New ideas for fixing the golf industry

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The Summer print issue of Golf Inc. magazine offers a unique blueprint for addressing golf’s long-term woes. In case you missed “How to Fix the Golf Industry,” here’s a recap of the four principles Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Jack Crittenden suggests could be an effective strategy for turning around golf’s declining fortunes.
Principle 1: Golf grows when it’s for everyone. Focus on making the game more accessible to everyone, not just the avid golfer. Welcome beginners and newcomers.
Principle 2: Golf is in the hospitality business.  Your goal should be figure out the best ways to make customers happy. Make it about them, not about yourself.
Principle 3: Golf is about relationships. Work to encourage people to play with their family or friends. Programs and policies should be tailored toward such a strategy.
Principle 4: Golf will grow when we market it with affable celebrities. The industry needs a new goodwill “ambassador,” ideally a player with a fun, friendly face who can reach out to a mass audience and build on the success of past celebrities like Arnold Palmer.
The current recession has created plenty of hardships for many golf operators and developers. But it’s also given each of us an opportunity to change the way we think about our business.
Do you agree that these principles can provide a road map for the future? What innovative, unique approaches are you taking at your properties that embrace similar principles? We’d like to hear from you.



Affable celebrities?? What?? Sure, I'd like to play a round with Stina, but, really...have you ever been to these "celebrity" deals? they are surrounded by "sniffers", not to mention security, and, you rarely get to sit around and have a beer with them!!! My take?? More "event" type offerings...IE the Golf Channel Amateur Tour, The Pac Am, local tournaments for the handicap golfer, etc. THERE, you can bring out local celebs, national/international, pro golfers, etc. Who wouldn't want to play a tournament with prizes and a chance to play a round of golf with Paula Creamer?? I'm not EVEN going to mention Natalie, Annika, Morgan, okay, even Michelle (as long as her Dad's not around!!). Dare we discuss the men's side?? NO need. What does this accomplish?? It puts players on the courses, REALLY spurs interest, drives the F and B side, AND, gives Johnny LunchBucket the chance to a) beat his friends, b) win his FEES back c) have a decent lunch, and d) toss 100 back in the kitty at the bar!!! Oh...if he plays badly? The pro can a) give him lessons b) sell him a new __________, to replace the one he threw in the lake c) as a measure of good will, toss in a free round~!! as a "booby" prize. Also, TRULY have local husband/wife/family events....this is where it's really COOL to have CELEBRITIES, especially PRO GOLFERS. Am I nuts??? but, of course!!!

Dear Jack, I respect your perspective but your Principals lack the immediate pro-active approach required to effect a turnaround and to establish a platform for future participation. Please allow me to critique the prinicipals proposed and delineate what I feel are the issues currently faced and options to your repair efforts. 1. Beginners and newcomers are already welcomed. Attrition and retention are the core issues. Golf is a very tough game to learn, the equipment and cost of play is expensive, getting more expensive as a percentage of disposable income and the first experiences are not much fun for new players. Lessons are not a real joy for most and the time needed to become proficient is lengthy. Participation is flat and has been for many years. New facilities even with multiple tees are designs demanded by developers to be "championship" quality. The old Mom and Pop course is a thing of the past. You and I both know you don't learn the game on the course but at a practice facility. Two incomes are required in many households and again time becomes a barrier. 2. Save the hospitality business for the hotels. Golf facilities need to address health and fitness. Hospitality is an excessive cost for operators. There are enough "world class" facilities for those who choose that type of experience. Enjoyment for enhanced participation is cost, time, ease of play and the most significant element fun. 3. Golf is mired in tradition which there is certainly a place for but to reach that level of respect is a process and not a task. All professional sports suffer the loss of family participation. A pro basketball game for a family of four is a $500 night out. Without the corporate sales of seats the arenas would be empty. So too with golf. How many six hole courses are being marketed as family fun? An affordable alternative is needed and it must be sold as a wholesome and healthy sport. A game to be enjoyed for a lifetime. One of the only participatory sports with such a future. 4. Arnold Palmer was a product of television. Had not televised golf been simultaneous with his personna Palmer would be Old Tom Morris. Affable celebrities don't make the impact the golf industry needs. Schools, parks and recreation facilites, YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy and Girl Scouts, that's where it starts. Without developmental golf programs local initiatives with celebrities are a joke. What do you do with a affable celebrity in January in Ohio. Further comment: Developers are interested in selling homes. Golf facilities are simply an amenity to attract buyers of homes and home sites. There are lifestyle facilites I admit. Finally there are only four profit centers at a golf facility. Fees/meberships, carts, food and beverage and merchandise. The PGA Pros gave away the merchandise profit center long ago. When I was a kid, 80% of hard goods and softgoods were sold at a "green grass" facility. Now those percentages are reversed and the "green grass" facilty is down to 15% of a multi billion dollar business. Lastly, there are hundreds of thousands of players with disabilities who remain ignored by golf course owners. Rehab hospitals have thousands of stroke survivors, spinal cord injury patients and clients who can utilize golf as a restorative nursing method as well as a recreational activity. They are ignored even though they eat hot dogs, buy golf shirts and balls, rent specialized carts and bring with them the need to be reintegrated into the fabric of playing with friends and family. And yes, they need specialized instruction from professionals and their retention is a guarantee if operators make it fun.

