Hi. My name is Nathan and I used to be a golf-a-holic. I say “used to be” because I went from playing golf at least four times a month (just a few years ago) to only once a month these days if I’m lucky. The reasons for me neglecting my game are plentiful:
- I have an 18-month-old son now, so spending quality family time together is a premium.
- I work for a company where business golf rarely occurs.
- The guys I regularly play with don’t play as much anymore either.
- Golfing on vacation isn’t easy since I’m the only one that plays.
- Golf is just to0 damn expensive to play every week.
As I sat at the PGA Aloha Section’s Hawaii Golf Industry Conference a couple weeks ago, the message and challenges were obvious. Golf rounds played in Hawaii (and across the nation) have been flat for years. With the visitor industry struggling right now, the courses are taking a hit. And while the PGA of America’s mission is to grow the game of golf, getting new players into the fold can’t happen soon enough. Even a recent story on MSNBC.com earlier this month titled “Golf industry in trouble as economy worsens” paints a less than ideal situation noting more courses are scheduled to close than open this year. Not a good sign.
So what’s a struggling industry to do? I’m no golf marketing expert, but as an avid golfer and fan of the game, I offer these six (6) ideas to get me – and potentially the rest of the nation’s golf community – back on the course more often:
- Lower green fees – In this current economy, it’s difficult for me to spend $50+ each week on green fees, plus another $20 on range balls, food and beverage at the course (which is usually expensive as well). At the end of the day, I’ve spent round $70 and courses expect me to do this week after week. Sorry, but that ain’t happening and I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way. Golf courses here’s a hint: lower your green fees and I promise you’ll see me – and a lot others – more often. And yes, we’ll still be buying your overpriced food and beverages. 🙂
- Speed up play – Courses need to find a way to shorten an 18-hole round so I can get back home to my family. The advantage of playing at resort courses or country clubs is we can finish in 4 hours at the pace we play. But public and municipal courses are where I play most of my golf and 5.5 to 6 hours rounds are ridiculous. Course marshals need to do their job and push slow players along. Too many times we’ve been behind groups of hackers who insist on playing every shot and putting out. Get these folks off the course or at least to the next hole.
- Rethink the traditional 18 hole round – I wish courses would make 9-hole play available more during better times of the day. The premium tee times are still given to the 18-hole round, which I can understand, but in my situation where I’m strapped for time, I’d love to be able to play shorter rounds every now and then. I’ve also heard a 6-hole option discussed, where a course could still fill a single time slot for 18-holes with three different groups. Not sure how feasible this is, but it sounds like an idea worth looking at.
- More business golf – If the golf industry can figure out a way to get me on the golf course during the work week for business golf, you’ll definitely see more play. I work at a company where business golf is scarce and I’m sure I’m not the only one. What’s the industry doing to get more corporate play? To show how valuable building client relationships on the course can be? Or is business golf a dying niche in today’s world of corporate responsibility/accountability?
- Offer free rental clubs – With airlines charging for checked bags these days, my golf clubs are the last thing I’m thinking of taking with me on vacation. This sucks because I’d like to play more golf on the neighbor islands and on the mainland. But the reality is the clubs aren’t coming because of all the aforementioned reasons. The thought of renting clubs and shoes itself, on top of paying the green fee, doesn’t excite me much either. On the other hand, if golf courses offered free rental clubs, that’s a motivator for me. I’m not trying to be cheap here. Afterall, bowling alleys have bowling balls available for customers to use free of charge, and last I checked, pool halls still gave you the balls and have cues available when you rent a table.
- Add value to the experience – This is where many golf courses fall short in my opinion. Too many times I feel like I pay my money, get sent out on the course, play my round, and that’s it. Aside from the interaction I’m having with my playing partners and the golf itself, nothing special occurs before, during, or after the round to make things memorable at many courses. Here’s my thoughts on how some value can be added to the experience:
- Have the course pro offer complimentary swing/putting/game tips before the round
- Have the staff offer insight on playing the course.
- Give players the ability to rent or check out golf gadgets, like a SkyCaddie, for the round.
- Bring back the F&B cart that used to circle the course that’s now gone at many.
- Run contests on certain holes that raise money for junior golf or opportunities to win golf equipment.
- Offer players the opportunity to enter their scores into the USGA Handicap System.
- Offer a loyalty program that rewards golfers who play a certain amount of rounds.
These are just a few ideas that came to mind while self-evaluating my current golf situation. I’d be interested in hearing additional thoughts and strategies from other golfers/marketers. Please leave a comment to keep the conversation going.