $50,000 last year – when the alternative is to get nothing?”
There’s an old golf-business saying that applies here: People who are successful all do things differently, while people who fail all do things the same way. “Mark has a philosophy that aligns with the GOLF Business Solutions point of view on inventory yield,” says Bury. “That being said, he doesn’t dive into the details of the technology and services we can provide, so our team helps him out, where we can. He’s old-school but at the same time he’s very innovative, and we love working with the guy.”
Moral of the story: Know your market, be aggressive, bring in great technology then use as much of it as you need to use, to be successful.
To learn more about what GOLF Business Solutions can do for your facility, CLICK HERE.
Years after Bobby Jones had retired and Jack Nicklaus was dominating pro golf, writers would ask Jones hypothetical questions about how he, in his prime, might have handled Nicklaus. “An athlete can only measure himself against those who are competing at the same time he’s competing,” Jones would reply, sagely.
As the functionality wired into tee-time booking systems gets more sophisticated, resourceful course operators are always on the lookout for new ways to leverage it during special weeks on the calendar. Recently, we’ve seen courses make adjustments to their booking function based on predicted high demand during major championships, but similar strategies can be incorporated for a variety of nearby events – or even tournaments or activities you may host, yourself.
Ronnie Wright, Jr., the PGA Director of Golf at The Golf Club at Middle Bay in Oceanside, N.Y., used his GOLF Business Solutions online booking sophistication to exploit this year's PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park, a neighboring Long Island course.
“Knowing the PGA Championship would be down the road from us, we knew that a slew of out-of-towners would be coming here not only wanting to watch the tournament but also hoping to play some golf themselves and maybe entertain clients,” said Wright. “We asked Lindsey Wellenstein (Wright’s GOLF Business Solutions representative) to get with her team and make adjustments to our reservation settings.”
To begin with, the course changed its standard seven-day-in-advance policy so that times for PGA Championship week could be booked 90 days out. The Golf Club of Middle Bay was a member-only facility until five years ago, and its GOLF Advisor ratings are eye-catchingly high. Wright felt that, given the chance, golfers from far-off places would be eager to book his course. “We sold tee times to people from California, Canada, Japan and really all over,” says Wright. “We sold times we wouldn’t have sold, and we sold them at a premium.”
Wright captured his premium fee by having GOLF Business Solutions disable his dynamic-pricing tool for that one week. “We set things up so our normal triggered price drops got eliminated,” he explains. “That allowed us to enforce our weekend rack rate of $83, including cart, for the entire period.”
Similar strategizing helped the 36-hole Bayonet and Black Horse Golf in Seaside, Calif., make hay out of this year’s U.S. Open at nearby Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Pat Jones, the facility’s director of golf, worked far in advance of the U.S. Open with Charles Fralix III, his GOLF Business Solutions rep, on business strategy. The idea was to make the Bayonet and Black Horse inventory as attractive yet high-yielding as possible on GOLFNOW. Jones asked that all tee times for the two courses be sold in a package with cart, lunch, beverages and a souvenir logo hat included – there’s your attraction angle – easily justifying a basic $225-per-player fee.
Meanwhile, parts of the two tee sheets (one for each of the two 18-hole courses) were organized as shotgun blocks, while other parts stayed in normal sequential form. All of the packages were set up to get prepaid by the booking golfer. Where the sheet remained in its normal matrix, a dynamic-pricing tool was turned on, to set the fees according to demand. On two separate days there were times that sold for a peak price of $275.
“All the public-access courses in this area know and prepare when there’s something big coming up on the calendar,” says Jones. “Whether it was us, or Poppy Hills or Carmel Valley Ranch or whichever facility, we all had strategies to maximize revenue.”
One key adjustment along the way involved prepayment. “At first, we weren’t requiring up-front payment, but we tested it and found that nobody minded. We heard that same thing talking to other courses, so we flipped the switch to prepayment,” says Jones.
The approach that emerged from Jones’s brainstorm sessions with Fralix proved successful, to say the least.
