Knowledge Library

Sign of the times: rapid adoption of pre-payment online

Apr 29, 2020

“Necessity for doing business,” say course operators

When COVID-19 recedes and Beekman Golf Course returns to normal, the staff might not have to resume its love-hate relationship with the golf shop phone. This spring’s bizarre circumstances caused the 27-hole course outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to require that all bookings be made online and all fees paid at time of booking. General manager Jon Phillips, who’s also a co-owner of the facility, was forced to enact this policy and now dearly hopes he can keep it in force.

“Warm weather got here early and just about every activity besides golf was banned,” says Phillips. “We held a meeting to figure out how we could handle the demand while keeping ourselves safe and the golfers safe. Having every staff member picking up the same phone and having golfers coming into the shop for check-in were clearly unsafe practices. We found a way to avoid both.”

Technology allowed Beekman’s skeletal staff to funnel golfers from the parking lot to the first tee while maintaining social distancing and preventing people from touching objects and surfaces others had also touched. Stir-crazy golfers responded unflinchingly, to protect their own well-being and to keep the course from having to close.

“When you called our phone, the greeting would tell you to book online and pay in advance,” says Phillips. “People learned about the new rule that way or they found out from their friends – there was a lot of word of mouth about it.” There was also a lot of cooperation because Beekman’s regulars and newcomers understood that they were taking all the right steps necessary to make their golf environment safe. For the staff, online booking was gold – keeping it that way has emerged as a new priority.

“I keep thinking about the 1,500 calls we get every week in the summertime,” says Phillips. “If we can stick with our payment policy – now that customers are getting in the habit – we can eliminate the majority of our phone calls each week, which would make running our business 100 times simpler and improve the level of service we provide.”

Once he realized his standard procedures were out the window, Phillips contacted GOLFNOW and requested details about the pre-payment option. Senior Specialist Scott Jewell set to work upgrading the Beekman tee sheet and arranging for prepaid green fee dollars to hit the facility’s bank account.

“Over the past year, GOLFNOW has been continually innovating our payments technology and we were quickly able to pivot to meet the increased demand of providing pre-paid tee times,” said Jeff Foster, senior vice president, GOLFNOW. “Now, more than 500 courses are either offering a prepaid option or have signed up to implement the GOLFNOW technology, a number that continues to grow as more states are opening back up and golf courses start to come back online.”

“I knew GOLFNOW could do this,” Phillips says, “but I was surprised at how rapidly everything happened. Their first step was to flow the cash to us, which they did immediately. Then pretty quickly thereafter they set up our software for tracking deposits and managing the funds internally. During that conversion period I would send Scott 50 or 60 emails a day—it was like he had come to work for us full-time.”

A similar case of innovation in the face of disruption has unfolded this spring for the Country Club of Arkansas and its general manager, Tim Jenkins. Sometime in February, Jenkins found himself on a golf operations online forum devoted to just one topic – the questions and even chaos surrounding coronavirus and its threats to human health and the economy.

“We were able to get out in front of it,” says Jenkins, whose early spring weather in the Little Rock region turned very favorable for golf. He realized that standing in the shop loading 16-digit card numbers and expiration dates into the computer, with the phone ringing constantly, was clearly not viable. “We brainstormed for every idea we could think of until we had an operating format that we felt would ensure safety. Central to that was payment in advance online.”

Jenkins reached out to his GOLFNOW specialist to ask about installing the pre-pay feature and within 48 hours the requirement was built into C.C. of Arkansas’s account. He and his team used their voicemail greeting to explain this new approach and echoed that with plenty of signage—including tournament-style placards on the golf carts with each player’s name and their tee time. When golfers showed up, they found the cart key—disinfected— already in the ignition, plus any beverage or merchandise items they had ordered online. Equipped with the Visage communications system, the carts became rolling receivers of coronavirus information and instruction, another vital tool in the course’s pandemic-countering strategy.

“Our golfers were more than okay with pre-payment,” reports Jenkins, who heard thankful responses to the stocked and staged golf carts. “People would walk over and see their name, see their beer, their range balls, and whatever else they asked for, and they’d be tickled,” he says.