The idea of using "affable celebrities" to market golf is a good one; just don't get caught up in the idea that "celebrity" equals "golf pro." Remember the "Got Milk" campaign? Film stars, television celebrities, politicians, models, wealthy businesspeople--all were depicted as being milk drinkers, making milk drinking "cool." Most people are followers of trends and styles; make golf trendy and people will want to try it out. If they have a good experience when they do, they can become the addicted golfers that many of us already are.

Stop trying to GROW the game. The main problem with the golf industry isn't how many golfers there are in the world, it is how many GOLF COURSES there are. I'm sure that isn't a very popular concept but take a look at it. If the "powers that be" had not issued the self serving statement twenty years ago about having to open a new golf course every day for the next year just to keep up, we would not be over built. Sure, it's a free country, if a developer wants to build a golf course to sell dirt and houses, fine, let them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing more players to the game, we need to replace the boomers who are going to be leaving it at a pretty good rate over the next several years. Family participation is the key. Moms and kids have to be able to participate together. Six hole rounds, absolutely. People do not have the time for five hours at the course any more. One of the other things that needs to be changed is the perception that what we see on television on weekends is what every golf course does, or should, look like. Golfers and club members want the conditions to be like the TV courses, driving maintenance costs too high. That goes back to the cost of participation. Golf course budgets have to come down to make the game affordable. What operator wants to "let" people play for six holes? All they think about is that it is going to cost them money. Okay, I'm done. Let's go tee it up.

In business, the best way to attract new clients is doing a great job for your existing clients. "Business development" is useless if your existing users/clients are not happy. This should not be any different for the golf industry. Current golfers are the best ambassadors for the game and if they are treated well and enjoy the experience, they will continue to play and recommend the game to others. There are far too many instances where courses/operators are trying so hard to lure new customers, they forsake their current customer base, resulting in an obvious attrition. The best marketing for golf courses at this time is viral. Whatever operators do to attract new golfers, don't do it at the expense of your existing clientele.

The industry needs to change with the times. I am a lifetime golfer and I embrace the traditions of the game, however it is time for a change in corporate/charitable golf outings. We need to adapt to the increased demand for the corporate professional's time and the decrease in attention span. For years, I have been feeling that 9 hole shotguns would be more appropriate for many corporate/charitable events.

By and large the golf industry has suffered from the same affliction(s) for many years – a lack of genuine, thoughtful customer service. Jack rightfully pointed to the fact that golf is in the hospitality business and it is all about relationships. Most golf courses still don’t get it, though. At public-access facilities, we continue to receive the kind of service developed by and for the operator, rather than the golfing customer. When was the last time someone picked you up in the parking lot and delivered you to the pro shop? When was the last time, when checking in, that the pro shop made you aware of course conditions, pin placements, etc.? When was the last time a marshal actually stopped to help you find your ball, inquired about your round, or simply offered to help in some way? When was the last time someone asked you if you would like your clubs cleaned at the end of a round instead of polishing your sticks while you putted out on 18 and then expected a tip? Golf is most definitely in the hospitality business and customer service has become far too robotic. There has never been a better time to make the extra effort to exceed customer expectations.

I have read all the comments and must admit I am impressed with the comments. Go to the Critical Issues Blog and look up the March 23, 2009 article call "Are private country clubs shooting themselves in the foot" I sincerely feel this is the major problem facing the golf industry and my experience in this field attests to my feelings. If you are sincerely interested you will research this article. When private clubs realize they are in the dues business and their major expenditure is for recruiting new members to cope with normal attrition and unanticipated situations, we will continue to survive and trive. The article tells what should be done and how to do it. No celebrity and changes to the game will save this industry. Numbers are the name of the game. A job for professionals, not club members with no experience in marketing. I urge you to read the article. Many highly regarded professional marketing people agree with my opinion.

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