“We didn’t 100 percent sell out,” Jones says, “but I’ve got our records from 2010 when the U.S. Open was also here at Pebble Beach, and revenues in 2019 were much higher. In 2010 they averaged about 450 rounds a day, and this year we averaged 400 a day, but back then the green fee was around $140 and this year we were selling at $225 all the way up to $275.”
Pasatiempo, the renowned Pacific Coast course with its Alister MacKenzie jewel of a layout, used an interesting strategy to parlay this year’s U.S. Open into business success. Poring over the records from 2010 and 2012, when there were U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach and the Olympic Club, respectively, general manager Scott Hoyt set his revenue goals based on total spend more than premium-priced green fees.
“In a 10-day window from Friday, June 7 to Monday the 17th we bumped our fee from $275 to $295, then at a certain point we moved it up to $310,” says Hoyt. “Still, that was a modest premium—one course actually doubled its rate—and as a result we had a steady flow of positive comments about our pricing.” Once the policy was set, Hoyt closed his office door and crafted a lengthy, highly detailed email that would go out to everyone who had booked for the 10-day period. It asked about walk versus ride, need for rental sets, need for caddies and forecaddies, dining plans, and other ancillary-spend categories. Golfers responded enthusiastically, eager to get all aspects of their visits to this bucket-list destination squared away.
“We begged and borrowed rental sets to cover the need,” says Hoyt. “We called in caddies from all over – even some of our members took loops. Our F&B operation maxed out on sales. On one hand, people were super-thankful we gave them the opportunity to reserve everything in advance – customer experience was through the roof. On the other hand, we made money like never before.”
Compared to June 2010, Pasatiempo eclipsed revenue from that entire month in only a four-day period this year. “And June of 2010,” adds Hoyt, “had been our biggest green-fee revenue month ever.”
Obviously, the two U.S. majors that move around may not be coming to your area anytime soon, but even lesser events like the U.S. Amateur or the two senior majors could potentially spike up some demand. The key is knowing how the best booking engines can accommodate those unique scenarios and using them to maximize your revenue and exposure when they occur.
To learn more about our tee time booking system, CLICK HERE.
New Sea Island State-of-the-Art Performance Center Beckons
When you break daily routines and reduce distractions, heightened productivity and focus are the likely results. That’s precisely why corporate groups hold off-site meetings or why a novelist might travel to a remote cabin to create an optimal writing environment. This is a concept with which many golf instructors also can relate, which is why you might see their students join them at a destination that’s set up for serious golf lessons and training.
This was the original concept behind the PGA Golf Club in Florida, which offers visiting PGA professionals and their clients with access to its multiple courses and 35-acre learning center. Proponent Group, golf’s largest member organization serving full-time instructors, operates a visiting coach’s program with host facilities located in eight U.S. states, plus Bermuda. On a less formal basis, many veteran teaching professionals team up with colleagues for “home and away” golf-school sessions, which also provide their students with the opportunity to visit somewhere special to work on their game. Sea Island, the landmark golf resort in the Golden Isles region of Georgia, has come up with the Sea Island Pro Program, which invites golf professionals to team up with its new Golf Performance Center staff to provide an unparalleled experience.
Any golf professional with plans for a group excursion of this type should look first to Sea Island. With a heritage of world-class golf and brilliant instruction that complements its natural beauty and sophisticated luxury, Sea Island's 17,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Golf Performance Center is a gleaming citadel of game-improvement.
The Sea Island Pro Program is a multi-win concept, rewarding the “have-student-will-travel” golf professional handsomely. Any golf professional who participates will receive a $50 Sea Island resort credit for every paid room-night housing a student. This applies to all of the resort’s stellar overnight options: The Lodge, The Cloister, The Cottages, and The Inn.
In addition, the professional’s room and golf will be complimentary in every instance where he or she is accompanied by a traveling party of seven or more. At the end of the year, a Sea Island gift card is sent to the professional, which can be redeemed for room nights, food, beverage, resort activities or to purchase merchandise from the Sea Island website.
Sea Island is home to the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic, hosted by Sea Island’s own Davis Love III. It has three championship courses, including the fully renovated and soon-to-reopen Plantation Course. The resort community is a primary residence for more than 20 touring professionals, which was a factor in the drive to design and build the new training facility.
