What are the innovative ideas that can improve the golf business?

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We have received a lot of feedback on this blog with some great innovative ideas about changes to the game and business of golf. In our Winter 2011 issue, we will profile the ten most innovative ideas in a feature story, and look at the likelihood of their implementation and success.

So this is a call for entries, so to speak. What are the innovative ideas that we should investigate?

Shorter courses, bigger balls, social media, family memberships? And if someone share an idea, please tell us your thoughts on whether it would work or not. Your response could be published in the magazine.

Jack Crittenden

Editor In Chief


Private Clubs must add value to every members membership. Members will value what they use and if a member uses the club more it then becomes a better value for the money. We need to look at the value of time and services offered. Anything that allows the member to enjoy the Club more frequently will be good. Combining trips saves a member time. Workout facilities or programs associated with health and fitness held at the Club are huge added values for those who do not currently offer health and fitness. Youth camps are extremely valuable to families particularly if the camps are valued by the participants.

Jim, I think it is great that you are profiling new innovative ideas in the winter issue. As for innovative ideas to improve the business of golf, take a look at www.chariteegolf.com. There is a link to a quick video that explains the program. I can't think of any other program that doesn't have any cost, risk or downside to the course, if they don't like it, they can discontinue it at anytime and for any reason and the upside is that it will 1. Increase merch sales $500-$2k a month, 2. dramatically increase the % of golfers who stay after their round in your bar & restaurant, 3. It will raise money for the charity the course designates and 4. It will add a little excitement and value to your golfers' experience. I am interested in people's feedback. We are 18 months and are about to launch in Cal, AZ and FL. If you know a course or good rep in these areas, let us know. Thanks, Mike Burkons Mburkons@Chariteegolf.net

Innovative ideas on how to change the game and business of golf is a a great concept. Identifying the root cause of the problem and then systematically changing, makes more sense to me. If the new and creative ideas are provided to the individuals whom have presently run the business into the ground, aren't we asking for more of the same? It is, and has been my belief that the struggle golf is encountering is purely bad management and, in keeping with the times, no one is willing to stand up and take the responsibility for it. If the way that golf courses have been managed had been successful, then we would not be in this present situation. If the truth about the financial viability of existing golf courses was truly known, some golf courses would just not have been built I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people state “ look at golf course X our club should be like them” I happen to work at those clubs and I know they don’t make money, they look good but carry a significant debt, barely make enough to make payroll and cover operating costs. ROI not even close but, they sure look good! As long as what you want is shown to lose money and you are ok with that then be like them, just prepare to lose money! Do we have too many golf courses? Probably. But, we have more poorly managed facilities than is necessary. Everyone from the developer, architect, General Manager, Superintendent and Golf Professional all have to share in the responsibility of a business gone bad. Keep it simple, people come to a golf course firstly to golf, let’s make that work, then add on the rest later if the finances and rounds are there to support it. Present day Golf Facilities Management for the most part is failing, yet we resist the need to be creative and deviate from the norm! Insanity “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” Golf can recover, it needs individuals and all of the Professional Associations involved in the business to re-evaluate their mandates.

Recently my daughter got an interest in golf due to the high school golf team program. I saw this was a way to get her into to the game as well add varsity letter to her credit on her high school resume. This made dad, a PGA Golf Professional very happy. Her older brothers have always been competitive in baseball and other sports through their high school careers. As a freshman, she is not the greatest player on the team but she has made improvements in her skill level and plays in the top six on the team. Earlier this summer, my daughter, wife, and I were out playing nine on a Sunday afternoon and being the traditional golf professional that I am I began to over teaching and overload her with rules and ways of playing the game in a competitive sense. My daughter became increasingly frustrated and my wife said something that brought me down a notch. She said, “If you don’t make it fun for her, you will lose her.” Wow! How simple an idea was that for her and even me in my approach to teaching and even event planning in our golf facility? I have conducted a couple of the “Get Ready Golf” programs at our facility and I used this same approach to teaching golf to beginners. Golf is intimidating as it is and especially when a person is unsure of the protocol. The over load of information about rules is enough to choke a horse. All of the participants in my “Get Ready Golf” clinics stated they just wanted to have fun at the game and enjoy the company of their family and friends. Competition was not on the forefront of their minds when students learning the game through the clinic. Long story short, making golf fun should be the main focus of introducing the game to all newcomers. Rules are important but not to the point of turning golfers away. Competition will come later when they are comfortable with their abilities. Keep the game affordable, accessible, and attractive may mean we have to chance our approach in retaining those golfers on the bubble. Keep it fun for all ages

Scott I would love to hear more about your program. Would you be able to share your knowledge regarding it with me? Thank you so much!

