Its storied legacy has ingrained itself in popular culture. As with any cultural staple, an industry lies behind it, driving the growth and development of the game. In the golf industry, the story is no different.
Golf course management remains a major determining factor for how the sport has evolved and how it will change as golf courses modernize and move into the future.
Golf courses these days may carry some of the traditions that come with the origins of the sport, but, in many ways, the experience of golfing has evolved with generational changes and the advent of the internet. While the industry itself as been in a perceived decline, that doesn’t mean that golf is on its way out. Instead, it means golf course managers have to think differently.
What is golf course management?
Golf managers must ensure that golf courses compete for entertainment dollars. They have to make sure the game isn’t just a sport, but an experience.
Competing with the rest of the entertainment industry is a massive challenge. To make the cut, golf managers are tasked with catching up with technological advances in experience delivery while preserving the rich traditions golfers love about the game. This is much easier said than done, though.
Golf course managers ensure smooth operation of a golf course from A to Z. They make sure the facility itself is well maintained, customers are satisfied, and the experience in the club house, pro shop, and restaurant are consistent with the course brand.
General managers at golf courses wear a lot of hats. They have to be marketers, operations managers, recruiters, golf instructors, retail managers, restaurant operators, accountants, and more. The golf course manager is typically supported by a core staff that helps with day-to-day operations. However, golf managers must also rely on seasonal and volunteer staff who require a lot of training and leave at the end of each season.
Golf management has changed from its traditional roots. Gone are the old days of waspy country clubs dominated by men, where retention was based on connections, family values, and tradition.
Since the 2000s, the industry has had to redefine itself and slowly shift focus toward attracting and maintaining relationships with millennials while increasing appeal with women and doing away with the less inclusive norms of the past.
To be successful, today’s golf course manager must find ways to reduce costs and keep operations running as efficiently as possible with the help of modern management strategies and better cloud-based technology. They should also be actively developing smarter marketing strategies through social media, digital marketing, and automated email marketing.
Golf course marketing strategies
Golf course marketing is a critical part of running a successful golf operation. Golf course managers must be on top of all the current strategies used throughout the industry if they want to remain competitive. Here’s a breakdown of the marketing strategies most golf courses are expected to use today.
1. Social media
Social media can be a huge revenue driver if done correctly. Posting quality content alongside your promotional posts is mandatory to retain and build followers. Social media management software and course management software with social media integration are huge helps and eliminate the tedious task of manually posting on each social channel.
Informative content (like tips and tricks) can bring in shares and comments, while pictures that show off your clubhouse culture will help build your brand image. You should also run some tests on post frequency and time of day to see what your followers prefer. You can then compare results to see which posts get more traction.
2. Pay per click (PPC) and digital marketing
Advertising through Google search and Facebook business pages are growing in popularity with golf courses. These strategies require a higher level of sophistication to execute well. Golf course managers typically have to shell out cash to hire a marketing agency to do the work effectively. To run a PPC campaign effectively, it takes a ton of analysis, targeting, and iteration. So, make sure you have the right team and the right software working for you in order to be successful.
3. Email marketing
Email marketing is one of the best ways to reach your customers directly. It is the most commonly used marketing channel at golf courses. A well-crafted email that contains a promo code or information about an upcoming event can bring a lot of people to your golf course. Using a powerful golf management software suite with email marketing software tools will allow you to segment your customer base by:
Last time they visited your course
Demographics and geography
Number of rounds played by time range
Customer loyalty point balance
Tee time preference
With a deep level of segmentation, golf managers can craft personalized emails with catchy subject lines that guarantee a high conversion rate. Trying out different types of emails such as transactional emails or email newsletters with different styles is a great way to figure out what your customers respond best to.
4. Text messaging and mobile apps
Push notifications and SMS marketing are a relatively new addition to the golf course marketing toolbox. If your course has a mobile app, you can send notifications to a golfer’s home screen to let them know about an upcoming tee time that they booked, a deal in the clubhouse, an event, and much more.
What’s more, with mobile app technology, you can take advantage of geofencing technology – which will send notifications to any golfer that enters a certain geographical area. For example, you could send out a notification welcoming a golfer who just entered the parking lot or let a player on your course know about a 2-for-1 deal on craft beers at the clubhouse.
5. Selling the experience
Golf courses are increasingly focused on experience and service. Your golf course marketing strategy should not only be based around what you give golfers, but how they feel at your facility.
The first step is to make sure that every aspect of your operation is up to par: your greens should be well-maintained, your pro shop should be well-stocked, and your restaurant should serve good-tasting and healthy food. Golfers have come to expect an immersive and seamless experience from booking the round online to playing on the course and enjoying a beer after the game.
Your operation should be able to provide an incredible experience every step of the way naturally. From there, you can tailor your marketing messages to reflect your course’s image. Professional videos and interesting pictures are useful ways to show off how impressive your course is.
6. Third-party tee time sellers
With the internet's ability to connect audiences, Expedia-like distribution services have exploded into the golf industry. In the early 2000s, distribution had a major effect on the industry. Golf courses have benefitted from this new channel that was capable of putting golfers in front of new golf courses they may not have considered before while providing an appealing discount.
Third-party tee time sellers are a great way to get your course out in front of a huge audience, rather than fighting for online real estate with direct competitors. If you are looking for new marketing channels, consider taking advantage of these large channels that attract a ton of traffic and drive new customers to your course.