Partly due to the timeless beauty of the region, and partly owing to how much golf soul is embedded here, Sea Island can continually add sophisticated, luxurious amenities and never lose pure-golf ambience. It’s the only resort in the world to receive four Forbes Five-Star awards for 11 consecutive years. As for the new GPC – Golf Performance Center – the manager of the facility never gets tired of hearing people rave about it.
“My office is right by the front door,” says Craig Allan, “and I can’t count how many times each day I hear ‘this is awesome’ or ‘it’s unbelievable.’ The new GPC has been an overwhelming success and we expect it to be the go-to place for world-class instruction.”
There’s been a trend toward adding high-tech game-improvement centers at top resorts – Pebble Beach included – but this one sets itself apart via its “heritage, diverse offerings and spectacular views,” according to Allan. As visiting golfers make their way through the GPC, what they notice most is the vast array of options, including six hitting bays loaded with technology, a fully outfitted gym and a state-of-the-art putting studio – all to improve their game. “The facility is laid out in such a way that students can flow from one area to another as they work through the various components,” says Allan. “The putting studio, spectacular gym, and our fun group bay with its Trackman Simulator have been especially big hits.”
Golf instruction has become oriented away from “one-off” lessons toward longer-term relationships between coach and student. That mindset proves best for skill development, plus it’s the most satisfying way for an instructor to build his or her practice.
To learn more on how GOLF Business Solutions can streamline your instruction business, CLICK HERE.
The day new ownership arrives at a struggling golf course is not the day every problem gets solved, a fact of which incoming manager and part-owner of Nashville National Golf Links, Jonathan Williams, was keenly aware. A veteran of 25 highly productive years in the financial services industry, Williams has circled back to golf as a calling, decades after his late-teen years working on golf course maintenance crews.
“I was one of those kids who was happy to get to the course at dawn, mow the greens, adjust my cutting height and head back out to mow the tees, fairways and rough,” he recalls. Williams loved to play the game, as well and became a low-handicap golfer. Preparing to head back to college one September, he was encouraged by the golf course superintendent to forget about the investment business and study agronomy instead.
“I was flattered, but I stuck to my original career decision," says Williams. “As far as providing for my family and building our finances it was probably the right decision. But it always felt like work until the day I enrolled in a class on entrepreneurship while in graduate school. That class reignited my passion to be in the golf business.” In August 2016, he took over Nashville National - newly renamed and surrounded by Tennessee's natural beauty - and began guiding it into a new era.
“As you might expect," says Williams, "there was a pretty long list of deferred capital projects waiting for us. We had decisions to make about prioritizing improvements.” The course originally came online in 1998—under a different name—and in its heyday facilitated upwards of 20,000 rounds a year. Williams says the course hasn’t seen those numbers since 2008, although the turfgrass has improved dramatically under the nurturing of a new superintendent.
“The irrigation system was in rough shape when we got here and, as a result, we had poor turf on several of the greens,” says Williams. “On the review websites, the strongest of the comments about our greens were pretty merciless.”
Just 12 months into his tenure, real trouble came along in the form of Hurricane Harvey. In addition to high winds tearing through the property, Williams found himself dealing with nine inches of rainfall in a 12-hour period and the complete washout of a green complex. Golfers couldn’t play a full 18 holes for some time. Once things were getting back to normal, the greens were hit with infestations of moss and algae, which took many months to eradicate.
Zack Hawayek, Area Sales Manager for GOLF Business Solutions, enjoyed his conversations with Williams even before the two became partners. It was Williams’ opinion that Nashville National needed to mature a bit before it could reap the benefits of being part of the GOLF Business Solutions GOLFNOW tee-time marketplace.
“We were in various stages of a rebuild,” he said. “If all the business that GOLFNOW could bring me arrived here a year or two ago, it all would've backfired because the product wasn't ready. I explained that to Zack and he understood.”
As his greens were nearing full recovery, Williams hired a new young golf professional, Connor Hendrickson, who during his interview had spoken enthusiastically about GOLFNOW as a marketing tool. When Hawayek next made contact with Nashville National, he was told they were ready to join the platform.
