Improve golf experience, Summit speakers advise

Golf Summit Outing at Omni La Costa Resort

Making golf into an entertainment experience rather than just an athletic experience will be vital for golf clubs in the future, according to the chief executive officers of three of the nation's largest management companies.

Speaking Tuesday at the CEO Keynote at the Golf Inc. Strategies Summit at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., CEOs Jim Hinckley of Century Golf Partners and American Golf Corp., David Pillsbury of ClubCorp and Steve Skinner of KemperSports said the way people look at golf is changing.

"People are consuming golf in different ways," Skinner said. "It's not just playing 18 holes for 4½ hours. "It's maybe playing three holes or six holes. We've been surprised at the success of par-3 and putting courses."

Much of the impetus for change is coming from the success of alternative golf venues such as Topgolf and Drive Shack.

Hinckley predicted that public and daily fee courses will follow the lead of private clubs by focusing more on creating memorable experiences for players.

"We need to give people a reason to play rather than a discount to play," he said.

ClubCorp, which operates more private clubs than any other management company, is shifting its attention to creating lifestyle-centric rather than golf-centric clubs, Pillsbury said. By utilizing the club more efficiently to benefit all member categories, the club can appeal to a broader community.

"At end of day, experience is all about community," he said. "Whether it's at Topgolf or Drive Shack, it's people coming together and having an experience together."

Daily fee courses should work to create those experiences so people can come together, Hinckley said.

"In the public sector, we have to play offense," he said. "We can take unused times and do programming. "

The speakers said that the golf industry – like the U.S. economy – at the moment is doing well.

"It's been a pretty solid year," Skinner said. "Premium segments are doing well. Value properties have stabilized and seeing good growth. Those stuck in the middle are still struggling to find their identity."

Hinckley said that while the overall economy may be enjoying a tailwind at its back, the golf economy is experiencing more of a breeze.

Resorts are doing especially well because vacation and business spending remains strong, he said.

"But it's still a nervous economy," Hinckley said.

Pillsbury cautioned that there's still pressure on operators to keep costs under control, especially when it comes to labor.

"[Employee] turnover is challenging in the private club environment," he said. "That snuck up on the industry and is a serious challenge in most major markets."

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