A story called The Case for 12-to-15-hole golf can be found at http://jaystuller.com/golf/golf/88/the-case-for-12-hole-golf. It describes the ideas of Edwin Roald, a course architect and golf journalist from Iceland, on why courses of non-standard length could benefit players and the game.

Jack, Build the game around new player growth with the program; "Golf for the Fun of it!" Myself and a friend developed it in 2008 and grew 900 new players at 7 properties. It works. People want to play. I am happy to discuss it further. Thank you.

Everything is about economics... Golf is too expensive now to play... Compare it to: tennis, hiking, basketball, soccer, concerts, skateboarding, rollar blading, baseball, swimming. Golf has to become affordable... All catagories of courses are over-priced to attract new golfers and get existing players to play more often.. Private, Resort, Public and Daily Fee golf courses are all overpriced... Generally people cannot afford it.. If it became very, very affordable people will come back to the game.. Every golf course should offer a big bucket of practice balls for a dollar.. Get people interested and able to play. Green fees and membership fees must be lowered dramatically. There are lots of innovative ways to make it much cheaper to play... examples: Packages of five ten rounds.. multiple course packages... VERY low greeen fees during the week.. 2 for 1's.. One dollar electric carts... Free buckets of balls...Coupons and discounts... Loyalty discounts... low off season prices... free golf with economical hotel stays...etc. etc. etc..etc. etc.. low intiation fees.. low dues... The idea is to make golf VERY AFFORDABLE for the multitudes... Remember, every sportand activity is competing with golf and every sport is much, much, much much more affordable than golf... Golf is at a crossroads... There is a future to attract thousands and thousands of new golfers. It must be affordable and make economical sense.

Obviously you have never worked in the golf industry or budget. Easy to say but alot more difficult to do. Programs such as yours would increase traffic but also raise other expenses as well ie, maintainance, payroll and other costs. Sometimes having more people is not always the answer

There is a middle ground, but it's up to the golf industry to make an effort to find it. Equipment can be outrageous, but lesser-known companies like Hireko Golf and Diamond Tour Golf offer very affordable products of the same quality. One could even look at clones from reputable brands like GigaGolf and Pinemeadow Golf. Used equipment can also work, given that technology has been maxed out per the USGA and R&A. Refurbished golf balls are also an option. People don't hear about this stuff because the "guardians of the game", especially the golf media, don't make money from telling people to go this route. They make money off the $70k/page ad Brand X gives them to tout their new driver that promises more distance and/or firgiveness... like the one they released last year. Courses can also offer deals. People can stop fantasizing about the courses that Tiger and Phil play and check out local muni's. I have four courses near me that are <$50/round. Two are $30... and that's including te cart. Are they 7500y with greens reading 13 on the Stimp? Nope- but they're still fun, and that's what it's about. Could they do more? Sure. Some courses and players are very protective over their status quo, and will do things to discourage newcomers. It only takes a couple of years of down rounds to go from having a golf course to a freeway. Charging a small number of golfers a large sum may sound good, but that strategy can only keep you afloat for so long. There's a middle ground where everyone can be happy.

Golf has to grow. The USGA, NGF, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, state run PGA's and associations have to pool their resources and offer very cheap or even free buckets of balls. They need to work in conjunction of every golf course in America to make this work.. People need to be exposed to the game and learn it.. It is a difficult sport.. The more proficient they are the more they will play and also play much faster.. It is in every golf courses interest and the bodies of golf, that golf become more playable and take much less time... Golf must INVITE and OPEN its doors. To do that, people need to be able to practice without expense or hassles. Golf courses need to fill up their courses.. The best way is to introduce people to the game in an efficient, economical way. Skiing had this same problem years ago.. They figured it out in a variety of way.. One way is they offered free skiing at some areas. Just imagine how many people will take to golf if a big practice bucket of balls was only one buck !..