“I knew it would work, to a degree,” says Williams about the decision, “but the actual amount of business GOLFNOW brought us was a big surprise and a pleasant one. It blows me away that every time I open up my email I will see five or six new GOLFNOW confirmations for tee times.”
Williams said it’s a rare experience to have a new revenue stream open up for your operation and boost real-time cash flow – and give you every indication that it will continue to do so.
“The success with GOLF Business Solutions is directly connected to being able to hire more staff, as well as allowing our superintendent to implement a full agronomy plan, including upgrading turf equipment,” says Williams. “From a budget standpoint it is helping us tremendously.”
“Nashville is the No. 1 bachelor and bachelorette party destination in the U.S, even ahead of Las Vegas,” Williams explains. “So now, I have free spending 20-somethings and 30-somethings flowing to our course via GOLFNOW, requesting high-ticket items and service. They book through GOLFNOW when they’re in their home market, so naturally they use it when they go on the road.”
Plenty of upgrades needed by an under-maintained course are plain to see, but the fix that brings in a new and powerful tee-time booking system is less visible. And yet, as they discovered at Nashville National, it’s often that kind of upgrade that makes all the difference.
To learn more about how GOLF Business Solutions can streamline your course operations, CLICK HERE.
Courses find solutions to beat the heat
Bishop Pickering was having the round of his life, so he chose to ignore the onslaught of a violent thunderstorm and kept playing. At this point, you may know this famous scene from the movie Caddyshack doesn't end well for the good bishop, but it does make us wonder. How can one's love for the game can be deep enough to play in any conditions – even when the mercury is hitting record highs?
For some, love may not come without an incentive. That's especially true for many courses in America's Sun Belt during the dog days of summer. Oppressive heat can keep golfers at bay, creating challenges for operators working to attract new golfers. They're hoping at minimum to keep their regular customers on the tee.
Taking on the challenge
Several GOLF Business Solutions' course partners are taking this challenge head-on this summer. Deep down, golfers just want to play golf, but sometimes it takes a little something extra. Realizing this, these partner courses have introduced promotions and initiatives to combat the heat and keep their customers on their fairways.
Desert courses beat the heat with new promotions. "Heat is a way of life in Arizona," says Tony Barten, General Manager of the acclaimed Legacy Golf Club in Phoenix, "and we prepare for the hotter summer months with a variety of things that help our golfers notice it less."
Handing out mango-scented iced towels and ensuring water stations located around the course are always chock full of ice and water are a few of the special touches Barten says they incorporate at the Legacy Golf Club.
"Legacy attracts golfers with aggressive pricing," says Barten, who notes that a golfer might pay a little less during the hotter parts of the day. Prices are tiered based on demand, and there may be three to four rate breaks throughout the day.
Nearby, at Arizona Grand Resort & Spa, the management team loves its regulars, but the course also attracts a lot of guests from the on-site resort.
As the weather started heating up in May, the golf course and resort collaborated to introduce a "Burger & Brew" promotion, which combines a round of golf and a hearty meal for a price 'that's nearly half-off retail. The course has incorporated paid social media to support the promotion.
"Our guests love a great round of golf paired with a quality burger and beer - especially in air-conditioned comfort," said Director of Golf Jimmy Bills. "The resort restaurant loves the increased traffic during what normally are the slower summer months."
Florida takes on the humidity
Across the continent in Florida, where heat combines with humidity, Raptor Bay Golf Club in Bonita Springs uses added value to attract golfers in the summer when the temperatures regularly peak into the 90s. It's not out of the norm for golfers to receive a $5 lunch voucher, drink coupons and even free logoed hats with their regular daily green fee.
Texas 'kicks the dust-up'
Texas can heat up quite nicely in the summer, which brings us to several courses in the Dallas area that have preparations in place when temperatures rise.
The Bridges Golf Club in Gunter created an "It's Heating Up" promotion by offering golfers 20% off throughout June. The promotion has generated more than $1,000 and 70 rounds of incremental business so far. Wildhorse Golf Club at Robson Ranch in Denton says it's giving customers the "Shirts Off Our Back" to beat the heat, a deal that includes a logoed shirt and a discounted green fee that has netted the course more than $10,000.
