Knowledge Library

Destination golf pivots strategies during pandemic

Oct 26, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has been both good and bad for the golf industry. On the plus side, tee times are booked solid. The down side is reduced food and beverage revenue due to state and local restrictions on dining, as well as limitations on how special occasions, like weddings, can be hosted.

But as the pandemic persists and the seasons shift for golf courses across the country, perhaps one of the more pressing issues on the minds of many operators located in destination markets is the expectation of a drop in seasonal tourist business due to travel restrictions – both real and perceived.

The latest GolfNow Industry Roundtable, moderated by GolfNow’s Vice President of Sales Jerramy Hainline, discussed these issues and more with three experienced industry leaders from around the country – John Bixler, General Manager of Celebration Golf Club outside of Orlando; Steve Leonard, General Manager of the 36-hole Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale; and Chip Smith, owner of Atlantic Golf Management, which manages four courses and a restaurant in and around Myrtle Beach, S.C. Each shared his unique perspectives on the state, and future, of the game during the hour-long discussion. All three facilities are located in warm-weather tourist areas that are popular with golfers, especially during the upcoming winter months. With international borders currently closed, they’re all adjusting their marketing plans and budget expectations.

Bixler said Celebration Golf Club is bracing for the loss of its international clientele from Europe and Brazil who come for Orlando’s theme parks, golf courses and sunny weather. “We are shifting a lot of marketing efforts to drive markets in the Northeast and Midwest,” he said.

Smith echoed that approach for Myrtle Beach, which relies heavily on Canadian snowbirds. “We are spending a lot more resources going after the Northeast and Midwest, looking at Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago,” he said. “They still can drive in and spend a week or even months in our winter rentals. It is our lowest price time of the year, so we can get very aggressive during that time period.

“We can advertise a $69 per night (package) for golf and room, because it’s an inexpensive time of year. We are ramping up that side of it, getting more aggressive to replace the Canadian market that we’ve enjoyed for so long but don’t have now.”

Leonard said Scottsdale already has experience dealing with the pandemic in high season since the original U.S. wave hit in March during its busiest time of the year, baseball spring training. Not only is Talking Stick still hoping to attract golfers from as far away as Chicago and Seattle, whether they fly or drive, it is also marketing to locals more than ever.

“We are fortunate, too, that we have a large population here in metro Phoenix Arizona and a lot of avid golfers,” Leonard said. “We’ve been focusing really not just on the outreach for the drive-in markets and snowbirds and the leisure traveler, but also ramping up our loyalty programs and attracting the residents here and trying to make sure we are backfilling anything we may be missing from the leisure traveler with our loyalty program, players club and Talking Stick card.”

Unfortunately, charity fundraisers and group outing business have taken a serious blow in 2020. Bixler said it’s been a 50-50 split on whether an event scheduled for this year has been held or postponed. For clients that have hosted events, Celebration figured out how to send out a fleet of carts and serve buffets within COVID-19 protocols to keep people safe. Auctions to raise money have generally been moved online. Fortunately for Bixler, as Florida has eased restrictions, Celebration can host full events again.

“Everyone is thinking outside of the box on how they can still get people here to play golf to participate and to donate money,” Bixler said of group outings. “That’s something every industry is seeing right now. You’ve got to get a little creative. … We are going to continue to evolve as this evolves.”

Leonard emphasized that “THE ISSUE” facing operators heading into the winter season is how to handle single-rider carts. Talking Stick adjusted its pricing strategy this year, so that golfers can choose between a single-cart rate, a shared-cart rate and a walking rate when they book an advanced tee time. It also purchased 24 pushcarts to encourage walking. Leonard said if too many people want single carts, then facilities are going to face inventory issues. “In order to accommodate as many people who want to play golf, operators and golfers are going to have to work together,” he said.

Technology has been a key part of dealing with the pandemic, most notably the rise of pre-paid tee times. Smith said one of his courses will replace the beverage cart with the SmartPlay app through GolfNow’s G1 software that allows golfers to order food and drinks delivered to them on the course. “We are going to experiment with that, and a couple of the communities that have large resident populations in there, if we can perfect it on the golf course, we may even deliver it straight to the homes,” Smith said.

Leonard admits that his 2021 budget forecasts are on the conservative side with the status of spring training up in the air. But positives have emerged. He said area resorts, hotels, courses and attractions are working together now more than ever to market the region collectively. This approach of a ‘rising tide raises all ships’ has been a signature of Myrtle Beach for decades.

“As I like to say it, the consumer, when they come into town, they don’t know who owns what golf courses or who operates the golf,” Smith said of his competitive market. “They just want to have a good time and play the golf courses of their choosing. We have always done a good job of packaging with each other as it benefits everyone involved.”  

