A recent look at the number of golfing rounds played showed a decrease year over year.
It seems the weather was the cause for the decrease. And that was certainly the likely cause.
But it seems that interest in the game has slowed in recent years. One of the upcoming issues not just for golf, but for the US in general is the baby boomer generation.
There is strong interest in golf from those 55 and older. The questions are 1) how long will that generation continue to play and 2) will the next generations pick up the game?
If you're looking to market your golf course to those interested in playing and to those that are open to trying it, here are a few ideas.
1. Free Rounds
Some of the best business and marketing advice I ever received was about the benefits of giving away your product or service for free.
It's basic math. Let's say you are considering some kind of advertising. You have $1,000 to spend on that advertising. It may work. It may not.
However it works out you're unlikely to get the same value you would get if you were to just give away free rounds.
You can give away $1,000 worth of free rounds to golfers. To them, the value is $1,000, but to you the cost is likely less. Say it's $60/round retail. You likely spend around one third for upkeep and another third on overhead. The other third is your profit.
So for a $40 cost to you, you're giving away a $60 perceived value to the customer. Take that same $1,000 marketing budget and give it away to various golfers and you turn your $1,000 into about $1,500.
Here are two specific tactics for giving away free rounds.
First Time Guests
Jon Taffer is the host of Bar Rescue. I've seen him give this advice to various restaurant and bar owners over the years. He used it for a restaurant situation, but it likely works similarly for golfers.
A first time golfer is probably around ~10% likely to come back to your course. If that same person comes back a second time, they're probably around ~30% likely to come back a third time. Get them to come back a third time and they're probably over ~50% likely to come back a fourth and keep coming back regularly.
So your goal is to get golfers to come back three times.
Setup a system so that every time you talk to customers you're asking them if they've played with you before. On the phone, in the pro shop, online with your tee time booking system.
If you flag a golfer as a first time customer, mark it on the tee sheet or highlight it in the system and even give them a red golf towel for their bag.
Make sure every employee knows that this is a first time customer - the pro shop staff, the starter, the beverage cart attendant, the bartenders, etc. Any issue they have, give extra care.
Then when the person is finished with their round give them an offer to come back for a second round. Offer it as a percent off. Offer it as a free round.
When they come back follow the same procedure, but this time mark them as a second time customer. A different highlighted color, a blue hat, a blue whatever. Someway that the staff knows they're a second time customer.
Then when they're done ask them how the round went and offer them a free meal the next time they come in or a free round for a guest of theirs.
If they come back a third time, you've got a 50% chance of a lifetime customer.
This is a tactic that Gary Vaynerchuk recommends (video) to many local businesses and it works for golfers as well.
Everyday, open Instagram on your phone. Go to search and hit your location. Search for "golf" or related terms. Then you'll see nine top results. These are the most influential people in your location at and around this specific time.
It means they have a lot of followers. If they're local, a lot of local followers. If they're not local and their visiting (maybe even playing your course) it's still good because they have potential to bring people in from out of your area (and in your area too).
Click on their accounts, click the upper right hand corner and you're allowed to direct message them.
Send them a simple message such as:
Hey, saw you were in our area and love golf. We'd love to offer you a free round.
That's it. Try to send ~50 of those a week. You might get 5 that accept. Of those 5 you might get 1 that comes and posts content about their trip to your course.
Even at those numbers you're getting great exposure on social media for your course. People will see it. They will come.
2. Local Partnerships
A few weeks ago I was watching Garage Rehab with Richard Rawlings. He's been going around helping small auto garages with their business.
One of the ways Richard helps them increase new customers is to find local businesses to form partnerships with.
For a garage he might seek out restaurants and tell them that they would like to refer customers to each other. If a customer is waiting for their car to be repaired they send them to the restaurant. In return, the restaurant sends customers that need car help to the auto shop.
The same with car washes, used car lots, gas stations, etc.
Do the same with your golf course.
If you don't have a restaurant, or even if you do, seek out partnerships with restaurants.
Do the same with:
- Corporations (for their out of town guests)
3. Video Documenting
You have a beautiful golf course. You've probably heard people tell you to get on social media.
Hire someone to take video of you and your staff and the course for a certain number of hours per day.
Then have them create little videos to upload to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
Someone hitting on a hole. A putting contest amongst the employees. Lessons on the driving range.
Documenting is a good way to get good content without having to plan things out. You can still plan things out, but that can often lead to writers block.
Ask your staff to see who likes video. Have them document things for 2-3 hours a day and then give them another 1-2 hours to edit and post.
Podcasts, local radio, local television and more.
You're looking for exposure. Guesting is when you go where the audiences are and give interviews, tips, etc. to provide valuable content in return for exposure.
Aim for one guesting spot every month. It might start out slower in the beginning, but seek out the media in your area. Talk about your course. Give golf tips. You could even give grass growing tips. Anything helpful that people are looking for.
5. Junior Program
This is a long-term play, but it's critical to the future of golf.
Starting a junior program, even if it's a little unofficial, is a huge way to win over lifetime customers.
People are greatly influenced by where they spend their time. If you get a kid spending time around the game and around your course the chances are very good that they will be lifetime golfers and lifetime customers.
Make it known that kids are welcome at the course to chip and putt during certain times of the week. Maybe even create a specific practice area for them for all times. Let them use the lost and found clubs or donated clubs and balls.
Let them hit balls on the driving range. Have a program that allows them to work their way onto the course. They play three holes with volunteers (adults that love your course) and if the kid shoots a certain score on those holes they graduate to nine holes. Then 18. Then they can go solo.
No lost balls, faster play, natural feel
Look at your operations for ways to improve the experience for all golfers.
Two big issues for golfers are:
- Lost balls
- Slow play
Cut down trees. Maybe cut back on the water hazards and forced carries. Golfers don't like losing golf balls. A course can still be challenging for all skill levels without losing a ton of golf balls.
In the UK they have made fast play part of the culture. Workers on courses walk around and encourage slow groups to pick up the play. Not in a nasty way, but in an encouraging way.
Look to make fast play part of the culture. With your members and those that play often. Also with your juniors. Let it bleed into everybody that comes.
These ways aren't all sexy when it comes to getting golfers at your course. But over the long-term they can work great to get people to come to your course and then keep coming to your course. Implement them today and it could lead to a better experience for your customers, your staff and your community.