Grab-and-go special heats up in California Sun
In the California desert, Indian Canyons Golf Resort has been a popular choice for golf in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley since 1961, when the likes of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Reagan used to walk its fairways. Summer is the time when customers are offered the 'course's "Grab ‘N Go" special, which includes 18 holes of golf with cart, a choice of a breakfast sandwich or hot dog, and a small bucket of range balls. Through only 19 days in June, the incremental business was highlighted by 63 rounds sold, which equated to nearly $4,000 in sales.
When summer's high temperatures cause golfers to reconsider booking that next round, promotions like these can offer excellent incentives to brave the heat.
To learn more on how you can promote your course, CLICK HERE.
It's a natural assumption that golf courses in or near big cities should attract new customers by adopting strategies that increase awareness. This way, they can take advantage of a denser geographic area.
However, the real question is - can something comparable happen in rural or urban regions? Yes, it can. Perhaps it's because of a willingness by residents of those regions to travel farther for golf on highways that aren't jammed and offer lush scenery. Regardless, increased exposure to golfers online has brought new players to Stillwaters Golf in Dadeville, Alabama - a new GOLF Business Solutions course partner on the Platform.
"New eyes are seeing us on their screens and new people coming in the door," says Witherington. "It has to be because of the Platform because we haven't changed anything else. Within a couple weeks after we got on the Platform, I realized that we had already booked more than 50 rounds that I know we wouldn't have had otherwise."
The Tradition Course at Stillwaters Golf is part of a resurgent golf and lake community with zoning for 1,200 residences in the area. When it opened in 1996, it featured 36 holes of golf. However, Stillwaters' business plan went through changes, and one of the two championship courses eventually shut down. Located in a triangle formed by the three cities of Birmingham, Montgomery, and Columbus, Stillwaters is indeed a long drive for golfers who reside in any of those population centers.
“You have to make the trip to find us,” says Witherington. “So, once you’re here it’s on us to make the experience special enough that you’ll come back and you will also tell you friends about us.” Withering says he must adapt to limited funds for marketing and advertising. “My customers have to be a big part of my marketing,” he says, referring to word-of-mouth recommendations, “but I do need more exposure and reach, which we now have.”
Witherington is a natural who "can talk them into staying for lunch, even staying for live music that night," once he gets them on-property. His course's reliance on word-of-mouth has given him a nuanced understanding of it. "One of the reasons people go to new places and try new things is because they're motivated to tell their friends what a great choice they made," he asserts. "It's one of their pleasures in life, along with the actual experience. So, when we treat them right, we're giving them an opportunity they want which is to sound smart – and in the process they make us look good."
In Witherington's first full year in 2016, rounds played at the course increased from 8,000 to 12,800. Memberships rose from 72 to 287. "We made golf a profit center here," he says. "We want to build on that." He had a previous, albeit brief, experience with GOLFNOW many years ago.
"It was a long enough time ago that I was getting all my bookings off a fax machine," he says. "It was cumbersome, but I was sure that in the meantime the system had been modernized." While that is undoubtedly true, the Platform at Stillwater isn't like the Platform at a lot of other places, thanks to the paper tee sheet still in use at the course.
Witherington and his GOLF Business Solutions' account representative Scott Huskins, worked together to create a more customized approach for Stillwaters.
"Scott set it the tee sheet so that I get an email beep with every reservation that comes through GOLFNOW and into our Platform. He even helped me program my phone, so everything could come through me."
Stillwaters story inspires us to note that whether you're in the city, the country or someplace in between, you still need a way to get people's attention and keep them coming back.
To learn more about how the GOLF Business Solutions Platform can help you attract more golfers, CLICK HERE.
Avoid hidden fees and overcharges for card processing
A great golf course manager knows the customer experience isn't over until the customer drives off. He or she also is savvy enough to realize all the marketing touchpoints that can make an average experience great – including when it's time to pay.
Every operator wants to make things easy for their golfers – booking rounds online, checking in, buying a sleeve of balls, grabbing a snack from the beverage cart, and, hopefully, enjoying post-round food-and-beverage. Golf course management software with fully integrated functionality helps achieve a seamless experience.