During one busy morning Jenkins paused to reflect that, different as the new system was, it actually bore a strong resemblance to what consumers experience elsewhere. “Think about it,” he says. “How often do our customers fly into an airport, walk past the rental car counter and go straight to their vehicle? I’m going to guess that’s how they do it every time. It’s only golf that was still doing things the old way.”

There’s a long list of inventions that emerged from sudden, disruptive events and occurrences. From what course operators have experienced during this pandemic, you’d naturally expect that pre-payment of green fees online might just join that list.


Surveyed course operators say they’re trying to cope

Apr 20, 2020

New numbers show how pandemic impacts public golf

Unprecedented disruption of day-to-day business at America’s golf facilities prompted GOLFNOW to conduct surveys of golf course operators in March and April – the first concluding on March 26 and the second on April 15. A total of nearly 1,300 responses came back, divided between the two questionnaires. It will come as no surprise that difficulties identified in the first survey were described as all the more challenging in the second one.

The most definitive data point covered by this research—whether the reporting facilities had closed for play—increased from 42 percent to 62 percent, in just the couple of weeks between surveys.

For many of those remaining open, manpower has been reduced by layoffs and furloughs. In the March GOLFNOW survey, 24 percent of respondents reported having laid off at least half their workers. In our April follow-up, that percentage had increased to 39 percent. Another 12 percent responding to the April survey said they had furloughed or laid off between one-quarter and one-half of their workforce.

Mild winter weather in large parts of the U.S. have combined with the shutdown of most entertainment options to actually increase early-spring golf activity in some places. That showed up in this research, with 24 percent saying, in March, that rounds played had increased over the same period in 2019. In the April survey, 15 percent said rounds were even or increased.

Changes to payment practices are under consideration at many courses, with some operators describing online prepayment as a necessity for doing business. Short-staffing has been commonplace and the need to maintain safety precautions is vital, two factors that favor the “park and play” approach and discourage in-shop payment.

A pair of questions in the April survey touched on that topic, the first one revealing that, among respondents who remain open for business, 52 percent are not accepting cash. The second question asked generally about forms of payment and provided multiple response options. A combined 17 percent said they had either “changed to online payments only” or “changed to credit card by phone only.” Six out of 10 said they were still at the golf shop counter, collecting payments and checking golfers in.

Continuing with the shutdown is, not surprisingly, a daunting prospect. When asked in April how long their course could go without green fee revenue during golf season before their business “suffers irreparable damage,” 27 percent said less than one month, 50 percent said from one to three months and the remaining 22 percent said they could go three months or longer.

 


On that basis, interest in government relief is something you would expect course operators to demonstrate. Almost two-thirds, 63 percent, said they had visited the SBA.gov website in search of information about CARES Act programs to assist small businesses in distress as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.

Projections and speculation about the country’s transition from the COVID-19 crisis to a gradually more open economy have mentioned golf as an activity more easily restarted than many others. That may be a partial reason for the fairly optimistic outlook that emerges from the April study, which concludes with the question: “What do you expect business levels to be like following the COVID-19 outbreak?”

One in three, exactly 33 percent, said business would be “about normal.” A spirited 8 percent said “much better” than before and 22 percent said “slightly better” than before. Meanwhile 29 percent felt it would be “slightly worse” than before the crisis and 9 percent said “much worse.” Researchers who produced the two studies, along with all their colleagues at GOLFNOW, wish to express gratitude to the course partners who took time to complete their questionnaires.

 

EXPLORE MORE ON OUR COVID-19 HUB →


A disinfectant solution for golf carts

Apr 16, 2020

If your course is currently – or soon to be – open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s highly likely the safety of your staff and customers is paramount among your daily considerations. If you’re a conscientious operator, like Kelly Morrow at EagleSticks Golf Club in Zanesville, Ohio, you’ve made all the right moves – incorporated a touchless payment system for online tee times, advocated CDC-recommended social-distancing throughout your facility, collaborated with industry colleagues about best practices – all the while continuing to do your best to keep your working areas and golf cart fleet sanitized and virus-free.

