Golf's latest wake-up call

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After listening to speaker after speaker at last week’s Golf Inc. Conference held at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., talk about what golf operators need to do to keep their properties afloat during these tough economic times, one of the attendees posed a provocative question.
“Why does it take a significant downturn in the golf business to get our attention back on doing the right things in the right way?” he asked. Indeed, our guest pointed out that he has been amazed recently by the level of service and attention that consumers are experiencing in many businesses today that just didn’t seem to care about customer service a couple of years ago.
It does seem that hard times force many businesses – and golf is certainly one of those – to place more value on their customers, simply because there are fewer of them.
Do you agree with the notion that in recent years too many golf operators had forgotten about the customer? What steps have you taken at your course to put the emphasis back on “doing the right things in the right way?” And what are you doing to make sure that will continue, even when the economy improves?    


I have always been one for the sincere "good morning" or "how was it out there" and make sure you listen to what the customer has to say. It does no good at all to ask a question and be thinking about 10 other things and not pay attention. I try to make the customer feel right at home and have some fun when they enter the pro shop, on the first tee or after their round. You may be surprised just how much it is appreciated.

While I agree too many operators have not pushed friendly customer service very well. I do not think of it as lack of respect or need of the customer as lack of training of the younger generation manning the bag drop, parking lot, front desk, starters, rangers and even maintenance crews. I travel and when I try to engage these people in a hello, or conversation, it seems like there is a dull response. We have built our standing on the way we treat people. It is an absolute rule for our employees to use the "Rule of 25". Within twenty feet acknowledge a person, within 5 feet talk to them. This creates a feeling of wanting and knowing they are there. Just treat people the way you want to be treated.

Well I for one am a bit puzzeled by the notion that it has only been in the last year that times have gotten difficult for golf operators. It has been difficult since late 1990's. After the boom years of the mid 90's the golf industry has been grossly over built with no growth in the game. At our courses, we have been focused on nothing other than customer service, loyalty programs and employee training. This is not a new issue. We have been struggling for years as developers built new courses that we have all had to compete with. This recession has made it far worse. Now we are forced with trying to accomplish similar standards, while cutting back on staffing levels and other expenses. We are at a point where the rubber is meeting the road because we need to continue to put out a good product with good service or we will lose the loyal customers that we have fought so hard to get and keep. It is ridiculous to say that everything was good in golf up until this recession.

Our golf course has never lost sight of who pays the tab. We are constantly improving our course both the condition of the course and the user friendliness of our program. Capital improvements, ease in reservations, on line capabilities, low cost resident rounds, etc. We have not really dropped rounds and have continued to run in the black. Perhaps professionalism on the part of management is responsible. I am not sure.

Hiring the right people for the job says alot about how your customer service base is going to be handled! Golf is nothing more than PR, plain and simple, from the golf pro to the cart boy! You see it every day on tour, pro shoots 65 and treats the kids and fans like dirt, on the other hand pro shoots 72 and stops to talk to the kid, smiles at the fan, offers their time to make them feel good...Get It!

Many facility operaters have chimed in with the econimic woes of golf participation. Have you taken inventory of your profit centers. Memebrship/fees, merchandise, concessions, cart rental. Obviously there are sub sets such as lessons, banquets, golf club repair, range operations and such. You have bought into the notion of price, price and price. Your major OEM's have all moved to Communist China, Vietnam, India and other low cost labor centers. In addition, major OEM's such as Callaway, Nike, Taylor Made. Wilson, have all gone off shore, many to Communist China. When you sign your purchase order have you ever inquired where the country of origin is where those clubs are made. How sick are you operators to find the Callaaway or Taylor drive you paid full wholesale price for winds up at an off course discount retailer or internet supplier BELOW your cost. What are you going to do about it. Years ago your market share was 80% of hard goods sold, soon you will be in single digits. You have resigned yourself to enbroidered softgoods and golf balls. Titleist builds a Pro V ball for less than $.50 cents, are you rewarded with anything? The Communist Chinese crap you sell, is it really what the players who endorse the product played with. Check the words PROTOTYPE on their clubs. In an endorsement driven business the big five own 85% of the business and spend millions on advertising to buy a better game. You all know better yet you continue to plat into their hand. Stop and stop now! Insist on a collaboration of your fellow golf facility and golf professionals to change the methodology or inventory acquisition. When the Chinese Communists start buying courses next door to you start packing your bags or stand up and fight. There is no middle ground. Customer service and added value takes us only so far. It's but a band-aid on a chain saw gash. Playing rounds are flat, new players are not there and the economy is only what it is in your particular region. The same men and women who stand up at conferences and summits and are chewing the same turf. There is no innovation, no new call to associate for beta testing new concepts and you are left to your own at the end of the day. Stop selling import crap! NOW! Keep the very people who play golf employed and with disposable income to pass along to you. Without that you all fight for a small piece of a diminishing pie. All of you see it everyday and the PGA and the HGF could care less, otherwise they would have developed a long range plan for all of you. No such plan exists without your resounding call for change and a strategy for a long term plan. Have you not put your guts, heart and money into this convoluted logic for long enough. Combined you own golf 100%. The PGA runs one big tournament in August, the PGA. The Masters is the most solid invitational, the U.S. Open is run by the stripe ties in New jersey, the British is a R&A tournament. The PGA Memebers, 25,000 strong and the golf course owners are the core of the industry but can't speak with one voice. New blood is not only needed it is the salvation of the business. Keep it American and squeeze the OEM's, suppliers and vendors to keep Americans working and playing, buying and proud of our concerted effort to change idiotic buying dynamics which were aformentioned before the $1000 set you bought at wholesale, paid 10% commission to the salesperson and find it at WalMart because some chicken shit sales manager dumped the goods at a fraction of the cost you paid. All this without the salesman knowledge or yours. Choose profit centers carefully and discover which can be effected quickly. There is a way to prosperity but it requires an effort to benefit us all. Good Luck and God Bless You. VJK

As an addendum to my earlier posting I invite all of you to call Fortune Brands and request an Annual Report. It is more enlightening than other golf information you can read. Accushnet Brands, Titleist, Foor-joy, Pinnacle, Cobra etc., are but a fart in the wind to the Fortune Brands porfolio. Jim Beam Liquor, De Kuyper Liquor, Masterlock, Moen Faucets and I'll leave this one to your imagination. Twice as large as all of the golf business they have combined is where your wife keeps the dishes and spices. Why your allegiance to such a Company who produces product other than some balls outside of our own country? It's up to you to say enough. Costs are cut in half and retail prices have doubled. That's on your dime. VJK

The golf industry is sooooo traditional it does take a major downturn to get operators to even begin to think about changing their approaches to their customers. The only reason my wife and I survived inn the golf business is because we challenged all the traditional ways course have been run.

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