Why bad attitudes are strangling our industry

Average: 3.6 (34 votes)
An acquaintance who plays golf only occasionally was talking about the frustration he experienced on a recent vacation when he visited a high-profile public course. “When I asked the guy behind the counter where to go to get to the cart, he rolled his eyes and acted like I was a total idiot,” the friend said. “He made me feel like I was stupid for even asking.” 
Needless to say, the friend was so turned off by the experience that it likely will be a long time before he goes back to any golf course. That’s understandable -- why would anyone want to risk that kind of unnecessary humiliation?
Unfortunately, that’s a story we hear all too often. Too many golf course employees act like they’re doing golfers a favor by letting them on the course to play. That arrogant attitude in this day and age is a real course-killer, and operators who don’t make sure their staff is doing everything possible to make golfers feel welcome are going to feel the impact in the pocketbook. 
How often do your staff members get out from behind the counter to greet customers with a handshake and a smile? Do they ask what they can do for golfers to make them feel welcome? Do your marshals actually stop to offer golfers tips about holes coming up or to help them look for lost balls? Or do they only offer a brusque “Hurry it up!” if a group falls a bit behind pace?  
No one should ever forget that golf courses are in the hospitality business. Every operation, from the most expensive resort property to the 9-hole neighborhood course, should expect their employees to do everything possible make sure that golfers are made to feel valued and respected.
That's why customer service is one of the key topics that will be addressed in sessions at the upcoming Golf Inc. Conference Sept. 14-16 at the La Quinta Resort in La Quinta, Calif. What strategies do you think courses should follow when it comes to making sure golfers are welcome? How do you determine what service level is right for your course? How can you make sure you’re hiring employees with the right attitude? How important is training? We’d like to hear your opinions.


I agree wholeheartedly! I play a local muni that is dependent on every dollar it can get, yet the staff is a bunch of grumpy retirees who act like they own the place. No 'thank you's', just some grunts, and my favorite, not even acknowledging you when you approach to pay. I stopped playing the course for that reason... I just hated the grumpy feel.

What happens when customers are breaking the rules, trying to play extra holes ( paying for 9 holes and trying to play 18) or bringing their own beer on the course. It is usually the ones that are breaking the rules that give you the most trouble, no matter how nice you are especially when you have to take away their beer that they brought on the golf course they are not happy. It is against state law in Wisconsin that people cannot bring their own beer on the course.

Every year for as long as I can remember the customer service or lack of it has come up as an important issue as to why our industry is suffering. It is obvious that the industry is not getting the message, but all of a sudden when everybody is sucking wind in a down economy this becomes a critical issue. The customer service issue is only changed through a dedicated cultural change in the entire club and or company / corporate philosophy that is driving it forward. I am thankful that I work for a company and culture that embraces this concept of customer satisfaction as not just performing it, but being the "Best In Class" at it. Our operations prove that even when times are bad we do not lose sight of this key element of success. Times will not be bad forever and when customers start deciding again to spend their ancillary dollars I know they will be spending them at my club and our other clubs collectively because they remember what we do right everyday in our operations. Place the customer experience first! Fairways & Greens Matt Kalbak General Manager Monarch Dunes Golf Resort LLC.

Unfortunately only the negative gets experiences get publicized, millions of golfers experience great service everyday. That being said, course employees take the lead from their PGA Professionals and CMAA Managers. So when customer service is bad, we need to look inward to see how we(the golf course professionals) can provide a better platform from which to serve our customers. Get out from behind the desk, drop the blackberry and interact with the customers and staff members. Lead by doing!