“We were diligently washing and scrubbing our carts but couldn’t be 100 percent sure we were actually disinfecting them effectively enough to protect our customers,” said Morrow, the course’s general manager. “Plus, we were relegated to whatever products were in stock at the local Walmart, and that was changing day to day. Everywhere we turned, we were met with shortages.”

If you do a little research, you can find a long list of disinfectants available for sale – all EPA-approved and containing active ingredients that destroy the COVID-19 virus. So, problem solved, right? Not exactly.

Those products are extremely hard to come by, according to Nate Clemmer, whose company, SynaTek Solutions, provides turf products, technologies and transactional programs for the golf and agricultural industries. He understands where operators like Morrow are coming from.

“The supply chain is the important thing here,” Clemmer said. “It’s not that these products aren’t being manufactured but, because of the special circumstances we’re all living in right now, most of them are being re-directed to medical facilities first, and rightly so.”

With the help of SynaTek, GOLFNOW is now helping members of its ClubBuy group purchasing organization with the ability to buy an EPA-approved golf cart disinfectant solution at a discount.

NeutraFect solution has been added to the list of ClubBuy products, helping golf course facilities better adhere to safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other medical experts during the COVID-19 pandemic. NeutraFect is found on List N, which is made up of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. When mixed properly, a ½-gallon bottle will yield 32 gallons of disinfectant. The solution also is sold separately or by the case (four bottles; 128-gallon yield).

More information about how to purchase NeutraFect at a discount, as well as Best Management Practices for Golf Cart Disinfection, can be found on the ClubBuy website.

“We are very happy to have access to this resource,” said Morrow, who recently ordered a supply of NeutraFect for his operation. “We intend to use it in ‘high touch’ areas throughout our facility when things ramp back up. I want our customers and employees to feel safe when they are on our watch.”

“When we get to the other side of this curve, I don’t think we’ll get back to what we knew as normal,” Clemmer said. “Safety practices like this can be a really good thing for the industry. If we’re all smart, our ‘new normal’ will permanently adopt new best practices.”

A membership in the ClubBuy purchasing program is free and open to any company, club or organization.

“ClubBuy has become a huge resource for us to not only save money, but also to find solutions,” Morrow said.

 

EXPLORE MORE ON OUR COVID-19 HUB →


GOLFNOW Industry Headlines: April 4th, 2020

Apr 04, 2020

A resource for real-time updates about golf industry news and information related to COVID-19. With over 9,000 golf course partners worldwide, we aim to keep you informed as we move through these challenging times, together.

 

HEADLINES FROM THIS PAST WEEK:

 

March 30th, 2020

 

March 31st, 2020

 

April 1st, 2020

 

April 2nd, 2020

 

April 3rd, 2020

 

April 4th, 2020

 

EXPLORE MORE ON OUR COVID-19 HUB →


Reap the rewards of dynamic pricing

Mar 12, 2020

Better Revenue Management and a Streamlined Operation

Credit for inventing “customer journey” as a service concept goes in part to a Swedish airline executive, Jan Carlzon, who also introduced the world's first separate cabin for business class. The “journey” metaphor went on to become a core idea for anyone who serves the public.

Golfers booking tee times online begin their journey before they actually arrive at the facility. When the reservation can be made with ease—and price options can be factored into the decision—that customer is off to a satisfying start. As dynamic pricing is used more and more in the golf industry, golfers are viewing it as the new normal and operators are appreciating its advantages.

You can see it in practice at Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., where Kyle Backers is the head golf professional. Tee times there—as everywhere—are perishable assets that draw fluctuating demand based on weather, day of the week, time of the day, competing leisure options and multiple other factors. Pricing dynamically downward to sell times in low demand and dynamically upward to capture top dollar for times in high demand is basic logic, as Backers sees it.

“It’s how the hotels and airlines and sports teams do it,” says Backers, “so it’s pretty much expected by anyone who is looking down at their phone and trying to schedule something they want to do.” When Stonewall began pricing dynamically, the clientele barely mentioned it, much less complained about it.

