New GolfNow initiative beckons entire communities to the golf facility

Getting creative with good causes, food trucks, footgolf

A golf course can be an intimidating place for the uninitiated. Not knowing how to play the game, understanding golfers’ jargon or using the proper etiquette can tend to create cultural boundaries.

But what if we could carve some entryways into those invisible walls surrounding golf courses? Catherine Brabazon and Jesse Seno are giving that question serious thought. As Business Service Specialists with GolfNow Plus, they’ve been developing programming ideas for their golf course partners aimed at merging the inner world of the course with the outer world of the surrounding community.

“With a little creative thought, golf courses can find ways to attract their local communities to their facilities, and it doesn’t always have to do with playing golf,” said Seno, “although there are some terrific ideas around golf, too.” He mentions initiatives that have appeal to residents with varied interests, like food events, association meetings, and outdoor activities attracting enthusiasts of all kinds.

As an example, Seno and Brabazon point to a project they helped organize, which was tied to the American Cancer Society’s longtime designation of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and all the media exposure it generates. Putting out feelers to a small group of innovation-friendly course partners, they got together with Eagle Marsh Country Club in Jensen Beach, Fla., to create a closest-to-the-pin contest designed to build public goodwill, generate positive publicity and culminate with an awards ceremony drawing both golfers and non-golfers to the venue.

Raffle items were part of the closest-to-the-pin contest, one of the highlights of the cancer-awareness event hosted by Eagle Marsh Country Club. Local community members came out for fun and a good cause.

“All month long, golfers who wore pink to the course would receive a raffle ticket, which was tied to an event Eagle Marsh hosted at the end of the promotion,” explains Brabazon. “In addition to the raffle drawing, the event included a happy hour with food and drink specials, along with a closest-to-the-pin contest on the course’s signature par-3 hole.” A tidy total of $725 was raised from entry fees and presented to the American Cancer Society at the event, which also included prize packages for participants, which were donated by sponsors.

 

The course’s director of golf, Frank Dobbs, took note of a truly electric atmosphere in Eagle Marsh’s grill room during the presentation party. “It was a wonderful idea to stage the closest-to-the-pin contest,” says Dobbs. “The whole program was a huge success and at the same time we were able to support cancer research.” Although the golf facility lies within a real estate development, engagement by Eagle Marsh with non-golfing residents is almost zero. Inviting those folks to enjoy food and drink in support of a good cause turned out to be exactly the way to win hearts and minds. Golf has a long history of interacting with charities by hosting their tournaments, but this put a twist on things by directly engaging the nearby population of both golfers and non-golfers.

According to Seno, there is a “gateway to the gateway” concept at work in existing programs and within the ideas he and Brabazon are developing. He’s referring to player-development programs like Get Golf Ready, which target non-golfers who may be predisposed to giving it a try. Beyond that “latent demand” is everyone else, including people who didn’t realize they had an affinity to play – or may never do so, but still may decide to hold their daughter’s wedding in the clubhouse of the local golf course.

One reference point that supports this kind of thinking by the GolfNow Plus team is Rockwind Community Links, a city-owned golf facility in New Mexico, which was designed from the beginning to include spaces and amenities that serve the community in multiple ways. Rockwind has an 18-hole course, a 9-hole par-3 course, a full-scale learning center, plus an open green space for events, a surrounding trail system complete with multiple trail heads, various outdoor seating areas, picnic spaces and multiple scenic viewing points, including access to the site’s five-acre lake overlooking the golf course.

“We’re pushing to be as creative as possible with our partner courses, all in the name of community connection,” says Brabazon, “while at the same time making sure that the infrastructure will support what we’re hoping to execute.” In the case of Eagle Marsh, it was important that the course’s featured par-3 hole was a very short walk from the parking lot.

Using your parking lot or other green space for an event featuring gourmet food trucks is a trendy – and powerful – way to attract local residents to your golf course. Photo: Getty Images

Indeed, a large and well-surfaced parking lot may well become a more important amenity for GolfNow Plus partner courses in the future. Events centered on gourmet food trucks, which are extremely trendy these days and a powerful draw for gatherings of all kinds, are being sketched out in a variety of ways. FootGolf and Disc Golf also show up on the brainstorming whiteboards. “We’re looking at ways to expand the client base for our partner courses,” says Seno, “and activities like Disc Golf and FootGolf, if planned appropriately and backed by the promotion power GolfNow can bring, make a lot of sense.”

Brabazon says it well when she describes fine golf facilities as gathering spots that people want to experience and at which everyone feels welcome. “The game is skill-based,” she says, “but the golf atmosphere is—or definitely can be—super social. Otherwise there would be no such thing as Topgolf. We want to borrow some of that Topgolf sensibility, in which anyone who gets a sampling could see themselves picking up a club and playing a few holes.”

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