The Dichotomy of the Golf Industry

Grow the Game vs Grow the Gain

by Seth VanHall, Director of Sales | Golf Business Manager

 

The golf industry has faced the same, ongoing problem for the past decade, or longer – declining participation; yet the industry, as a whole, has done virtually nothing to fundamentally change the way golfers are introduced, instructed or included. Sure we’ve all heard of the “grow the game” initiative and ill -conceived campaigns like While We’re Young and Play it Forward, which attempt to address two of the areas identified as barriers to participation; slow play and too tough golf courses.

What? You’re telling me that this is what the golf Blue Bloods have come up with as their solution? LOLOLOLOL.

What? You’re telling me that this is what the golf Blue Bloods have come up with as their solution? LOLOLOLOL. That’s like Morton’s Steakhouse telling you that if you’re not pleased with the temperature at which your steak is served, you can pay the $57 next time and cook your New York Strip your damn self, because how could you possibly expect the Chef to keep track of all the different steaks and temperatures at the same time; or since you may not be as beef savvy as the table next to you, you should settle for Prime Pork Chop – but pay the $57, of course. What a bunch of hooey!

Sure, these are difficulties facing the game, but the reality is that operators need to take ownership of these issues at their respective facilities and manage their courses. Staff starters and rangers and communicate with the golfers. Tell them what the pace of play expectations are and hold them accountable. Have standard solutions in place for when folks can’t play in the appropriate length of time and don’t be afraid to stick to your rules.

Again difficulties facing the game and golfers but these are not solutions to growing the game.

Calling all Club Pros, General Managers, Board of Directors and Owners! How about WE take some ownership of the problem?

Calling all Club Pros, General Managers, Board of Directors and Owners! How about WE take some ownership of the problem? What have we really done to evolve the way we bring new players to the game, make them feel comfortable and continually engaged? It’s time we dedicate some special programming and tee sheet space to allow newbies to assimilate to the game that has brought each of us personal and professional reward – starting with your Youth Golf Programs.

Each summer, nearly every golf course, country club and community recreation program in America offers golf clinics, camps and instructional programming, for “juniors” (children under the age of 16, generally) under the guise of growing the game. Unfortunately, what they really have become are extended day care services whereby the Pros or instructors get paid a ridiculous hourly or weekly wage to “teach” little Johnny or Susie the “game of a lifetime” while Mom gets a 3 hour break to attend her Zumba class and grab a two-glass wine lunch with the girls.

The classes are maxed out and I mean maxed out – because every Johnnie or Susie will only attend the class if their besties attend with them – which is understood, but the real purpose behind the max out is for the instructors to maximize their financial gain for said time frame. I know because I was one of the worst offenders when I was teaching and conducting my junior summer golf camps. The student to teacher ratio was approximately 20:1 and I made a bunch of money without ever giving second thought to how enjoyable or educational it was for the kids.

We, as the boots-on-the-ground leaders, need to adjust our thinking.

We, as the boots-on-the-ground leaders, need to adjust our thinking. We need to take a much more subjective approach to our junior programming. It’s hard to outline a specific plan that would work at every facility as we all have our own challenges, strengths, amenities and staffing concerns, but here are ideas that every golf professional and instructor should consider when planning their junior programming:

  • Make it fun.
  • Teach them the proper etiquette but don’t condescend
  • Give them adequate one on one face time and instruction
  • Limit the size of your clinics so that you can have a real impact on the student – and make no mistake, you will appreciate the bonding that will occur as much as the children
  • Try to implement some instant digital interaction. Range Finders, Golf Swing Apps, etc.
  • Offer times for them to play on the course without interference from the older clientele or members.
  • Price their golf to be inclusive, same for their parents when they join them, not visa-versa
  • Set junior tees and print scorecards
  • Take pictures and post them to your facebook and twitter accounts and on your website
  • Stock junior apparel and equipment

Golf and all of its tradition can be intimidating, which is nothing compared to the physical difficulty of being consistent at simply making solid contact with a golf ball. If we don’t change our approach to ensure we make newcomers comfortable, the numbers are going to continue to decline, and we’ll all be kicking ourselves because we were too worried about today’s bottom line – and we won’t have the opportunity to teach people to actually become decent golfers.

Get creative, don’t fall back on old excuses.

Take a step back and figure out how you can increase participation at your club. Get creative, don’t fall back on old excuses. If we don’t all try to think independently, about how we can make a new program work at our respective facilities, we may well all sink together.