Not all dynamic pricing is created equal, according to those who work with it every day. A golf course might choose to initially use it in the off-season only, or in-season but only midweek, or in some other limited fashion. Nick Hall, a Plus Specialist within GOLF Business Solutions who works with Stonewall Golf Club, has watched the revenue management picture brighten for his partner golf course there. Hall generally sees courses move from partial use of dynamic pricing to full use. Even then, the price matrix on the computer screen can end up showing quite moderate variances in dollar amount.

You can adopt dynamic pricing and still actively manage rates. For Backers, the days when he handled the tee sheet himself were marked by considerable hesitancy. “Having Nick, our specialist, make our price adjustments turns out to be more effective,” he says. “When it was up to me, I was too concerned about making a mistake.”

A basic goal of this digital tool is to increase utilization and maximize revenue, according to Hall, but you do it based on objective data. “Dynamic pricing is not a blunt instrument,” Hall says. “The parts of the week or day that have shown high utilization are tested and often get price-adjusted upward.” He refers to this as “challenging the ceilings” on price. Not long ago at Stonewall, a tee time that was very much in-demand was booked at $11 more per round than a comparable tee time was in previous years. Backers certainly took note of it. “It was a cool thing to see,” he comments. “That foursome of golfers had a choice to buy the time or not and they wanted it.”

Studies show that giving consumers an array of understandable options speeds up their purchase decisions. To the extent the price-selection factor contributes to more people booking online, that’s absolutely a good thing. Having golfers provide their contact data when they book digitally makes database-building more efficient and it changes the atmosphere in the golf shop as the customer journey continues and players check in.

“One thing I love about dynamic pricing is the way it frees you up to connect with the golfers, getting to know them and making sure they have a great experience,” says Backers. “If I didn’t have GOLFNOW running our tee sheet and managing it in a way that brings the most golfers out here, I’d be sitting at the computer doing it myself—and not doing as good a job.” Even merchandising gets a potential lift, according to Backers. “There’s more time for customers to look around and more time to check whether they might need golf balls or a glove or a shirt,” he reports.

Consumer experiences that are “frictionless” are a holy grail of 21st-century marketing. Booking golf using digital tee sheets that are dynamically priced fits with that paradigm. And it fits with what Kyle Backers sees as a new kind of motivation for the golfer of today, versus what he witnessed earlier in his career.

“It used to be a big deal to play the most expensive course, or the hardest course, and impress your friends that you did it,” Backers says. “Now people want to get a decent deal on their green fee, make a hassle-free reservation, enjoy their round, play music in the cart, have drinks after, and just keep it fun.” When he describes a day on the links that way, it sounds like an enjoyable journey indeed.


Market yourself with video

Mar 11, 2020

Fact: Your Golfers Are Visual and Social

It’s no longer enough to just attract new golfers, but the savvy golf course operator also employs strategies that also build relationships to keep them coming back. Sounds like common sense, right?

An innovative breakthrough a generation ago, “relationship marketing” now has become commonplace. Nowadays, course operators are considering the golfer “journey.” It’s important, of course, that golfers buy a tee time from you, but what are some of the methods you should be employing to leverage those purchases to create long-term relationships?

That’s what John Brewer Jr., General Manager of Split Rock Golf Club in Orient, Ohio, has been thinking about for years. With the advent of easy-use handheld technology, one of those ways he’s discovered is to incorporate short videos as a high-powered, highly effective tool in that effort. Teaming up with his GOLF Business Solutions Plus Specialist, Melissa De La Paz, Brewer has been planning, producing and posting weekly videos, then tracking the results and continually refining strategy.

"A local company that does video production and marketing for small businesses made a presentation to us that included some of the results they could deliver, in terms of click-throughs and likes and so forth,” says Brewer. "The numbers were basically the same as what we’re achieving on our own, in our work with Melissa, so that was very satisfying to see.”

An outsourced firm may be able to deliver video content that is more slickly produced, but for the team at Split Rock that doesn't seem to matter. Golfers who follow “The Rock” on Facebook and enjoy the videos don't mind Brewer’s simple approach.

