Is This How We Grow the Game of Golf?

By: Golfshake Editor | Thu 14 Mar 2019 | Comments


Several years ago we featured an article and US video focused on - Golf is Dying - Is This How We Can Save It? - which sparked a considerable online debate with over 100 comments. Five years later, we return to this subject and off the back of our 2018 Golf Survey look at some ways to potentially grow the game and generate extra revenue to golf clubs.

There are arguably some that may not want to "grow the game" and are happy with the current status quo, but times are changing, society has evolved and golf as a pastime is looking to adjust to that progression. Is it therefore time to start looking at more radical ideas to encourage people to take up golf in a time where we expect value for our hard earned money, where enjoyment and satisfaction is paramount in a world of instant gratification, and perhaps most critically, where time is at a premium. Below we look at a few ideas that could help to grow the game, present golf in a more positive light and even generate increased revenue.

Variable Membership Packages

During the last several years we have seen work done to entice golfers into taking up memberships with reduced joining fees, flexible memberships and the increase of age based memberships for golfers under the age of 30. But could more be done?

One of the most noted comments in our 2018 Survey, which generally related to golfers aged 30-50, focused around the limited time something we know continues to put pressure on golf in the modern world. Similar to five-day memberships that are available for golfers not wishing to play at the weekend, is it now time to start looking at three-day time restricted memberships that could provide access Fri-Sun and possibly after 4pm during the week? Flexibility is a common desire.

Similarly, could clubs offer peak season memberships to entice the seasonal golfers, for those who do not play during the autumn or winter, which reduces the value for money from an annual fee? Additionally, we had feedback from golfers in the survey who, due to physical limitations could only really access golf courses in the summer when they knew 100% that buggies would be available. 

Family Membership, Enhanced Facilities and General Access

With the ongoing conundrum of enticing more juniors, parents and women into golf, could more be done and invested in the services offered by golf clubs? Not dissimilar to the 'US Country Club' model, can the wider family be drawn into the golf club if other facilities were available, additional activities on offer and encouragement to take up golf through group coaching? Many venues have already taken steps in some of these areas.

This would obviously require investment and space maybe of a premium, but in a world where things are continually more accessible could golf tap into this through other services? Indoor facilities could be enhanced which cater for the whole family and sell the game of golf through the realm of 'entertainment' including the use of indoor simulators as well as indoor practice facilities for putting and the short game. This would also provide great opportunities for group coaching or even social events to enhance that sense of community and connection. This type of facility was experienced by Golfshake Ambassador Mel Davies when he visited Shrosbee Golf (unfortunately now closed), and something that Carnoustie Golf Links has invested in heavily and making available to the wider community.

Shorsbee Indoor

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If more could be done to target junior golfers, maybe within schools, as well as female golfers, would this go along way in showing how accessible golf is to all?  This is something we are seeing more and more of and a great way to bring golf to the masses and put golf in the spotlight with various school projects and initiatives such as the Golf Foundation.

Multiple Venue Access

County card schemes are a fantastic benefit to golf club members but often not marketed as well as they should be. If more golf clubs worked together, this product could be enhanced further and offered as an exceptional benefit of club membership when working to acquire and retain members.

We also must remember that not everyone wants to be a member of a club and this was something noted throughout the Golfshake 2018 Survey. Some golfers do prefer to be able to play multiple venues rather than being restricted to one club. However, over the last several years we have seen the rise in point based schemes, such as Play More Golf, which provide a great way to access membership but still play many different courses. Similar to the County Card schemes can more be done through the national governing bodies to encourage local clubs to provide more multiple venue options, increasing accessibility and adding greater flexibility?

Loyalty Reward Schemes

Having recently returned from the fabulous Golf de Belle Dune in France, it was great to take advantage of a winter offer which saw us purchase the first two green fees at full price, the third free and the fourth at 50%. You could argue that they lost out on an additional 37.5% of full green fee revenue, but this worked for us as a great marketing tactic. Our fourball all visited the clubhouse prior to and after the round providing additional spending at the club. Is this something that could be done to encourage large groups rather than a series of two ball bookings? The online tee time service TeeOffTimes.com will often list prices based on whether it is a one ball, two ball etc.

Additionally, we are all now accustomed to BOGOF holiday deals and loyalty schemes at local coffee shops offering the ninth drink free once you fill eight spots on a stamp card. Could this initiative be applied to golf in terms of green fees for return visits or even simply in the clubhouse? 

Shorter Forms of the Game

Now, this is always a contentious issue and feedback from our previous surveys is that for more seasoned golfers we shouldn't be tinkering with the game of golf. However, for those looking to get started in golf or limited with time, could more be done around shorter forms of the game?

With the rise of golf as 'entertainment' through ranges, TopTracer, crazy golf and the growing number of adventure golf facilities, a shorter form of the game may provide another pathway into golf. 

Again this requires investment, but the opportunity to provide access to three-hole, six-hole or nine-hole golf could be a great way to entice new golfers in as well as retaining those that are struggling for time playing the 18-hole format or are physically unable to.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

Make Golf Fun

Golf is hard but great fun once you get the bug. So how do we encourage people to take up the game, make it fun and ensure it is an enjoyable pastime and not simply punishment? The HackGolf initiative five years ago looked at how we could do this to grow the game with one of the main ideas coming out of it providing larger cups/bucket holes. Building on the comment around shorter forms above should golf also be looking at how we provide a slightly easier version for those new to golf to drive accessibility?

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Additionally, once golfers come through the door, how do we ensure we maintain them in a game which is hard and littered with complicated rules. Could more be done around team formats to slowly introduce new golfers into the game as well as a golf club in terms of the social aspect? The GolfSixes initiative is doing a lot around junior golf so could this be something extended to new golfers in a mixed team format?

Tri-Golf appears to be working within schools to encourage junior golfers to participate and is an adaptation of this possible that could target the whole family building on the successes of the various Adventure Golf venues?  Golf can be a dangerous game so an introduction to golf through pitch and putts isn't always the right way but could something be done with a slightly more 'entertainment' focused format providing more of a outdoor golf experience than a driving or TopTracer experience provides?

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Flexible Green Fees

Finally, how often do you visit a golf club and find out after you have teed off that the course is under going maintenance? Often with topdressed greens, temp surfaces, tees going through repair and empty bunkers.
 
Following our recent survey, reputation management was an area that was flagged as being important for clubs with word-of-mouth and online reviews being accessed more and more when researching new visit to play golf. Therefore, if a course is only at 70-80% of its best should we still be charged a full priced green fee? Golfers will generally accept that maintenance must be done and the weather plays a part, which is out of the clubs control, but with reputation more important than ever what is the visiting golfer's lasting memory if they pay full price?

This is a difficult one to take and there could be an initial hit to green fee revenue, but with value for money and reputation ever more important could flexible green fees highlight to golfers a commitment to the course as well as the customer to that venue?

Conclusion

There are deep challenges and questions to answer for the game in the modern world, but it doesn't have to be an entirely negative picture. Changing societies present opportunities if there is the vision and investment to take advantage. Do you agree that the solutions above could be part of the answer, or do you have suggestions of your own to complement our survey findings?


How Technology & Digital Platforms Can Benefit Golf

How Do Club & Non-Club Golfers Differ?

Survey Highlights Opportunities for Golf Clubs to Increase Revenue

How to Increase Golf Club Memberships

What Stops Golfers Playing More?


What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)


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