I just read the comments and I hate to say it, if these are the big ideas, we are in a lot of trouble. Sure, we all would like to grow the game, get more players and make it easier to make money (or not lose as much). Sure, we would all like to speed up play and there are certain thing you can do that can help you achieve that, but not too many are new or innovative. Outside of that, almost everything else was about giving away something or not making golf more affordable. I don't know about other courses but in my market, we have shrunk our prices. We haven't done this because we are good guys, we have done this because that is what the market demanded. My point is that we will cut prices and run specials for slow times, but only if we have to. We are already affordable but we would like to make money as well. The truth is that there are way too many golf courses out there, and some of us are eventually going to have to fail for the market to correct itself. My guess is that 10-20% of courses will not be around in 15 years. Believe me, if there was any demand for new housing right now, 5% of existing courses would be closed tomorrow. In the meantime, in order to stay out of that 15-20% that I think will go out of business, an operator has fight for every golfer, and watch every dollar closely. BTW, there was one program that I thought was actually a new innovative idea and not an obvious culture change we would all like. That idea was Chariteegolf.net. Does anyone know anything about this company? It sounds very smart and generates a lot of dollars wihtout any risk or cost from the course. Ideas like this can move your business a couple of inches. I know people are hoping for ideas to move the biz feet, but they are not out there. My guess is there are actually a lot of ideas like this and if you find enough of them, those inches add up.

There are so many things that the golf industry needs to do to change the ways in which it operates. A number of ideas are outlined on our web site, www.golfwithwomen.com. The information on the site is primarily based on our experience at Province Lake Golf, the course we bought our of bankruptcy in 1996 and owned for 10 years. You will see that the site concentrates on women primarily with some emphasis on juniors and families. The reason for the concentration is that women 1) are tremendously underrepresented in the golfing public, 2) are the primary decision makers on how family leisure time is spent and 3) are proven to be much superior shoppers/buyers than men. They represent a tremendous financial opportunity for the golf industry IF the industry can adjust its attitude toward them and decide to provide the services and products that they want for themselves and their families. At Province Lake, we did the following things which proved to be good business: -rebuilt our tee system so that it "fit" players with different swing speeds, particularly the swing speed of the average woman. The resulting 4169 yard tees fit women and significantly speeded up the course. A Second result is that our senior men moved up a tee so that they could once again enjoy the game. We increased our Women's play from 15 to 35% and juniors from 1.5 to 7.5% while keeping the men's play constant. We offered an equal amount of Women's goods in the pro shop. Women (35% of play) bought 52% of the pro shop goods and we sold more sets of Women's clubs than men's. Also many junior sets. We offered child care with 24 hours notice. In the late afternoons (when we had practically no play anyway) we let adults play for $1/hole and accompanying juniors to play for $1. We'd have 8-10 groups lined up at the first tee at the appointed time. We also allowed people to play the number of holes they could afford and/or had time for at $1/hole. We also did the obvious things like putting clean bathroom facilities on the course and presenting healthy choices in our F&B operation. Over a period of 5 years with an upfront investment of approx. $100,000, we improved our bottom line by $200,000. Most people in the industry thought we were crazy when we instituted these programs because they had never been done before. To us they were common sense responses to the needs and desires of our customers. An added note, we did not discount our prime time (I.e. Before 3pm) tee times except to put coupons in local papers starting in mid September, approximately one month before we closed. Arthur Little Former co-owner, Province Lake Golf, Parsonsfield, ME

Jack there are two ideas coming from Europe pre-Christmas 2010, both of which are aiming to make changes to the sport globally. One, PowerPlay Golf, has been piloting for three years, and is about to make an announcement about the scale of its ambitions. The other, Prazza, is new technology which will attempt to address the Time and Difficulty/Frustration factor.

The skiing industry figured it out. I can buy a ski pass that enables me to ski as much as I want at several different, good ski areas in Colorado. The price is about 450. I could ski approximately 6 months. 6 x 30 days = 180 days of skiing. This comes to 2.5 dollars to ski per day !.. Even if I go skiing only 20 times per year, the average price is 22.50. Golf needs the same economic stimulus to get people out on the courses and fill them up... Offer a yearly pass to various good courses for 450 dollars for an entire season... You won't see any golf crisis then... The courses will be full to the brim...New people will take up the game. Existing golfers will be out there as much as they can.. No course will suffer lack of golf players... The golf industry has to get innovative to develop interest in the game... They just can't sit back and complain that golfers are not showing up at their courses.. They have to create the demand... If the skiing industry can grow then it should be a cake walk for golf. It has to offer great economic incentives. If it does every golf course will be full... Golf Managers and owners -- THINK !