“We're doing this to start a conversation with our customers and see where it leads," says Brewer." It's personal. It’s not fancy in the least, and maybe that's why people come into the shop and start talking about our videos and ask us what we’re planning to do next.”

All marketing and selling should conclude with a call-to-action—that’s the accepted wisdom. But in relationship marketing the action isn't necessarily a purchase. In 2019, Brewer worked with de la Paz on a video promoting a used-ball donation drive that resulted in some 20 golfers showing up with buckets of shag balls that had been gathering dust in their garages.

“We had an unexpected range ball shortage and I know for a fact that half our players have a big stash of scuffed balls they can’t seem to toss out," explains Brewer. “We put out our request via video and got a great response. Everybody was talking about it—that's the whole point anyway, the back and forth interaction.”

Mike Hendrix, Vice President of Clubhouse Solutions, agrees completely with the Split Rock concept of video that is home-cooked, folksy and sincerely personal. The point of it is pure connection, not communication of the sort a marketer would use to convince consumers they should change cell phone providers or have their home checked for termites. Getting your home checked for termites might be a necessity but, unlike playing golf, it’s not something you actually want to do.

“When you are selling golf," says Hendrix, “you're basically inducing a person to do the thing they want to do. They want to engage with their favorite activity in their favorite environment. So, let’s just get the engagement process started—and video is the tool for that. It’s natural and easy to consume video—especially on your smartphone, which is where so much content gets consumed these days anyway.”

Led by Hendrix and Clubhouse Solutions Specialist Gabriela Vaughan, the GOLF Business Solutions team produce Clubhouse Bulletin, a rapidly growing video newsletter customized for private clubs as a way for them to connect with members. In this case, the homemade look and feel isn't appropriate, yet there's still a need for a warm, upbeat and personal tone. The natural ease and charm of on-air personality Bailey Chamblee supply those qualities.

By using broadcast-quality production elements, with the GOLF Channel Newsroom as a backdrop, a Clubhouse Bulletin segment holds a viewer’s attention as it delivers engaging content—news, events and important updates. Other production values include professional course imagery, a scrolling information ticker and club-specific branding in each video.

“Club GMs and officers will view a sample segment and assume there's a high cost to get involved," says Hendrix. “But the cost of entry for a club to add this powerful communication tool and really build engagement is very reasonable.” While it's generally a means of connecting with and retaining the existing member, Clubhouse Bulletin enrollment also allows a club to create an outreach video showcasing it for potential new members.

Humans are wired to process information visually––it's how our brains work. Human golfers are wired to enjoy their experiences at your course or club by personally connecting with the people who provide them with service and a great product. Short videos inviting viewers to come and enjoy themselves will make a strong impression—and produce business results that make everyone happy.


Instructor Plus offers the teaching Pro expert consultation, proprietary management tools

Mar 11, 2020

What's good for the golf course is good for instructors, too.

The past decade has brought waves of sophisticated technology to help dedicated golf instructors diagnose swing flaws, communicate with students, design drills with biofeedback and generally bring a scientific process to the lesson tee. What instructors haven’t been offered—until now—is support to address the business challenges and missed opportunities that have long frustrated them.

The remedy to all that is Instructor Plus, a comprehensive and customizable technology platform and service for golf instructors. Inspired by GOLF Business Solutions’ Plus management and marketing service —currently being used by nearly 1,400 golf courses nationwide—Instructor Plus combines expert consultation and proprietary management tools. It’s all designed to help instructors improve and sustain their businesses in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

“We know that facilities that have high-quality teachers see more play and more spending from the golfers who engage with their instruction programs,” said Lorin Anderson, vice president of Instruction for GOLF Channel. “Instructor Plus creates continual opportunities to grow this engagement through professionally managed marketing while freeing up the instructor to spend more time on the lesson tee, where he or she is most valuable.”