First, I agree with the assessment that genuine service is all too often lacking at daily fee courses. As I noted in a previous comment, golf professionals have been, for some years now, oriented too much toward a mythical bottom line, and in the mechanics and procedures of running a golf course, and too little toward that interface with the public which is vital to the prosperity of the game. I've been fortunate enough to play Pebble Beach a couple of times, along with Spanish Bay. At the time when I played most recently, more than a decade ago, the Pebble Beach courses worked under the stated imperative that they wanted each golfer to have the best golfing experience of his or her life. Customer service was everything, and it was apparent from the time the golfer arrived at the parking lot that every employee was dedicated to that proposition. These courses are among the most expensive daily fee operations in the nation, but are always booked solid. One unfortunate aspect of the interface between the public and the course is that most of the employees, even the non-professionals, are better than average players. Whether the statistic that fewer than 10 percent of the players can legitimately break 100 is true or not, the truth I always operated on myself, as a pro shop assistant, was that relatively poor players are the ones who pay the freight at every course in America. Yet a majority of the employees (a good many high school or college students) often expressed contempt for the "hacks". Although they were usually careful not to express their feelings in so many words to visiting golfers, that kind of attitude shows itself in subtle ways. Gee, we played for free, got great discounts on clothing and equipment. We all should have been ecstatic in greeting the public and helping them to have that great golf experience, and I tried to remind my co-workers of the importance of the lesser-skilled golfers playing our courses. Part of the problem is also the length of time it takes to play. Tee times need to be scheduled at realistic intervals, not at intervals designed to produce the greatest revenue at the expense of the golfers having to wait at every tee during a 5-plus hour round. I again recommend a course evaluation and time and motion study available through Forrest Richardson, a noted golf course architect based in Phoenix. I'm a believer after a workshop conducted at the La Quinta Expo a couple of years back. His expert partner in these course evaluations, Bill Yates, is one of the nation's leading experts in operational efficiency and consults with major corporations. I want to stress that I have no financial interest in recommending their service. I have known Forrest through Golf Inc. Expos, the GCBAA, and other professional meetings and trade shows, and have always been impressed with his intelligence and friendly manner. The benefit of rounds consuming 4.5 hours and less, the benefit of providing golfers of all levels with the feeling that each of them is an important and valued customer in the eyes of every employee of your operation, the benefit of reasonable food and beverage pricing, personal involvement of the professional staff with youth and men's and ladies' club meetings and events, and an atmosphere of genuine passion and love for the GAME of golf which should be shared by golfers of every skill level, will become readily apparent in a very short time, and solve many of the problems facing the game today. Cost is certainly a factor, and we have probably built too many high-end daily fee courses to the exclusion of more affordable ones. At the same time, a course operator needs to amortize the costs of maintenance, electricity, fuel, and employees. I'm certainly not saying profit isn't important, but I believe that taking care of all these seemingly little things will, in the long run, be better for the bottom line, and build a loyal customer base which will last for years.

We have done numerous customer and local area golfer surveys over the past 18 months. We ask several standard questions including what factors most influence the decision of which course to play. Even though Customer Service typically lands in the middle of the pack, it is the one aspect that receives the most comments in open-ended responses, both good and bad. Where Customer Service landed low on the list, it seemed to surprise the manager/owner. And there lies the problem as mentioned above. Staying behind closed doors and avoiding the customers is a behavior surely to be mimicked by employees. Subsequently, several of our clients instituted programs to improve customer service including firing some and hiring others who could improve the service level. We follow up with monthly customer tracking surveys (online) and measure the responses to see if things are working. Not sure if we can directly connect the two, but one client has achieved a 97% approval level in customer service, and rounds and revenue are up slightly so far this year (a victory considering the economy). The moral? It is not all about price, conditions, proximity, or how good the hot dogs are. Smile when they hand you money, smile when they complain about pace of play, say thank you, and ask them to come back again.

I think this is a GREAT topic of discussion. Great service can happen anywhere. I am a US golf professional in Beijing, China. The same situations happen here. I was at a club a few weeks ago and sat down for lunch and I had to pull the waitress over to order. I thought to myself, "if she would have come over and recommended a meal, appetizer, and a drink, I would have happily ordered all three." Unfortunetly, I only ordered a small meal and this club lost business. After work somedays I'll be craving some American food and will walk down to the local Subway Sandwich Shop. Why do I go there? Is it for the great sandwich? No, there is a lady there that gives INCREDIBLE service at a basic sandwich shop. Great service can be given anywhere. We need to let go of our "golf mentality" and learn from places like the best hotel chains. This may seem like an expensive option in a down economy but why not hire a full or part-time trainer for a golf club? Many of the best hotels do this. Why not golf? I would recommend three reads that are well worth reading on this topic: Secret Service by John R. Dijulius III and The New Gold Standard by Joseph A. Michelli. People who start to implement these types of strategies in their operations are sure to rise to the top.

Bad attitudes also come from owners operators taking their frustrations out on their employees. No one dare say it but you can thank the National Golf Foundation for their over inflated projections for more golf courses and high projections of new players in the 90's. It was a shame and now we are living with over build golf courses and under paid employees. That makes for bad attitudes for sure.

