Dallas, TX — If you have been in the golf industry long enough to remember the Tiger Woods heyday, you have done something right. If you’re relatively new to the industry, let me paint the picture for you.
During Tiger’s run of dominance in the early 2000s, golf went through a surge of popularity that was a change from the status quo. PGA Tour events began attracting viewers from different age groups and demographics, which spurred growth in rounds played. Marketing strategy? Open the pro shop on time, maybe answer the phone. Technology? Not necessary. Single golfer? Sit on a waitlist for hours and hope for a short show.
“Today, the industry is going through another bellwether event. While COVID-19 has brought mostly negative consequences to most businesses, golf is back in Tiger Woods mode.”
This growth in popularity remained largely uninterrupted until the Great Recession. A perfect storm of poor economic conditions, a nascent online tee time industry, and lack of foresight within golf very quickly resulted in the proliferation of the third party tee time space being the predominant way golf courses felt they needed to reach new customers, often via discounting of rates and a lack of cash on hand that made bartering for the service attractive.
Today, the industry is going through another bellwether event. While COVID-19 has brought mostly negative consequences to most businesses, golf is back in Tiger Woods mode. When shelter-in-place orders expired, tee sheets were immediately full into the early evening and the sport began flourishing like we have not seen in some time.
The first reason, really, is that there’s nothing else to do in many cities across the country. With most forms of indoor recreation still shuttered, youth and professional sports either on hiatus or without spectators, and many professionals not commuting to an office, people have time to play, and few outlets in which to do so. Secondly, courses have gone to ‘social distance’ tee times, which have had a positive effect on pace of play and the afternoon golf experience. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the latent golfer.
Golfer latency is a metric to which the National Golf Foundation (NGF) pays close attention, and with good reason. They define the term as one who has not played a round in the last year but is still interested in playing. By the NGF’s measure, there were over 46 million Americans who fit into this category as of their annual symposium last year, and it is a number that has been growing since the mid-2010s. And if you’re a savvy operator who focuses on customer data collection, you know that your rounds growth isn’t coming entirely from your existing golfers playing more–it’s that you have several hundred new golfers in your database playing a few to several times since the coronavirus hit.
“While it is taking most of our energy and focus to provide all these rounds with a great experience, let’s not eat the seed corn – leverage your current business to set up future success.”
So, as an operator, what can you learn from golf’s latest surge in popularity to set yourself up for continued success after the coronavirus eventually fades and your new golfers’ lives return to normal? What can you do to ensure that golf remains a part of their routine when soccer practice and the baseball games return? The answer is to take advantage of their participation now with effective marketing and loyalty programs, including subscription memberships.
The subscription membership is the best tool to ‘recapture’ a latent golfer because it provides them with exactly what they need to reestablish their game: range access, golf access at off-peak times, and group instruction. When provided these benefits at an affordable monthly dues rate, the subscription becomes an aspirational product where they can come out and play as it fits their schedule, the dues tie their loyalty to your club, and it can even serve as a feeder into your more robust annual packages. It doesn’t break the bank either, as it’s as affordable as Netflix or other subscription programs they already use.
It may seem counterintuitive to offer golf access at reduced rates when courses are so busy, but now is the time to make an investment in your database’s long-term spending profiles at your club. Say your database of golfers plays on average four times a year – what if you could get one more round per month through subscription from all the golfers who only play your course four to seven times a year? If you can, your wallet share of your golfer can increase from an average of $150 to over $500. When monthly dues are kept to a level that is “forgettable,” most golfers will keep it through the offseason and provide you with a consistent revenue stream in short months, as well as generate buy-in from marginal golfers who are doing the math on other annual memberships.
As an industry, we should be excited about the current results and play, but we shouldn’t let that excitement develop into the fervor and shortsightedness of 2007. While it is taking most of our energy and focus to provide all these rounds with a great experience, let’s not eat the seed corn-–leverage your current business to set up future success. My team and I are here with the tools and expertise to help you, so if you have a question or comment please reach out.
About Supreme Golf
Supreme Golf works closely with golf course owners and operators to provide technology, marketing and business solutions to help manage their facilities. Leading management companies such as Century Golf Partners, Arnold Palmer Golf Management and Hampton Golf, and golf courses such as the world-famous PGA West, The Citrus Club, Walt Disney World Golf and PGA Member-owned Trophy Club of Apalachee are just a few of the courses who leverage Supreme Golf’s software and business solutions team. Supreme Golf, in association with CBS Sports Digital, offers the world’s largest inventory of golf tee times, providing golfers the ability to search and book over 16 million tee times at more than 12,000 golf courses in 41 countries. Supreme Golf’s booking sites include SupremeGolf.com and GolfBook.com, which are also available on iOS and Android. CBS Interactive is an equity investor and member of the board of Supreme Golf.
Chris May – ChrisM@SupremeGolf.com