The kids of today are going to be the golfers of tomorrow. Clubs need to understand that while the average age profile of a UK golfer (the GUI has no average age for Ireland) is 42, younger golfers live and breathe Social Media and the World Wide Web.
All their information comes through these channels and clubs need to embrace this ‘new’ frontier. Social Media is growing in importance in the game of golf, with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram all highly relevant. Every golf club should consider how to use these channels effectively as they can reach new audiences, acquire constructive feedback and stay abreast of what is being talked about in the world of golf. A club member should manage all the Social Media accounts to ensure consistency when promoting the club. Photographs of the course, events, wildlife, greenkeepers at work and happy golfers will keep followers engaged, as well as local news of interest. But it is essential to learn how to use these channels to your best advantage.
Your website is your calling card, a shop front of what your club has to offer. When a visitor looks at your website they want to know they’ll enjoy a great day out. Show them the course, the facilities and the clubhouse with high quality photography. Alas, too many clubs have poor images which don’t show off their course’s unique charms. Don’t be shy to promote recent investments, special offers and membership deals. Be proud of your history and any famous visitors or home-grown stars. Finally, make sure the website is easy to navigate and not just focused on members. Also, help potential visitors by including local accommodation options (e.g. Kenmare and Galway golf clubs) and other events and attractions in the area (e.g. Fermoy and Westport).
Say thank you. How difficult can it be to thank visitors, either after their round or by email! If they give feedback on the course through Social Media or sites such as Trip Advisor, thank them for their input and respond to comments. Never be defensive if someone makes a negative comment. In fact, if you’re dealing with a dissatisfied customer outline how you’re addressing their concerns and invite the golfer back.
One of the pioneers of modern advertising, John Wannamaker (1838-1922), said: ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ So, if your marketing plans include advertising online or in magazines and newspapers, use an unique code on each ad and include a special offer (e.g. 10% off green fees, free coffee and scone on arrival…). By quoting this code (online or by phone) visitors will enjoy something extra and you can track which ads deliver the best bang for your buck.
Treat visitors with respect… not just when they arrive but also when they are booking. If there is a large society going out ahead of them, they should be told… if hollow-tining has just taken place, they should be told… if parts of the course are out of play (e.g. flooded bunkers), they should be told. You get the picture. Visitors turning up to play a course that is not at its best, when they haven’t been informed, are guaranteed to be unhappy. Remember: customers will tell more people about a bad experience than a good one. And if visitors start buying up half the Pro shop, then a small discount on their green fee isn’t too much to ask.
Use international golf tournaments – the Majors, Ryder/Solheim Cup, The Olympics – to create interesting/novel events. Esker Hills ran a highly successful four day event around the Masters to celebrate Shane Lowry’s participation at Augusta. Look at different formats (scramble/rumble) and different prizes. Consider how to promote the event to a wider audience – try Social Media for starters – with a four week lead time. Have lucky dips, charity flavoured extras (beat the Pro/General Manager) and special food dishes related to that international tournament.
Understand the importance of adding value… not just discounting. Knocking 50% off your green fee may attract visitors to the course during quiet periods but it is unlikely to build a long term, profitable relationship. Chances are, visitors will come back expecting the same deal. If, instead, you add value, then you have a better chance of building a relationship because the visitor knows your green fees up front. Buy a green fee… get second green fee half price… get a free starter/pint in the restaurant… get a sleeve of golf balls… Adding value strengthens your brand. Discounting – although useful as part of a marketing strategy – does not.
Focus on family. One of the key downsides of golf is the amount of time it takes. It is an oft-cited reason why people don’t play or they give up. So why not look at ways to involve more of the family. It doesn’t even have to be 18 or 9 holes: think of a game around the practice green. Tie in with a barbecue or something for the kids and the place will be buzzing.
Don’t be afraid to be innovative. As Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Rathsallagh did a green fee and breakfast deal which included a second green fee for free - so once you played you received a second green fee that allowed you to play during the next four weeks.
Cobh Golf Club has a loyalty scheme where golfers who play in four of their Friday Opens will be able to play the fifth one free. And Galway Bay Resort have fun with their Greenkeepers’ Revenge day, where all manner of obstructions are placed around the course and on the greens.
There is such a thing as free marketing. Social Media is free because you don’t have to pay (although you can if you want to) to reach your potential audience. Yes, it takes time and effort to understand how best to use it and to get the most from it, but an active, impactful Social Media will reach thousands. Don’t ignore the power of press releases... assuming they’re well written and well targeted. Choose your stories and media outlets (be it local press or international golfing websites) carefully to maximise exposure and success.
Have good signage on the course. Well positioned and high quality signs make you look far more professional and help to speed up play. Join forces with neighbouring courses and take the ‘stronger together’ approach by creating packages which will work to everyone’s advantage. Consider passports (e.g. €129 for the Wild Atlantic Way Golf Pass for Westport, Connemara and Carne) or arrange consecutive Open Days to make your area more attractive to visiting golfers.
Clubs already implement many of these ideas but maybe it’s time to try something different to entice new members, and more green fees. It was Albert Einstein who said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”