When was the last time you spent money without first checking reviews and ratings online? Verifying what others think of the product or service has become integral to the buying process. It’s true for washing machines, hotels, restaurants, shoes and plumbers. It’s even true for golf courses.
Mike Lowe, Vice President and General Manager of GOLF Advisor, has been involved since it’s inception with golf’s leading source of course ratings and reviews.“We saw the potential for user-generated reviews and built a great foundation on GOLFNOW,” he said. “Within a year of our launch as a separate brand in February 2014, GOLF Advisor already had become the internet’s leader, having aggregated nearly 300,000 reviews.”
GOLF Advisor’s rapid trajectory has continued hosting nearly 900,000 reviews covering more than 15,000 courses worldwide. They’ve recently expanded GOLF Advisor's travel footprint through a new GOLF Channel television series, hosted trips and more. These offerings ensure golfers deciding where they want to play next will begin that search at GOLF Advisor and GOLFNOW.
To benefit users, GOLF Advisor expands its content offerings well beyond merely posting user-generated reviews. Trust is essential, says Lowe. “When you’re on GOLF Advisor versus Yelp or others, you are getting expert editorial from our writers. These ratings and reviews from the experts are matched up with peer-to-peer reviews. Additionally, from our angle, you know that the golfer giving five stars on the course you are looking at is John Smith who is 55 to 64 years old with a three handicap. It gives you, the golfer, the best of both worlds — reviews from experts and from the actual golfer that you relate to. When our writers say you can expect a great experience, you can see if golfers like you are saying the same thing.”
That attention to high-quality content has paid off. “When we launched we had no presence in the search engine rankings,” Lowe said.
“Today, a major percentage of our traffic comes from search. We rank extremely well for destinations and also really well for golf courses. That strong SEO presence not only is great for getting new customers, but also, once that golfer finds us, they use us as one of their stops. They look to us for advice.”
There is no question that ratings and reviews of your course matter on GOLF Advisor. Lowe says his team is blunt in explaining that fact to operators who may take a casual approach to customer reviews or ignore them altogether.
“It’s free, there is no cost to them to respond to reviews, change photos, feature their strongest characteristics and so forth," he continued. "They can choose to engage or not to engage. But the fact is we see the golf courses who do get involved really benefit.”
Mission Inn Resort & Club in Orlando can attest to the benefits. “To say that the GOLF Advisor reviews and ratings have helped the resort is quite an understatement,” said Drew Toth, director of sales and marketing. “Golf rounds and golf package growth are up substantially.”
Michael Bowery, director of golf for Mission Inn, echoed that view. “We have a whole mix of business we have cultivated over the years — corporate business, golf tournaments, fundraising events. When we get everyone together before a shotgun start, I’ll share the story about how special this place is. When I tell them they are about to play El Campeón and it is consistently a top-rated golf course in the state of Florida on GOLF Advisor that gets their attention.”
Bowery pointed out Mission Inn’s exemplary ratings and reviews on GOLF Advisor are a key element in the selling process.
“The tough part is getting the golfers’ attention and getting them out here. Once they get here and experience Mission Inn, they come back. I mean, we have a group that has returned every year for 43 years. But when people are planning a golf event in Orlando, and they see our rankings are so high, they add us to their rotation. Ratings and reviews are the most powerful part of the marketing mix,” Toth said simply.
To maximize its power, you must nourish your connection to the golfer and engage them in the review. Thanking someone for complimenting your course goes a long way to cementing a loyal customer relationship. And when a golfer cites something that was lacking in his or her experience with your course? Acknowledging the customer’s issue directly, perhaps even offering a bounce back round at a discount, is a proven way to restore a customer’s perception. Their review is also feedback to guide what to fix at your facility, especially if you see the same complaint more than once.
Lowe likes to remind operators — especially those concerned about negative reviews — that the overall average for courses is 3.9 stars out of five. “Most golfers are sharing great experiences. And on those occasions where there may have been a bad review because of course condition or a temporary situation at the facility, our algorithm heavily weighs the most recent six months. A bad review in the past isn’t going to poison your rating forever.”
Whether it’s mitigating a less-than-stellar review or upping your ratings review game and reaping the rewards, Lowe offers some simple advice any operation can start employing today:
“Enthusiastically and consistently solicit reviews.”
Reviews are valuable currency, and the more you have, the better. Remind golfers throughout your facility. “Print up business cards that ask golfers to visit GOLF Advisor and rate their round,” Lowe said. Have your cart and bag drop staff pass the cards out. Train them to ask every customer about his or her round and ask for the review. Some operations have iPads available so employees can ask for the review right there with the customer.
“And most importantly train all of your staff to greet guests, communicate politely and deliver top-shelf service. I work with some courses that reward any employee who gets called out in a review by name. That’s one way to incentivize great service and ensure a great review,” says Lowe.
Finally, Lowe advises all courses to put their best foot forward on GOLF Advisor by updating photos and content and to dedicate some time daily to engaging with reviewers. Two-way conversation is your opportunity to thank customers, acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake and show every potential customer the experience they can expect.
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