Golf Business Solutions' new Payments feature will achieve both the operator and manager goals by making operations run like a well-oiled machine. Payments is a part of a turn-key 21st-century course by allowing the operator to review transactions, check inventories, keep an eye on cash flow, run credit card transactions, and more.
"Payments by GOLF Business Solutions allows you to seamlessly integrate online, phone and in-person payments with your point-of-sale system," explains Charles Kingsbaker, Senior Sales Specialist for GOLF Business Solutions. "With that full integration, the processing of payments requires just one vendor, accepting every payment any customer makes, no matter when or where."
Charles' colleague, Kelvin Wierks, has been part of the team working to build, test, and refine the functionality of Payments. Regulatory compliance, security issues, and the ability to interface with the vast banking and payments ecosystem have dictated a steady pace.
"The payments space is convoluted and complex," says Wierks, Vice President of Business Platforms for GOLF Business Solutions. "Golf courses have been hit with higher costs for payment processing than they rightly should, and the reports they see are too complicated to make sense of. Our mission has been to simplify the contractual process, simplify rates dramatically, and offer the seamlessness of working with a single vendor."
Payments start with transparent and easily understood rates, plus a guarantee of no hidden fees. You can see exactly what you're paying on every transaction, and those transactions can happen via tablet, desktop, online, or in-person. Full integration with GOLF Business Solutions means that wherever and whenever a payment happens, funds will be auto-deposited to your account. All Payments transactions are PCI-compliant (Payment Card Industry), with end-to-end encryption for security.
Early adopters of the technology have been quick to appreciate having all revenue inflows come from one source on a set daily schedule. "You don't have to try and remember when (mobile-device payments middleman) Square is going to pay you," says Wierks. He notes that the GOLF Business Solutions-provided hardware a course receives when it switches to Payments is another facet of the program that gets high marks. "We provide a wireless pin pad and an EMV-compliant terminal," says Wierks. "No more swiping cards – everything has the security of a chip."
Advanced economies have been favoring digital systems over cash and check-writing for a long time, in the name of security, ease, and data analysis.
"Businesses of all kinds, including golf courses, are moving to a 'pay-anywhere' approach," says Kingsbaker, "which makes the relationship with your payments processor all the more important to the entire operation. Going forward, the advantages a course gains from adopting Payments will only increase, because of new products and services that are in the works. Golfers will notice more and more perks, along with the sheer ease of the experience."
Their favorite course is already the place where golfers are most interested in spending their money—adding. Payments technology is a way to simply enhance that preference.
To learn more about Payments, CLICK HERE.
The instruction business can help drive the operation
Your core business, selling tee times and filling up the sheet, generates numerous metrics that are useful to know. Revenue per available tee time, or RevPATT, tells an important story. Days-in-advance per booking also sheds light on how your business runs. Same with many different numbers relating to revenue, profit and details like golfer acquisition cost. We call these KPIs, or key performance indicators.
Each individual subcategory of your operation has its own KPIs. For shop merchandising, it’s cost of goods sold and inventory turns per year, among others. In the grill room, you want data like revenue per ticket and percentage of golfers who convert to F&B customers. Even the beverage cart could have statistics, such as revenue per hour or revenue per transaction, which influence strategy and tactics.
We know that facilities with a quality instruction program see increased play and spending from more-engaged golfers. KPIs for the golf instruction activity at your course are particularly important because lessons, clinics, club-fitting sessions and skills-challenge events connect back to the original business—selling tee times—in a way that the other subcategories don't. Golfers who commit to the game that extra amount—by investing in their game improvement—have been shown to spend more money and time at the facility than those with no connection to instruction activities. When GOLF Business Solutions branched out earlier this year beyond the core function of a golf operation, it first turned its sights on instruction. Just as there is Plus to help with marketing and the selling of tee times, the new Instructor Plus platform also provides marketing, communications and general business support to golf academies and instruction departments at public and private golf facilities nationwide.
"If you want your teaching and training program to function efficiently and profitably––and become the feeder for your tee sheet that it’s got the potential to be––you'll want to look at Instructor Plus," says Lorin Anderson, Vice President of Instruction, GOLF Business Solutions. “Aligned with the support you get from your Plus brand specialist at GOLFNOW, there will be an Instructor Plus brand specialist assigned to your facility, managing all lesson-related marketing efforts—including customized emails, website updates and social media posts.”