Smith shared a heartwarming story of one member who has, when picking up a to-go order, twice left $1,000 tips for the wait staff. Men and women’s golf groups have also taken up collections to be shared among the staff. “That really brought our communities together and made us all feel as one,” Smith said.

Bixler’s most positive takeaway from the pandemic could have the greatest impact on the future of the industry. He said lesson business at Celebration’s golf academy has grown 64 percent and club sales have more than doubled from 2019. “We’ve had an immediate increase in not only lesson package purchases from new players but former players who came back to the game,” he said. “It is just growing immensely.”

To watch the full roundtable discussion CLICK HERE


Rising popularity of golf simulators can generate extra revenue

Oct 19, 2020

Huntingdon Country Club is enjoying its 100th anniversary in 2020 by celebrating the past while looking toward the future. Despite the ongoing health pandemic, the semiprivate club has welcomed new members and experienced a boost in rounds, creating a solid year for the bottom line. But an unexpected revenue-generating opportunity also has turned into the icing on Huntingdon’s celebration cake.

While the best-maintained greens in the area are reason enough to keep golfers coming back to Huntingdon CC, the club’s not one to rest on its laurels. Their decision to renovate an old grill room in a historic section of the clubhouse – and install a Full Swing simulator in the space – also has been a real game-changer this year.

“It really is a great enhancement,” said General Manager John Cook about the golf simulator. “It is offering extra value for the members. They are able to play golf year-round.”

Cook, a long-time member of the Huntingdon CC, was hired as the general manager in 2019 when new ownership took over the club. When he started exploring the idea of renovating the club’s old grill room, he found a large storage area he didn’t even realize existed. It was the perfect size for a simulator, 12 feet by 30 feet with 10-foot ceilings. The bar area of the grill room is highlighted by the wall of champions, a display that celebrates all past champions at the club. It inspired the grill room’s new name, the Champions Sports Bar and Indoor Golf.

To modernize the facility, Huntingdon CC bought new appliances for the kitchen and new furniture for the bar. The entire room was repainted to match new flooring. Two TVs hang on the wall in the bar, and there’s another in the simulator room. After researching which simulator to buy, Cook settled on Full Swing with the updated E6 software. It allows golfers to play some of the world’s best courses, such as Pebble Beach Golf Links, Bethpage Black and Oakmont.

The new bar and simulator room debuted late last December. The winter leagues that started in February surpassed Cook’s expectations by attracting 20 two-person teams. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the bar and the league in the spring but Cook already had seen its potential. A new season will begin again in January and Cook has high hopes that the leagues will gain in popularity.

“My original goal was 10 or 12 two-person teams,” he said. “They like the bar. They like to play golf in the winter. It only takes an hour to play nine holes. It definitely will grow.”

Cook has already seen a difference in his own game: “It feels like real golf. It has helped my game tremendously. I would not touch a club until April (in the past). Now I play November through March.”

The simulator is also open to the public to rent by the hour. Families and businesses can rent out the entire bar for birthday parties or corporate events. A new menu serves pub-style food centered around appetizers and other items that are quick to make – pizza, chicken wings, soups, nachos and more. In addition to golf, the Full Swing simulator offers a variety of other games, where participants can pitch a baseball, hit slap shots at a hockey goalie or throw dodgeballs to knock out zombies.

“It’s like playing video games on your own big-screen TV,” Cook said. “That brings a family atmosphere. I’ve had members bring their kids out to play games. We want to promote that more. We can get 50 people in bar comfortably. With the way it is remodeled, it feels like a very nice tavern. From club standpoint, it is a source of additional revenue in the off-season. It helps us to brand our country club in the community that this is a great place to come. It is a key part of our future business plan.”

Click here to learn more about how GolfNow can help you unlock revenue potential by bringing a Full Swing Golf Simulator to your clubhouse.


PMP Boosts Exposure for Destination Golf Markets During Health Pandemic

Oct 13, 2020

The travel industry has been on shaky ground as of late due to the ramifications of COVID-19. Traditionally flooded with out-of-state visitors checking in with golf clubs in hand, some golf resorts and top courses throughout the U.S. have seen the flow at that tap slow to a drip and now are looking at alternative solutions to fill the gaps.

Some good news was heralded in by the National Golf Foundation, whose data revealed that traveling golfers’ desire to play different courses during the health pandemic has not waned, but now they’re getting to the course by car rather than by air. Two out of three golfers said they will be driving to their next destination this year – even up to seven hours – which has grabbed the attention of marketers now busy shifting their marketing efforts to accommodate a more regional and local focus.

For any golf course looking for that extra marketing edge to help fill its tee sheet and heighten its presence within its market, GolfNow’s Premium Marketing Program (PMP) is a time-tested, enhanced solution.

