Advancing Yourself

Converting a COVID-19 Generation of Golfers7 min read

Tom BentleyAuthor: Tom Bentley


Posted on: 5th Aug 2020

“We are delighted to be re-opening our golf facility but the sheer scale of prospective members, green fee pay-and-play and visitors is overwhelming. We just don’t have the time to focus on keeping them all.”

“My lesson bookings have never been busier – how do I keep these customers moving forwards?”

“With long-term prospects and consumer confidence looking fairly low, we are not sure this high will last.”

It is an interesting conundrum, and one that most PGA Professionals and facility owners find themselves in right now. Golf courses, ranges, simulators and clubs are busier than ever with existing and new players to the game. So how can you manage this uptick in participation properly, whilst engaging, enticing and retaining their custom?

First I think we need to answer the question of: Is this going to last?

The answer to that, to a large extent, depends on our actions. If as an industry, we play this situation well by utilising resource effectively, managing our time and creating innovative solutions to meet the excess demand, I don’t see why this pent-up consumption can’t be turned into real and sustainable consumer spending in the years to come.

There is that key comment of “people have been unable to do other things and golf was there first…it won’t last” to deal with. For sure, a large proportion of this increased demand is made up of consumers who have been unable to fulfil their normal spending habits, such as watching their local sports teams (football, cricket, rugby, tennis etc.) and have therefore been on the prowl for something else to fill their time. During this search, golf has provided that short-term solution to satisfy a need but what happens once their usual spending habits reemerge? Most believe golf will be cast aside once more.

However, this isn’t and shouldn’t be a certainty whatsoever.

If we can focus on converting just a small percentage of those people into consuming golf as a more regular habit, say once a month for the next year, it can yield worthwhile returns. Here is an example taken from a local course, who have seen an average increase of 40 visitor green fees per day since lockdown restrictions were lifted.

  1. Average green fee charged: €20.00
  2. Average number of surplus visitors (using pre-lockdown figures as a baseline): 40
  3. Additional revenue per day: €800.00
  4. Additional revenue per month: €24,000

Notice how the last figure was calculated for monthly, rather than annually. This is so that you can take into consideration that 40 extra golfers, like with your existing customers, will drop off significantly during the off-peak, winter months. However, it paints a picture of the potential increases golf courses can (and have) seen recently. Just converting 10% of these golfers permanently (4 players!) is worth a significant amount of revenue to your business.

01 BETTER UNDERSTAND THE SEGMENT

Perhaps you already collect consumer data of your visitors, perhaps you don’t. Understanding this segment to a degree is going to be important in order to effectively manage and exceed their expectations and retain their custom.

First you need to set up a system of data collection. This doesn’t even have to be a fancy, state-of-the-art cash register that requires an input mechanism for every player. It can be as simple as staff observations and reporting. Whatever it is, create a procedure or system that your team works with and can work well to, and gain an understanding of a number of things:

  1. How often does this consumer play?
  2. What points in the day do they play? (AM, PM, Twilight etc.)
  3. Do they consume additional services aside from green fees? (golf carts, range, bar, restaurant etc.)
  4. Simple demographic breakdowns (Age, gender, occupation, proximity to course)
  5. Contact details and GDPR conformity!

02 TARGETING

This really should be with point 01 but it is easier to explain separately. This is because you can’t have a targeted campaign without the previous stage of data collection. The two go hand-in-hand. How you go about creating a targeted campaign is dependent on the data that you have about your consumer, and generating the data that you need is dependant on the campaign you want to create.

First identify a business goal of the campaign. Is this to acquire a set number of additional members? Is this to sell a block number of lesson vouchers? Is this to drive green fee revenue? Golf cart revenue? We will continue to use the example of increasing visitor green fee revenue.

Now that we have a goal, we can begin to narrow down our focus for data collection. We don’t need to find out more about our members as these are not visitors. We also don’t need to focus on our existing pool of regular pay-and-players (assuming you have a database for these golfers already as they will have booked countless of times already).

We need to focus our efforts on those new visitors that we have no data for. Utilising point one, begin to collate data (and therefore understanding) of this consumer, so that you have the information and direction you need on what needs to change or be focused on to increase this golfer’s experience moving forwards.

*As a side point, also ensure they provide GDPR consent to receive marketing information from yourselves when doing so*

Now you better understand them as people, you can provide these new ‘Post-COVID’ golfers with tailored products, services and offerings to entice and engage them for further consumption. Be creative with how you do this, you don’t need to just offer them heavily discounted green fees, mostly because they’ve been paying stated prices already with no complaints, haven’t they? Ask yourselves: why are these people enjoying golf? What is it about their consumption of golf that differs to our existing consumers?

You might find that they enjoy the social benefits of golf such as having a drink after playing, or that they want to try a new sport, or that simply enough their Saturday’s are now free and they need something to do. Well, how about streaming live sport in the clubhouse after? With some heavy promotion and communication to them about this, they will realise that they can now play golf and watch their favourite teams play at the same time…

This is not a magic bullet but the premise of the point is that tailoring your services to each individual better will improve their experience and encourage their future custom.

03 COMBATTING A CULTURE CLASH

A separate point, but nonetheless crucial to maximising your returns.

So often, we hear about the barriers to entry faced by many new golfers. This includes attitudes of existing members and players, strict club regulations and enforced rules on etiquette and behaviour. I am not for one minute suggesting these all need to be disbanded, in fact I would be extremely surprised if they could anyway – golf has been trying to remove them for decades and for various reasons, has failed.

However you view these points (Whilst I personally appreciate the etiquette of the game and standards of behaviour, I cannot understand why wearing a jacket and tie and not using your mobile phone in a clubhouse is still even a rule in 2020), the fact remains that these will no doubt dismay and dissuade the consumers you are trying to target here to continue playing. They are accustomed to freedom of choice, the ability to go where they want and when they want and quite frankly, golf doesn’t – it remains bogged down and unable to offer the same sort of atmosphere because of its traditional nuances.

This last point I am trying to focus on is about engagement – engaging both the new consumers you are targeting and engaging the existing members that you have to work with you in doing so. If you can encourage and create an atmosphere that furthers inclusion, reduces stigmatisation and promotes friendliness, one can be confident that new golfers and visitors will be far less likely to play, dislike the experience and the unwelcoming atmosphere and never come back.

One simple idea could be to create a ‘mentor system’ between guests and members, or have themed nights in the clubhouse that focus on socialising and fun. Even something as simple as how you arrange your clubhouse seating (COVID-19 complying of course) might encourage increased dialogue between different groups, rather than having uninteractive, unsociable bubbles.

By combing a renewed and refreshed atmosphere, with better understanding and targeting, the ‘COVID-19’ golfer might just realise that golf is for them, that it isn’t a sport for the affluent and that in fact they can have as much enjoyment from golf that they would have from other sports and pastimes…

Let us seize this opportunity, whilst we still have it.