And just as you find with Plus guidance and support, a KPI-based analysis will underlie the work that’s done on behalf of your teaching and training niche by Instructor Plus. Business KPIs are somewhat new to instruction, but the pioneers in this effort have discovered their value. For example, Anderson cites a New Jersey teaching professional, Corey Krusa, who tracked an eight-week training program that he started three winters ago. In year one, the program attracted 48 students at $329 each—those numbers provided Krusa a benchmark.
Last winter there were 55 students at that same price, and this winter there were 62—again at $329 each. So, the KPI of revenue growth (within this one service) is trending strongly. Another KPI the experts might utilize is the Sales Pipeline, often studied in tandem with Sales Funnel Drop-Off. To apply these, Krusa would take his winter-program customers and compare that final roster of 62 against the number of golfers who took any measurable steps toward enrolling.
The next step is to study how far toward final commitment the various non-enrollees went. Over time, this exercise would reveal the number of people who had to enter the funnel in order for the tally of actual signups to hit 50, 60 or some other total. Digging a little deeper would mean looking for stages along the way where a potential customer bails out. He would then categorize those checkpoints and see which one or two showed the biggest “defection”. The final piece of the puzzle is sketching out marketing messages to be inserted into the purchase-consideration process at appropriate points.
Anderson also points to an instruction operation he works with in Sarasota, Fla., run by the highly respected teacher Tim Conaway. Lately, Conaway has focused on what KPI gurus call Billable Utilization, generally calculated as Billable Hours divided by 2,000—which is the round number used to state how many hours a year the typical accountant, lawyer or other professional works. This KPI is an indicator of how well you are utilizing assets, including staff coaches, and it can shed light on the effectiveness of your various programs.
“My hours engaged in the business of the academy are basically like seats on a plane,” says Conaway. “I’m measuring revenue versus capacity, and I want to be at capacity.” The overview version of this KPI exercise is to check the lesson book for hours when Conaway is ready and willing to teach but has no student slotted in. For the peak season that’s currently winding down, unsold hours in his book have been infrequent, generating an impressively high utilization rate. The more detailed version of this KPI is one that Conaway expects to look at as the season winds down and time allows.
Nick Bova, who teaches out of Whippany, NJ., shared with Anderson the impressive KPI emerging from his recent Instagram marketing efforts—specifically, it was revenue per dollar spent on the program. “What I post is an Instagram video that shows my teaching process with a golfer,” Bova explains. “Viewers see the student’s swing before, they see some work I do with that student, including drills, and then they see the much-improved swing afterward.” Viewership has been dramatically high.
“The analytics show me that 45,000 people have seen it,” Bova reports. “From those views, in one single week, I took in four new clients for lessons here at my facility—Anchor Golf Center in Whippany, NJ—plus eight new online clients.” KPI data that measures return on marketing investments would go off the charts in this case. “I spent $150 in marketing dollars and earned $2,000 in new income,” says Bova. “That’s just counting the revenue from initial visits,” which obviously he’ll be able to build on as satisfied customers come back for more. Like Conaway, Bova has recently kicked up his per-hour rate, with only positive results.
As the teaching operation digs into its own “internal” performance data, decision-makers at their host facility should, according to Anderson, measure all the ways that taking lessons and showing up to practice is funneling instruction customers into other revenue streams on the property. “Dedicated golf instructors all want the golf facility where they work to track lesson-takers and see the extent to which they become new names on the tee sheet, new customers in the golf shop, buyers of range balls and significant spenders on food-and-beverage,” says Anderson. “Any course that has GOLF Business Solutions' Plus and Instructor Plus programs as business solutions will be encouraged and guided to monitor those behaviors—very likely with a lot of good news coming out of the analytics.”
To learn more about our Instructor Plus program, CLICK HERE.
Great customers, previously beyond reach
The golf season this year started strong at Bergen Point Golf Course. That's the good word from Bob Miller, GM and Director of Golf at this county-owned facility in West Babylon, NY. Miller and his staff are known for providing service approaching the private-club level, their challenge was simply getting a larger audience to sample the Bergen Point experience. Exposure with the GOLF Business Solutions Platform filled that need.
