golf course greens

Winning Your Conference

Strategies to increase golf course memberships

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Today’s golf business is extremely competitive, with courses vying for every player and every round. You need a strategy for taking more than your fair share of players and rounds from your competition. To use a sports analogy, you need a strategy for “winning your conference.”

Know Your Competition

Like every college football coach knows who’s in their conference, the first step in developing your strategy is to identify the competition. While that may seem simple, it’s exactly where many clubs make mistakes. It’s easy to pinpoint your competition as the nearby course or club that’s most like yours. While these “look-alikes” are indeed in your conference, they are not necessarily your only competition. Look around. Identify the clubs whose play experience (conditions, pace, index rating, etc.) and cost are a little above yours and the ones a little below. Chances are the same players who frequent your club have considered those clubs, too. Think about distance expansively. A course an hour from yours is only a half hour away for golfers who live or work in between.

Scout the Competition

two golf carts on a golf course
Broaden your horizons: when considering your competition, evaluate courses as far as an hour away.

Once you’ve determined the clubs in your conference, benchmark them in terms of critical elements — conditions, price, and service. What kind of conditions do they offer? Are conditions consistent and high quality? What stands out as great? What could use a little work? What about price versus value? How are they serving their market? Take a look at their marketing efforts. Are they using online resources, such as online tee sheets with variable pricing based on availability? Is there something you can borrow or learn from their efforts?

Consider What Motivates Your Players

Be smart. Create a matrix of benchmarks for the courses in your conference and then consider these benchmarks in terms of what a recent USGA survey has revealed as the top “drivers of satisfaction and enjoyment” for players:

  • Well-maintained greens and bunkers

  • Well-maintained fairways and tees

  • The people with whom these people play

  • Playing well on the course

Note that according to the golfers surveyed, these factors scored well above factors such as a “challenging course,” “availability of practice facilities,” and “fast pace of play” when it came to the most important drivers of their enjoyment.

In fact, 88 percent of players surveyed said they’d rather play on a less challenging course in very good condition. Only 12 percent surveyed said they’d prefer to play on a very challenging course in lesser condition.

Survey results also showed golfers were twice as likely to want “better course conditioning” over “better architecture and layout” as an incentive to pay 25 percent more in greens fees. Clearly, conditions matter. Creating a long-term course maintenance plan is a smart strategy.

“Move the Chains” — Choose Your Priorities, Plan Your Investments

There’s no standard punch list when it comes to course maintenance. When determining what to improve on your course in the short and long term, having the background information on your competition, and what motivates your players will help you prioritize.

Your challenge may be tee box renovation. Perhaps changing weather conditions or play patterns call for a revamp of the type of turfgrass you’re using. Maybe you want to get more consistent conditions and you need to create an agronomic program that will work season after season. No matter what is on your list, it won’t get done unless you plan for it.

Develop a plan with your board, golf committee, and superintendent and think about which investments you can make in the short term and which ones you can plan for in the long term.

Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your course and to whom you are marketing. Consider ways you might currently be over-spending or under-spending your competition in maintenance costs in relation to whom you are targeting. Your course can’t be all things to all golfers. Identify what your “product” needs to be and deliver it better than the competition.

Finally, to win your conference, you need endurance, strength, and strategy. Don’t give up. When you make a plan, stick with it and get your whole team behind you. Keep your eye on the long term and know that your investments will pay off. And, of course, choose your team wisely because, as we all know, when you have a dream team on your side, the trophy is just a few plays away.

Outstanding Golf Course Maintenance

You set the standard, we make it happen. We’re laser-focused on continuously refining the science, technology, and operations of golf course maintenance so we can bring our clients a competitive advantage and a course their players are proud of.