“PMP is gaining a stronger foothold in the marketplace,” said Jennifer Hanson, National Sales Director for GolfNow Partnerships. “It targets the right golfer at the right moment with the right message to drive traffic to a golf course’s booking engine on GolfNow.

“These additional eyeballs, paired with a high conversion rate, leads to more bookings and, ultimately, more revenue for the participating golf course,” she said. “Our partnership goal is to drive more local traffic to your course, as well as help you stand out to the traveling golfer unfamiliar with the courses in your area.”

Eligible partner courses who invest in PMP benefit from a wide array of advantageous placements and optimized positioning on both GolfNow and Teeoff. The clearest advantage is top placement among the search results seen by golfers when shopping online in a particular market. That top placement has enough prominence to be a real advantage. Other added benefits, like Instagram take-overs, assistance with stay-and-play packages through Golf Advisor, and opportunities for exposure on GOLF Channel’s Morning Drive, are reserved for PMP participants. The product-development team at GolfNow has tweaked and improved the program steadily, using performance analytics along with feedback from course operators. The revenue record over that period tells a powerful tale of effectiveness.

“I realize a lot of courses don’t have the resources, time or expertise to stay on top of their marketing, which makes it more imperative to use the Premier Marketing Program,” said Joe Dahlstrom, Chief Operating Officer, Paradigm Golf Group. Paradigm manages a portfolio of more than 15 private, resort and daily fee golf facilities throughout the U.S., including Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas, Nev.; Dobson Ranch Golf Course in Mesa, Ariz.; Palm Beach National Golf and Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Maui Nui Golf Club in Hawaii.

“For no out-of-pocket expense, you can have some of the industry’s best marketers keep your property top of mind through digital, social and email campaigns,” he said. “In addition, being part of PMP gives you access to top quality data and the ability to reach new customers with special offers, branding messages and more.  We have had huge success with the program.”

PMP golf courses are part of an exclusive group, with just over 1,300 enrolled in the program. Being a good fit is all about how engaged and energized an operator is, and whether the course’s strategic ideas align with the concepts on which PMP is based.

A welcome destination for golfers since 1972, Palmbrook Country Club in Sun City, Ariz., has never been a course to rest on its laurels, making it a great PMP partner. “The PMP program has been great for gaining access to golfers that we weren’t exposed to before,” said Director of Golf Mark Kruse, who joined the PMP program in July. “It also broadened our reach with golfers online and our social media platforms have gotten more popular since we started.”

PMP courses are also featured in daily emails to the platform’s golfer database, which are geo-based. A major benefit is appearing in the “Best Bets” email—this is exclusive to the PMP level of partnership and when you land in that spot you are the only option the golfer—arriving with cash in hand and intention to buy a tee time—will see.

“That’s 100 percent share of voice,” says Hanson, with emphasis on the once-weekly email, “which by any measure is a huge value.” In addition to that exclusive Best Bets positioning, participating courses also gain access to the “Book Early” email. It spotlights PMP partners and is delivered to golfers’ inboxes based on their booking behavior and similar course interests.

To learn more about the PMP program, click here


Keeping up with the golf surge

Oct 01, 2020

The golf participation surge experienced during the current health pandemic has been one of the few bright spots for many golf courses around the world. But the rush to the first tee hasn’t come without its challenges. Golf course operations are now busier than ever.

Considered a safe sport for social distancing and the lack of available recreational alternatives have made golf the first choice for an entirely new type of clientele. Although April took a huge hit during the peak of course closures, total online rounds have been up year over year for every month since, according to GolfNow. Additionally, the National Golf Foundation has reported the number of beginners, returners and youth are up considerably, and golf could see an increase of a half a million junior golfers by the end of the year.

Combine this increase in demand with new operational safety protocols required during the pandemic and you have a recipe for added stress and strain on your staff.

So, while all of this is happening around you, ask yourself … Are you keeping up with the increased call volume from interested golfers? Are you able to answer each call and satisfy all the questions while adequately tending to golfers who need your attention in your shop or on your course? Are you also catching those after-hours inquiries when you’re not there?

These are important questions for any golf course operator. While booking online steadily becomes a preferred method of booking a round of golf, the telephone remains the leader in the clubhouse, by far. If you don’t have a telephone strategy, you could be missing out on new customers and incremental revenue.

El Rio Golf Club, a Matt Dye-designed, 18-hole championship course located in the heart of Arizona’s Mohave Valley, recently began utilizing the phone expertise provided by GolfNow’s Answers service.

“We pride ourselves on our outstanding customer service, but we also are a smaller staff so we’re not always available to answer phone calls at busier times,” said JJ DeLeon, General Manager. “We added GolfNow Answers just over a month ago and so far, it has been a great addition to ensure we never miss a call, whether it’s an inquiry about a tee time, membership, or even tournament and banquet referrals. It’s also contributed to helping improve our overall business efficiency.”