As a result, Miller is generous in telling his GOLF Business Solutions representative, Lindsey Wellenstein, that the course’s recent success “is a tribute to how good your product is.” There are solid numbers to back that statement up.
“Since we got started with the Platform this spring, we've seen a 30 to 35 percent increase in business,” says Miller. “In the month of May, we had 440 players come in through the GOLFNOW portal, at $65 per round. That's $28,600 in revenue we wouldn’t have taken in otherwise." Miller's GOLF Business Solutions-provided analytics show 6,600 views of his course in May and another 4,400 in the first two weeks of June. Views lead to bookings.
In the relatively short time Miller has worked with Wellenstein, the two have built a strong rapport and check in with each other regularly. In part through Lindsey's input, Bergen Point scored a difference-making publicity coup right as the good weather was arriving on Long Island. "In conjunction with the PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park,” says Miller, “we got some nice exposure for our golf course on GOLF Channel’s Morning Drive.
Miller and his staff make sure to treat their long-time regulars with appreciation, but they’ve tried to go the extra mile for new players in the Millennial bracket that make their way to Bergen Point via GOLFNOW bookings. "Our tee sheet indicates all our GOLFNOW people," says Miller." We tell them that if they'd like to warm up we will comp their range balls, which they really appreciate. If they’re here early for their time we’ll get them loaded on their cart and let them start using it right away.” Very commonly these newer customers will let the Bergen Point staff know they don't get treatment like this elsewhere. “When they tell us that," comments Miller, “we can be pretty sure they're saying it to their friends, which translates to very valuable word-of-mouth advertising.”
The course has expanded its audience not just in quantity, but also demographically. “These customers are younger, they book online, they book at all hours of the day and night, and they don't complain,” says Miller. “They all take carts, whenever they play. They are a demographic of golfer we haven't seen around here in the past.”
His sense is that they also are not particularly price-sensitive. "Suffolk County, which owns the property, regulates what we can charge for green fees," explains Miller, who is a concessionaire paying rent to the county and operating the golf business as his own.
Miller made a key personnel move when he hired Tim Baker as course superintendent. Conditioning at Bergen Point has steadily improved to a point where, this season, “the greens are perfect,” says Miller. “There's no other word for them.” So, it’s a clear case of the right product, at the right time, being marketed effectively.
To learn more on how GOLF Business Solutions can attract more golfers to your course, CLICK HERE.
The famed sales trainer and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, brought the concept to everyman language when he said, "All things being equal, people buy from their friends." He then added, "All things not being equal, people still buy from their friends." It seems like common sense, but "relationship marketing" was considered an innovative breakthrough a generation ago.
It seems simple, but if a course operator wants to sell tee times to golfers, he should try and build friendships with golfers in his area. That's precisely what John Brewer Jr., General Manager of Split Rock Golf Club in Orient, Ohio, has been doing for years. Only now he's using short videos as a high-powered, revenue-driving tool in that effort. Teaming up with his Plus Specialist from GOLF Business Solutions, 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."
Golfers who follow "The Rock" on Facebook enjoy the videos and don't mind Brewer's straight-forward 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. However, in relationship marketing, the action isn't necessarily a purchase. Earlier this season, Brewer worked with De La Paz on a video promoting a used-ball drive that resulted in some 20 golfers showing up to donate 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 Business Services at GOLF Business Solutions, agrees entirely with the Split Rock concept of video that is sincerely personal. The point of it is making a genuine connection, not an action-driven message that a typical marketer would use.
"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 ideal 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 today."
Led by Hendrix and Plus Specialist Gabriela Vaughan, the GOLF Business Solutions team recently introduced Clubhouse Bulletin, a video newsletter customized for private clubs as a way for them to connect with members. The natural ease and charm of Bailey Mosier, a GOLF Channel studio host, supply those qualities. Mosier fronts (and co-produces) these customized "video newsletters" for the top clubs now enrolled in the program.
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. 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.
To discover more about Clubhouse Bulletin and what it can do for your course, CLICK HERE.