Are there any ideas out there that don't involve pricing? Supply (of tee times) vs demand (of golfers willing to fill tee times)is going to dictate price, not the course's ownership. Obviously you need to discount from your peak rate during traditionally slow times, however, there is a huge downside to "DEEP DISCOUNTING" off that price. The main problem with DEEP discounting , is once someone pays $20 for your $65 course, they will never want to pay rack rate again. Are there any ideas that don't involve price and either increase my golfers' experience, add merch profit $$$ or F&B profit $$$? ANYONE???

Mr. Crittenden: We think at Boxgroove we created a pretty innovative and new idea to help grow the game of golf and help private country clubs. We are not a discount or barter service but rather a service that allows more people to play courses they normally could not play. A social based platform for golfers and private country clubs. We created Boxgroove.com to allow private clubs to move some of their unused tee times to our community of golfers. Boxgroove.com golfers now get access to courses normally not available. This is a parameter driven social based platform that allows the private clubs to control who, when, how often, how much, by club affiliation, handicap or even region that a golfer may come to their facility. Private clubs need to retain control which we provide them or they might as well just be a public golf course and use one of the many discount services that has “changed” the golf business. Now all golfers and private courses win with boxgroove. The country club has additional revenue and exposure to potential new members, the country club member is happy because their club can stay private, their dues may not increase and hopefully their club won’t send out an assessment and lastly the golfer can play courses they normally could not in the past. In order to keep growing golf you need people continually talking about golf. I guarantee you that golfers will be talking about how they just played “XYZ Country Club and what a beautiful Donald Ross designed golf course.” Anybody in marketing will tell you that if a customer or person is talking about your product that is a good thing. This is classic yield utilization being practiced now that a application has been provided to the private courses. In less than 17 months, we nearly have 5% (200+) of the private clubs using boxgroove.com. We have an additional 250+ clubs affiliated with us thru a boxgroove member. Because we are a social networking site for golfers, every time a country club member joins boxgroove their course becomes affiliated with Boxgroove. Every country club golfer who joins boxgroove can post a tee time to their home club to host other boxgroove members. We have replicated what happens in the physical world to the virtual world. After all, many join private clubs for the social aspects of the club. Now golfers have more opportunities to meet people, do some business networking and increase their reciprocity chances. We hope some of your readers explore boxgroove and find out what we are doing to grow the game. We would be honored to be among the 10 best innovative ideas to expose the game of golf to more people. -McRedmond CEO/Founder www.boxgroove.com

Hey McRedmond, how are things with Boxgroove now a days?

”Hotels.com for golf courses” is what many describe Golf1Hour, except instead of a round of golf being bought online, it’s 1-hour exclusive usage of one hole with a power cart. With Golf1Hour, on any given slow-turnout day (I.E. Tuesdays), courses could offer a supplemental 4th product other than driving range, 9-holes or 18-holes - 1-hour rental of a hole. Golfers could schedule and pay online, practice on their favorite hole with a power cart for an hour without the pressure of a foursome on their heels or having to wait for slow pokes in front (let alone any delays at the 1st tee) These bite-size on-course experiences are perfect for PGA instructors and their students, time-starved patrons, families, beginners and most importantly those that have longed to return to the sport. Since this is utilizing vacant course inventory on the day-of, the cost could be between $25-35 and you could have up to 4 players per slotted hole. Would love your feedback - Thanks for the sounding board.

I love the chariteegolf.net idea. Seems like a no brainer. We need more ideas like this.

Thank Very good interesting article.

I think the only way to keep the golf industry growing and fun is to reduce the prices of green fees. The recession is hurting everyone. People can't afford the high priced memberships or green fees anymore. We even make it expensive for juniors to play. Most clubs charge $40 or more for juniors. The odd days it may be cheaper. A kid doesn't have money like that. Juniors in golf mean everything. They are the growth in golf as they are likely to play for their whole life. We tend to pay to much attention to adult members or guest players as they have the money. They will play no matter what. Yes we have some junior tours around Canada and the US but not enough. Even then they are expensive. When you see guys like ClubLink and Golf North here in Canada taking over all the high end golf courses around the area you have to start to wonder if they can afford all that I am sure they can take a small hit by cutting prices. This will in the end generate more money through higher traffic. The golf industry will always be there. These multi millionaires need to learn greed kills. Little clubs can't keep up to these guys.