There’s been enthusiastic response to Instructor Plus in its first year. The technology is one of many business-to-business platforms within the GOLF Business Solutions portfolio. Golf coaches and teachers have been embracing the package, made up of a dedicated marketing agent with a unique suite of technologies. It’s a unique opportunity for teaching professionals to access the expertise and tools they need to customize and boost their marketing, sales, social media and back-office functions. An obvious bonus benefit is having time freed up to concentrate more fully on their students.

The technology behind Instructor Plus is designed to benefit any instructional operation, from sole proprietors to multi-instructor, stand-alone facilities. Instructors can choose between a full-service option or a do-it-yourself Toolkit, which provides the instructor with a customized, mobile-friendly website, robust instruction-scheduling software, an email marketing tool and a coach-student communications app.


Reviews and Ratings: Why they work

Feb 27, 2020

Best practices for reputation management

Average golfers may be ill-equipped to know all the strategies operators incorporate to produce a great golf product, but they are all experts on whether or not they had a good experience at your facility. Here in the digital age, they put that expertise to use by writing online reviews.

It was six years ago in 2014 that online reviews took on such importance within GOLFNOW that a separate business unit, GOLF Advisor, was established in response. Mike Lowe, Vice President and General Manager of GOLF Advisor, has been involved from the beginning 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 recalls. “Within a year, GOLF Advisor had become the Internet’s leading source for golf course reviews.”

According to the industry research group ReviewTrackers, U.S. consumers see themselves in a dialogue with businesses they review. Seven out 10 surveyed customers said they expect to get a reply from brands they review. Approximately 52 percent of those surveyed say that when posting a review that’s positive they expect a reply within seven days. When posting a review that’s negative, a full 72 percent expect to see a posted reply in that same time span.

Those expectations aren’t generally met, however—63 percent of respondents say they have never heard back from a business after writing a review. Which means your golf course is probably ahead of the game if it responds promptly and appropriately to golfers’ reviews of your product and service.

GOLF Advisor’s rapid trajectory has brought it to a point where the platform now hosts 1 million-plus reviews covering more than 15,000 courses worldwide. The customer-supplied reviews have special value, given the profile data that virtually comes with every one. “You know that the golfer giving five stars on a particular course is 55 to 64 years old with a three handicap,” Lowe explains. “It’s also possible, at times, to have a name associated with a review. This gives anyone who looks at GOLF Advisor the best of both worlds—reviews from actual golfers whom their peers relate to.”

That attention to high-quality content has unquestionably paid off. “When we launched, we had no presence in the search engine rankings,” Lowe says. “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.”

Lowe says his team is blunt in explaining the importance of ratings and reviews to operators who may take a casual approach to them. “There is no cost to respond to reviews, change photos, feature the course’s strongest characteristics and so forth," he continued. “Operators can choose to engage or not to engage, but the ones who do get involved really benefit.”

Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Fla., can attest to that. “To say that GOLF Advisor reviews and ratings have helped the resort is quite an understatement,” said Pat Farrell, Director of Golf Sales. “Golf rounds and golf package growth are up substantially.”

GOLF Advisor sets itself apart from other consumer review platforms because only golf courses are reviewed, no other product or service categories. Also, the other general platforms only have one overall category, so, it's difficult to truly know how into golf the reviewer is. GOLF Advisor not only has the overall category, but six subcategories that let the golfer rate everything from conditions to friendliness. And golfer profiles show how many reviews they've written, as well as the option for handicap and age information. Golfers can filter reviews by which players and reviewers are most like them.

“Even the highest-rated courses receive negative reviews or comments from time to time, said Brandon Tucker, GOLF Advisor managing editor. “If what a review said rings true, an operator can comment on it using their official GOLF Advisor course account. It’s an efficient way to let the review-poster know that their issue is being addressed. It's also totally constructive to point out anything in a review that is a misunderstanding, or statements that are factually inaccurate.”

Thanking someone for complimentary remarks goes a long way toward cementing a loyal customer relationship. And when a golfer cites something that was lacking in his or her experience, acknowledging the issue directly, perhaps even offering a bounce-back round at a discount, is a proven way to restore a customer’s perception.