7. Customer loyalty
It’s much less expensive to keep existing customers than to attract new ones. Marketing costs can be high, and your investments can fly out the window if golfers don’t make repeated visits to your course. Introducing loyalty programs for your members and public players will ensure that you get a much better return on investment when it comes to your golf course marketing plan.
A simple loyalty points program is a great way to keep people coming back to your tee boxes without having to give very much away. Giving out free merchandise after someone plays a certain amount of rounds shows that you appreciate your customers’ business while spending very little money on the free product.
8. Optimized website
By now most golf courses have well designed websites. That means having a clear and appealing design where customers can book a round online, purchase packages and memberships, and – in some cases – make pro shop purchases on an E-Commerce page.
A good website should be designed with the goal of getting a golfer to book a round or make a purchase. Some golf courses even use a blog style section to promote club events, announcements, and newsletters. Having a high quality website is great for SEO and will help your golf course appear higher in Google search results for golf in your area.
9. Radio, print, and billboard advertisements
The value of this classic strategy has carried on since the pre-internet era. Radio and print ads are still a valuable strategy for getting the word out about your golf course. However, using promo codes with a modern tee sheet management platform can boost the results of a traditional marketing campaign, especially because they create the ability to generate measurable conversions.
Course member management strategies
For any golf course, the most loyal customers are its members. These customers typically generate the most revenue out of any segment and are necessary for the operation’s survival. Golf course managers must pay special attention to this segment in order to ensure retention and generate more memberships.
1. Rewards programs
The best strategy a golf course can put in place is to implement a loyalty rewards program. This can be done in both the golf course restaurant and in the pro shop. Typically, it’s best for course managers to use a loyalty points system that rewards players for playing often, buying food and beverage items at the restaurant, and purchasing gear in the pro shop.
2. Referral campaigns
With word-of-mouth remaining one of the most effective techniques for generating new customers, golf managers should be focussed on generating positive word-of-mouth about their operation. Of course, the best way to do that is by providing an outstanding service. However, word-of-mouth can be stimulated with a referral program campaign that rewards enthusiastic members for bringing in new memberships.
3. Automated membership renewal
At the end of the season, golf managers are tasked with the nightmarish task of renewing every single membership. In practice, that means that someone needs to call every single member to ask for a renewal. That’s a waste of time and money, especially when you risking losing a valuable customer. Instead, automatic renewal ensures you don’t have to make 200 calls at the end of the year.
Of course, it’s not about tricking your member-base. Customers should be able to opt out if they aren’t interested in renewing. The goal with automated renewal is to cut down on phone calls that waste everyone’s time.
4. Simple account management
In 2019, members expect a simple and seamless experience. That means providing an easy to understand online member dashboard or mobile app. The dashboard should provide payment and credit account information and allow members to create bookings, RSVP to events, register for tournaments, and check course and membership related news and information.
Upkeep, lessons, events, and tournament
While general managers at golf courses are not directly responsible for the quality of the course, they are responsible for hiring a superintendent who will oversee course quality and respond to customer feedback. It’s important to keep these channels of communication open, clear, and honest in order for the maintenance crew to understand what is working well and what parts of the course need work.
It’s not uncommon for directors and head professionals at golf courses to manage course operations while providing private golf lessons. These key management personnel are also responsible for hiring teaching professionals and keeping up with current techniques and trends within the sport itself.
Get creative with your events; turn a charity tournament into an event marketing and PR opportunity or make members feel special with member dinners over the course of the season. Tournaments and events are key for building community and culture within your clubhouse.
How software can enhance your golf management strategy
With so many hats to wear and tasks to manage, golf course managers need the support of golf management software to execute effectively.
Golf course management systems have been on the market since the late 1990s, and there are many similarities between each platform but one major difference segments the market into two groups: legacy server-based platforms versus modern cloud-based platforms. Most legacy systems are hosted on in-house servers and hardware, whereas modern software providers are hosted in the cloud.
Despite their differences, all software platforms in the market should be able to provide a variety of functions:
Tee sheet scheduling
Event and lesson management
Credit account management
Point of sale and payment processing
Store customer data in a CRM
Reporting and data analysis
With the innovations that cloud computing brought to the market, modern providers are able to leverage open API, tablets, and better processing power.
Beyond what typical legacy software providers feature, most cloud based software platforms can add these functionalities:
Integration with a variety of POS software providers
While legacy systems once aided day to day management, modern cloud-based systems have added a lot of very useful features to the golf course management suite. Today’s modern software suite boosts marketing, data analysis, and automation capabilities while opening users up to integrations with best-in-class software providers.
Next steps for your golf course management
Golf course managers wear a lot of hats, they take care of marketing, operations, customer happiness, member retention, accounting, budgeting, hiring, and so much more. To help golf course managers get through their day to day lives, they need the help of golf management software.
When a manager uses a modern system, they are able to improve nearly every aspect of their marketing, operations, retail, and restaurant strategy. Golf courses will face a lot of challenges in 2019, and it's up to golf course managers to strategize and come up with ways to break down the less inclusive norms of the past and get young people and women back into the game.
Alex Lavoie is Marketing Manager at
Chronogolf by Lightspeed. He works with an awesome team of writers, PPC specialists, designers, and email marketers to deliver the best business writing in the golf industry. When he’s not crafting his next article you can find him teeing it up on the course, or playing drums in one of his many bands.