According to Todd Triplett, Vice President for Sales & Customer Success at GolfNow, every call is optimized.  For example, if assisting a golfer with a tee-time reservation, the Answers service professional also captures additional information that can be used to market back to the golfer.

“Golf course staff have enough responsibilities on their plates without having to remember capturing the extras that are automatically included as part of our Answers service,” Triplett said. “It’s standard procedure for us to collect email addresses and other important information that can be added to the course’s GolfNow database for future correspondence with the golfer.”

Additionally, consumers these days are increasingly relying on technology to help them communicate through a variety of channels. And lately, instant messaging has become a popular option. Because the industry is more open to change than ever before, added features to the Answers service also includes two-way texting, Facebook Messenger and website chatting. These features provide yet another way for golf courses to communicate with their golfers and widens the channel of opportunity for more productive business transactions.

Click here to learn more about GolfNow Answers. 


Hawk's Landing Golf Club Partners With GolfNow

Sep 10, 2020

Distinctive 12-Hole, Palm Springs Layout Will Benefit from GolfNow’s Comprehensive Distribution Platform and Marketing Services

ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 1, 2020) – GolfNow today announced a new partnership with Hawk’s Landing Golf Club in Yucca Valley, Calif., providing the club with GolfNow’s industry leading technology and services, as well as access to the world’s largest tee-time marketplace. The partnership builds on an agreement the club previously established with EZLinks Golf, now a GolfNow company.

Located in the high desert just 30 miles from Palm Springs, Hawk’s Landing Golf Club will continue to benefit from the industry’s leading EZLinks-branded technology and now – as a new member of the GolfNow online marketplace – also will be introduced millions of golfers who regularly use GolfNow to search for and book tee times.

“Our club offers a unique California playing experience and we’re excited about being part of the GolfNow platform where we can share with more golfers interested in finding an easy way to search for and book tee times at our course,” said Hawk’s Landing Owner Cindy Melland.

As part of its upgraded technology and keeping to state-mandated safety protocols, the club also is utilizing GolfNow’s contactless, pre-paid technology, which allows golfers to book and pay for tee times remotely and in advance. The club also will benefit from enhanced exposure through GolfNow’s Premium Marketing Program.

Featuring two, six-hole loops, Hawk’s Landing offers golfers a complete golfing experience but in less time than a traditional 18-hole round requires. Award-winning architect Cary Bickler’s design allows golfers a variety of playing options, while offering striking contrast between rolling greens and desert beauty.


Clubhouse Solutions’ Marketplace Leads & Tee Times development platform for private clubs is a win-win for golfers and facilities

Aug 04, 2020

Like many of its private contemporaries, Cattail Creek Country Club, which dubs itself one of Maryland’s family-friendliest clubs, had been feeling the economic pinch since the recession that gripped the economy in 2008. Membership at the club, located approximately 30 miles outside Baltimore, had been strong earlier in the decade but was beginning to be challenged over the subsequent years, and dues and revenue from outings and other events were no longer enough of a financial buoy for the club to either maintain or grow.

“For many years, our club was stuck in neutral with membership growth,” said General Manager Bill Jankowski. “We needed a solution that would increase our marketing efforts and gain exposure to our fantastic amenities.”

Always an innovative thinker, Jankowski tapped into his creative side in his search for a solution. In 2019, he entered into a partnership with GolfNow, exposing his club to an entirely new audience through GolfNow’s industry leading tee-time distribution platform, as well as taking the opportunity to leverage the marketing power of NBC Sports to generate outside revenue.

The initiative was immediately successful, garnering 50 new members in the first year, the most successful year of new-member recruitment since the club’s inception. Naturally, visiting golfers were so impressed by Cattail Creek’s course that some inquiries for membership arose from the incremental guest play. And the revenue the club generated from additional member-guest tee times booked through GolfNow has returned its investment in the platform several times over.

After similar success stories at other clubs, GolfNow developed a dedicated Marketplace Leads & Tee Times product in early 2020 under its growing, private club-facing Clubhouse Solutions division.

“Having guided Cattail Creek and other clubs toward better financial health through tee-time partnerships with GolfNow, we knew there was an entire private club business with this model,” said Rick Coffey, national sales manager for Clubhouse Solutions.

Since transitioning to Marketplace Leads & Tee Times, Jankowski says he already has netted 25 new members in 2020 – 18 joining after May 7 – even amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We have focused on our partnership with Clubhouse Solutions as our main source of marketing and club exposure,” says Jankowski. "Clubhouse Solutions has given us the resources to modernize and increase our marketing efforts to a whole new level, which has directly related to an increase of membership inquires and more importantly membership growth.

"We are focused on maximum exposure of our club and our great partnership with Marketplace Leads & Tee Times through Clubhouse Solutions has given us that advantage."