I agree with Julie. As a Pro, I am behind the counter over 75% of my time spent at the course. Customers have become so rude these days and I try my hardest to be sincere and accomodating. It's frustrating having money and credit cards "thrown" at you, people lying, stealing and cheating you EVERYDAY, and customers making unreasonable requests. And honestly, this about 80-90% of my customers. It's very deflating and unfortunately creates some glum attitudes from myself and my staff. Fortunately, this has changed my attitude from the other end. When I am the customer I ALWAYS hand the cashier/Server my money or credit card, NEVER make unreasonalbe requests and if I do have a complaint ALWAYS convey it in a reasonable tone and manner. In short, customer behavior has gotten so out of control that it is really hard to provide good customer service 100% of the time.

Although we are not a daily fee course we are on the fringe of Phxs golf mecca so on a dailey basis contend with a segment of the market looking for a deal! I constantly remind my staff customer service is still Number 1 though difficult at times a smile and a greeting go a long way.We know names of our players and work to have all staff aware and strife to accomadate everyone in a first class manner So we seldom are dragged to thier level and amazing we evelate our folks to our friendly manner our bottom line is strog we fill the tee sheet and have a great time doing it. Customer is not always right but he is always the customer.I insist we are still here to serve his needs!!

what are some of the best ways for training employees in customer service (CS)??? Should you have an outside company come in and provide CS training?? Are there companies out there who specialize in CS training for the golf industry??? Thanks in advance for any coments or answers!

Customer service always becomes a critical issue when times get bad. Industry specific training is needed as much when times are good...after all we became accustomed to as many golfers as we could handle a few years back, then as times changed, many clubs didn't adjust to the "take care of the guest" mentality that was so sorely needed in our industry. I teacm a 16-hour guest/customer service seminar over two sessions, each session is two four hour segments. Management and employees walk away with a new appreciation for their competition as well as their own club's quality, service and personnel. It works. Outside training seems to work best because team members listen more attentively than to their own staff...especially when it is serious and intense, with a lot of common sense, courtest and recognition thrown in. Good guest/customer service shouldn't change based on rounds played or revenues gemerated. The image and mission of the club must be upheld and that starts at the top. The panic of a downturn in business should be controlled; if non-management team members are expected to "deliver", then they should be included in the "methodology of the discovery process". We work and bleed together and no one is exempt...our mission is to have a viable club with happy employees and happy guest, which results either in additional play or being able to preserve most of our rate interity, and upsell in the clubs in a way that is accepted by everyone. Yes, revenue is critical...retention of play is critical...contentment of guests and club team members is critical AND it can be done in a way that is both fun and productive. Adopt the operating philosophy that every employee is the first impression, the front line, the last word...then evaluate their training, mentoring and regular, ongoing assessments. Managers and Directors of Golf must commit to succession planning and help their team mates become more valuable and FEEL IT. We have a long way to go and we need to continually work on it...one guest/customer service step and attitude at a time. Negativities can be overcome but it takes commitment and commitment takes dedication to time and results.

How do you train staff to provide better customer service (CS)???

It all starts with leadership. You have to establish a well-defined culture of service and set the example yourself. Values and service training must be ongoing. I would recommend three reads for all. Two are free at www.myclubresource.com - The Quest for Remarkable Service and Organizational Values (use the search feature to find them). The third is the book, Leadership on the Line. While geared toward leadership in front line managers, a number of clubs use it for service training for their entire staff. It has a five star rating on Amazon.com, but you can get it without shipping cost and with bulk purchase discounts at www.probizcom.com.

Absolutely true. One tough hurdle to overcome is a golf shop that is short handed and is forced to press their staff to get many things outside the normal scope done and in turn not allowing the proper time and opportunity to give each customer their fair and deserved attention. This hurdle can be overcome if they focus on maximizing efficiency to afford them that necessary time. Also, you have to have a receptive clientele. Some people (generally a small percentage) believe that they pay their money and have free reign of a place during their round. Efforts need to be made to handle these types on a case by case basis so as to show those that respect the facility that their etiquette is appreciated and not going unnoticed.

Biggest hurdle to customer service starts with the selection of staff hired continues through low pay, lack of motivation and ends with upper management fighting to keep their jobs in a golf economy that must now accept discounting the product as a way to build a cutomer base. Sounds a little like the airline industry doesn't it.

Add new comment

If you enjoyed this article and would like to sign up for a FREE digital subscription, click here!