Tucker likes to remind operators—especially those concerned about negative review—that the overall average for courses is 3.9 stars out of five. “Most golfers are sharing great experiences,” he says. “And on those occasions where there may have been a bad review because of a course condition or a temporary situation at the facility, our algorithm heavily weighs reviews based on recency. A bad review in the distant past isn’t going to poison your rating forever.”

Reviews are valuable currency, and the more a course has, the better. “Print up business cards that ask golfers to visit GOLF Advisor and rate their round,” Lowe advises. “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.”

It helps to include a link to the course’s website in email and social communication, and to add a ratings widget to it. Courses can ask their GOLF Business Solutions rep for window decals and other signage. But face-to-face communication is also key. Pro shop staff, greeters and outside service staff should all be asking for feedback on the experience.

If you have a GOLF Business Solutions booking engine, you can have your rep turn on post-interaction emails to trigger a notification to golfers to write a review based on their last visit.

Finally, Lowe reminds 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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Solutions for golfer acquisition

Feb 27, 2020

Here’s an unfortunate scenario when it comes to golfer acquisition: You welcome a first-time customer who pays his green fee in cash, plays his round and drives away, leaving only his name from the reservation. No other personal data was captured.

Professionals who specialize in golfer acquisition might give you credit for an acquired new golfer but ONLY if you’ve got a way of communicating with that person on a programmatic basis.

Take it from Nicole Roach, Senior Director, Consumer Marketing for GOLF Business Solutions, who makes it her mission to encourage golf course managers to always be thinking about adding to their “audience” of golfers who can be marketed to effectively. Solid golfer acquisition and retention strategies not only make good business sense, they also are critical to a truly successful operation.

In fact, someone who actually booked but didn’t play your course still counts, in her book. The golfer you’ve never heard of who books a round but then cancels should still be considered one more you’ve acquired, she believes. “You add that person’s data and now your audience is one golfer ahead,” Roach says. “Audience building is what it’s all about.”

It’s common knowledge that acquiring a new customer is way more costly than retaining one you’ve already got, so it’s worth being a little bit scientific about the newly acquired. Roach believes a course can benefit greatly by subdividing acquisition into multiple categories and tracking the progress of each.

“Someone can play your course once, play it multiple times, or join your loyalty program – those are all ways of including them in your acquisition data,” she says. “This qualifies as ‘acquisition’ if you can just get the person to provide a name and email address or get them to sign up for your SMS messages containing offers and other content.”

It helps to know certain patterns underlying your course’s play. So, if you recorded 25,000 rounds last year, was there an 80-20 rule in which 2,000 golfers played 10 times each and the other 5,000 rounds were played by a couple thousand folks playing a few rounds each? Roach points out that when you acquire Golfer A and Golfer B, one may have been totally worth the effort, the other less so.

“One way to look at it is to ask whether a given round could have been booked at a higher rate than what you actually got,” she says. “You make that happen by increasing the part of your audience that is relatively less cost-sensitive.” It’s valuable to know your total “uniques,” she says, i.e., the number of different people who teed it up at your course.

To determine a comfortable cost-per-acquisition (CPA), Roach suggests looking at your gross margin (per round) across a full year of operation and using that as a benchmark. “If your margin per round is $8, spending $8 in marketing and other outreach efforts to acquire a golfer is very sensible,” she says. Obviously, you’re not devoting all your profits to this one purpose, just using the margin metric to create an acquisition rule of thumb.

If you’ve plugged along and amassed a fairly large and relatively active pool of golfers who are engaged with your course, you don’t want to slide backward. No database goes a year without drop-offs, but the GOLF Business Solutions viewpoint is that losses should be minimal. “It should always be under 5 percent, and with our client courses we shoot for under 1 percent,” she says.

How does a golfer you’ve acquired become one that you’ve lost? That’s always the little mystery that needs solving. It starts with defining the period where the losses occurred and looking closely for whether any notable changes were made. “‘What did we do differently’ is the question you want to ask,” says Roach. That could include emailing golfers too often, emailing them too seldom, changing your message, discontinuing specials, or some other shift.

