6 Ideas To Get Golfers Back on Course

Posted: December 22, 2008 by Nathan Kam in Golf Bug, On The Job, Random Raves & Rants
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This foursome doesn't play nearly as much golf these days as we should. Help!

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:

  1. 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. 🙂
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


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  1. businessgolf says:

    Outstanding blog..lot of interesting suggestions to what Golf can do to survive.
    As far as the Business Golf, I can not agree more with what you are saying. It is very unfortunate most businesses do not know the value of golf to their business’s bottomline and fear golf since they do know understand its value. Plus, too many executives feel their company’s presence in the golf arena would appear to consumers as them wasting money.
    There are a large number of options available to businesses to improve their bottomline if they would take the time to learn how to use golf as a business plan or, how I put it, how to play business golf.
    85% of most large businesses support employee softball, bowling and soccer league play but will not allocate a dime for employees to play golf, a activity that has less injures and off the job accidents which result in short term disabilities. Plus, a golf outing could be part of employee appreciation days combined with a VIP clients day. IF the clients and employees do not know how to play golf..then make it a Golf School. If businesses would add in golf with educational workshops the the business expense for the golf moves out of the discretionary funds column of the budget and back into mainstream business operations expenses which can then be tracked back to a ROI.
    Time is money to everyone, if it is not then I need to go to work for them. The shorter rounds and alternative pricing for the number holes played are all viable options, and would most likely increase the amount of play.
    One of the things I feel puts the management of the golf course’s pace of play back into the club’s hands and not the marshals who work for Free Golf, are Caddies. Every course I have played where there was a Caddy that walked with me, or a Forecaddy that rode with the group, I have played 18 holes in less than four hours…leaving me much more time to handle the business side of the day’s outing.
    There are answers to golf’s problems..that is if they want to solve them.
    Keep this thread of concern going. Golf is going to need all the help it can get from people thinking of ways to help golf survive.
    Let me know how I can help.

  2. Nathan says:

    Aloha Jay! Thanks for your comments and you too are right on point with your thoughts. I like all the ideas you’ve expanded with/added and think it would be quite interesting for you to continue the conversation on your blog as well. Let’s see what others in the industry have to say. Happy Holidays!

  3. Jay Higa says:

    Nathan – your ideas are very good. I’d like to add a few comments.

    -courses do need to lower their prices when its slow. The deals that I’ve seen are pay for 3 and the 4th plays free. Well, if I can’t get 4 guys to play, that is no deal. How about buy one and the second is half price (sounds like a Foot Locker sale). This would only be good on certain days and times. Courses make a lot of money on the tourist industry – pass on the savings to the locals.

    -my pet peeve is slow play. I have to play within 4 1/2 hours. Marshalls need to be seen more on the courses and enforce the pace of play. I know the courses are sensitive to this as they want their guests to have a good experience. I haven’t done any statistics but I’d bet a lot of the slow players are from out of town.

    -I’m not sure about a 6-hole round. In doing this, they would have to rethink their pricing structure which may make this option too expensive when looking at a “per hole” basis.

    -Courses could offer a corporate membership program whereby a business would commit to ‘X’ number of rounds in a month/quarter and get a sizeable discount.

    -With the airlines charging for more than one bag, I think courses are reluctant to give this for free. More resort golfers will tend to forego the hassles of bringing their clubs if the net result is paying only $25-50 for rentals.

    -in lowering fees, I don’t think the courses can offer more value. I would just like to see lower prices.

    This is a good subject and one that I’d like to address in my blog and reference back to you. What do you think?

  4. TWOG says:

    Great ideas and well thought out post NGK! Your first point regarding lower greens fees could be capitalized on if clubs offered some type of frequent buyer program. An example could be after 4 rounds, the 5th round is free. Vacation golf is very tough if you’re the only golfer in the family; you almost feel guilty leaving the family to play a round. Free club rentals or even club demos is also a great suggestion. Imagine if you were able to play the new Callaway X-22 Irons or the newest Taylor Made golf set. These would greatly enhance the golfing experience. If clubs entered into a partnership with the major brands (Ping, Callaway, Taylor Made, Nike, Titleist, etc) then they could offer this type of benefit.

    Great post and very timely with the tough economic climate. Happy holidays!

  5. Kona Grandma says:

    Well said. You go Nathan!!
    Now all you need is for one of your media/journalist associates to give it more public attention.

  6. Shawn says:

    Great list, Nathan! I hardly golf now days because of those very reasons. Would LOVE more 9-hole playing options. I learned golf for business/vacation reasons and that just hasn’t materialized!

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