A few years ago I was asked to help a local club in NZ grow membership. I asked two questions: why do people join us and why do they stay? The committee at the time felt the answer to both questions was because of the excellent nature of the course. Wrong on both counts. I had a large # of members fill in a questionnaire and found that the overwhelming answers were that they joined because it was cheap and stayed because of their new golfing mates. So among other things we introduced a very cheap summer membership deal to attract new members which was very successful, and, after the time was up, offered an additional 8 months membership at a significantly reduced cost. At the end of this time period full memberships at the usual cost was then offered and our uptake was 150 new full members over three years. Bean counters were scared that full members would switch or leave due to their annoyance at the cheap fee for newbies, but – as noted earlier – people mainly stayed because of their mates and very few changed or left. The secret? Know your market and offer suitable products accordingly.

Multiple sport competition. Such as golf shot, tennis hit, Frisbee throw, croquet putt. However I think u still need to charge the same price to make sure the course stays in shape.

I have been in this industry long enough that, yes the golf business has become a pricing game. Is everybody looking for the best deal and expecting perfect conditions? In that question, you see two problems with this industry. So many courses nowadays do not know how to effectively price the golf course. Many of them do not have the tools to effectively price their course. These guys are sitting in their office and thinking...wow my golf course tee sheet is empty on Saturday...I need to throw some specials out. What do they do? They drop the rate by $15-$20. Was that the right thing to do, in some cases yes. But typically the answer should always be no. When looking at your tee sheet, you see the demand for certain tee times. That is not a pricing issue. That is an inventory issue. I know that adding more inventory to your tee sheet sounds absurd, but it works. The biggest point of that is you don't have to decrease your rate to get them. Those players will pay for them. Almost all golf courses have this issue. That golfer is first looking for availability. How many golfers do you have that call and ask for the price first. There are not many that do. They are calling and asking if you have a tee time around a certain time. Sometime those golfers when finding that no one has that time, they will just try to find the best deal for a time that they do not really want. I am telling you now that you could have created a beloved "squeeze time" in your sheet and gotten $15 more from that golfer. I have seen it work time and time again. Now like I said earlier, there are two issues in that question that I posted earlier. The first one is our issue. We need to learn how to price our golf courses better. The second issue is the perception of what you get for the $ you spend. It is our job to educate our golfers by saying you know what, you may not get the best conditions in town, but there is no one better at making you feel like you are at home. We want people to play us MORE. That is what you have to do. Give them a reason to come back. We lose golfers rapidly because we are not adding value to there $'s spent. We think that their value is perceived by course conditions all the time. That is not always true. Theses "guests" of ours want to feel special and treated to a great experience. So the answer is not to decrease rates, the answer is to add value to what they pay by fixing the things that are controllable.

As a male of 48 years old, I'm not an avid player of the golf game and I've had opportunities to play at a few corporate games as well as a few private functions. I've also continued and followed a few PGA tours here and then. In my childhood years I grew up athletically in other different sports and during those years I may have despised the game of golf due to its athleticism. As I've grown older I've grown to think otherwise. The game of golf is very mental and very athletic. However, from what I've observed, the mental and athletic challenge of the sport has been rectified with better practice with better equipment and thus better delivery to the goal line. Tiger Woods in my years may be a justification to my statement. The younger the player nowadays, the better the player. So that lets me to believe that success towards the game of golf is not long term but unreasonably temporary. With that said, I am concentrating on the Approach part of the game. This is the game's weakness point thus far. Without carts, it's time consuming and less trained for for all professional players. Yes you may know what to do when you get to point B, but less training has been given to you to get from point A to B. This is very evident with all players' approaches to the ball." They are slanting and are not approaching the ball athletically". Here's a secret, spend as little energy as you can to get from point A to point B. You will be surprised how quickly you get from both points as well as building muscles in your golfing anchor points without getting tired. "Bolt", the sprinter, is a testament. Not saying you have to sprint, but follow sprinting moves for walking on the course. Stand up straight and lift your knees. You'll get to point B faster and less tired. Bottom line, the game of golf could be sped up with more energetic players as long as they don't drain themselves during ball approaches. Thanks, Godfrey.

For Example: I play about 15 different courses in my area. Simple, minimal investment strategies do make a difference. It’s as simple as ice cold towels available to the customer...every 3 to 6 holes. Especially in the summer months. How about a free pair of hand warmers for all the brave cold weather warriors. Hand warmers are very cheap. This one should go unsaid: free tees and plastic ball marks. Getting a little more complex: customer pays $10 for 1 chance at 15 ft putt on the practice green before he or she pays fees to play. Make it: $10 18 holes and cart. Miss: pay full price...+ $10. Yes some people will make the putt... but I know for every $10 green fee won. 20 people will pay an extra $10 because gambling is in a golfer’s nature. Many more low cost strategies that will create more Regulars....

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