“That’s where email is particularly helpful,” Roach says. “It gives you the most response data. You can count your opens and click-throughs and usually find what you need to reverse a negative trend fairly quickly.” Of course, there are trends in your database and trends in play—two different (though perhaps parallel) performance areas. On the play side, loss consists of the “defector” whom you’ll program into the software as a somewhat regular customer—with a per-year minimum number of rounds—who stops showing up. “You can set that for 30-, 60-, and 90-day flags to be sent up,” says Roach. “You’re talking about a player who’s gone dormant that the course wants to reactivate more than re-acquire—and there are incentives you’ll use to make that happen.”

Caring for the database that holds and shows your acquired golfers is like caring for the turf on your fairways and greens. Frequent and consistent checkups are the way to go. “We suggest that courses look at their databases on a monthly basis, at least—really the more frequently the better,” Roach says. “That lets you see your trends and gives you a way to aggregate enough results to make good conclusions, plus sufficient time to plan your next initiatives.”

Golfers have lots of choice, so the very fact that you’ve built a large following of players who are engaged to a certain degree and could become more so is a tribute to the quality and consistency of what you bring to market. And some of them you’ll please to such a degree that they’ll find you downright captivating. 

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Keeping stats on your teaching business is the key to success

Feb 10, 2020

Any veteran teacher will have a general feel for when things are going well, but the one way to be sure is by the numbers. Here are your key indicators.

We don’t truly know if we’re succeeding unless we can mark our progress using metrics—and stay on track by checking our numbers over time. That’s a fact of business life that only recently has gained major importance in golf instruction.

So, when a golf coach is asked how things are going, and they say, “My business is great,” they’re not providing much of an answer. The natural follow-up question would concern year-to-date gross revenue. What’s that number? Next question after that: How am I trending compared to my 2020 goals? And it’s always good to ask the simple question: How many lessons did I teach last month?

It’s natural to conclude that business is good because you can make the mortgage payment or because you felt like you were on the go all day. But imagine if you could use goal-setting, long-term strategy and ongoing measurement to boost your business 15 percent—or 25 or even 50 percent. Wouldn’t you want to give that a try?

If you agree with the premise, next step is selecting the stats and metrics to load onto your spreadsheet. Here’s a partial list:
 

  • Total lessons taught
  • Type of lesson taught
  • Total revenue
  • Revenue by category
  • Total fittings
  • Average order value
  • Close percentage
  • Renewal percentage
  • Number of referrals
  • Range revenue per student
  • Rounds played by students
  • Food and beverage sales to students

In choosing what numbers to track, you’ll want to consider what your club or facility cares most about. Which metrics will help you illustrate the monetary value you bring to the table? What coaching-related activity most drives the overall success of the club? What’s most important to the facility’s bottom line? And, obviously, what’s most important to your own bottom line?

Managing by measuring is always a three-phase exercise—historical, current and future business. Start simple: How many lessons do I have scheduled in the next month? Next three months? Next 6 months? Next 12 months? Going out a full year may seem like overkill, but once you set up that data point you’ll want to continue monitoring it.

Your lessons-scheduled may be your most important indicator of success. The more lessons you have scheduled, the more you’re going to teach. The more you teach, the more people get better. The more people get better, the more they buy, and the more they tell their friends about your services.

When you’re the busiest game in town you can also charge more for your services. Funny how charging more should reduce the number of students you have but often has the opposite effect—there’s a real perception out there that more expensive coaching means better coaching.

A high volume of lessons on the books is important for your business but it’s even more important for your students’ improvement. So often there is a long span of time between lessons with a student only to have them come back looking the same as they did before their previous lesson. Movement patterns take time in ingrain. The more time you have with your students the more likely they are to get better.

Meanwhile, all that time spent with students will strengthen the relationship and deepen the trust. That additional trust will open up more opportunities for clubfitting and therefore merchandise sales as well as golf trips and other potential revenue streams. Again, none if this is as important as your students playing better golf. The additional time spent with them will take you beyond just being a pro they come to for tips. It will allow you to become their golf advisor, their friend and—most important—their trusted coach.

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