Focus on finances

Unwavering commitment is needed for sustainable revenue growth.

October 16, 2014

Henry DeLozier

As the saying goes, you can either fish or can cut bait. In other words, you have to commit and make a decision.

As most golf course facilities look toward 2015, club leaders and managers face a host of decisions. But none is more important than a commitment to the financial health of their facility.

According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), approximately one-third of U.S. golf clubs and courses consider themselves “financially secure.” Another 20 percent consider themselves at financial risk. If you’re in the first group, you know there’s no resting on laurels. If you’re in the second group, you know it’s time to get to work.

Financial health for most golf facilities is a matter of sustainable revenue growth. For private clubs, that means annual increases in member count. Increasing membership involves expanding the reach of the club, which requires increasing the volume of reliable membership candidates.

Steve Graves at Creative Golf Marketing is among those who believe current members are a highly reliable source of new prospects. In fact, Graves dedicates much of his marketing activity to engaging and empowering current members.

Some simple math suggests that an ambitious 10 percent annual success rate for converting prospects to members requires 10 times as many leads as there are new-member openings. Therefore, if the goal is 25 new members, your club must identify 250 leads.

At daily-fee facilities, the formula for growth requires increasing rounds played and revenue per round. Most daily-fee courses have too few dedicated players – the people who prefer your course to their other options – and struggle to maintain adequate demand for tee times. The remedy, of course, is to recruit, capture and retain golfers who become loyal to your course. Even in highly competitive markets, two tactics have proven successful:

  • Loyalty programs. As any airline or department store understands, consumers appreciate their loyalty being repaid with benefits. If you want to add 2,000 rounds, for example, consider inviting golfers to play 20 rounds with you at full price in exchange for free golf (or cart fees only) the balance of the year. You can choose a reasonable number to use as an incentive – as long as it’s realistic. Build 2015 on a foundation of full-fee rounds played early in the season.
  • Social programs. People flock to the Friday Night Fish Fry to socialize and to see and be seen by friends, not necessarily for the fish and fries. Create events and activities that invite your golfers to socialize. Don’t be discouraged by low or inconsistent turnouts at first. Keep changing the format, using live music, prize drawings and participation awards to find the formula that works. An opportunity to win a trip to the 2015 PGA Championship would be sure to get people to your next event.

An early 2015 resolution should be to be more strategic. Most clubs lack strategy. Their thinking seems to be that because they’re not sure where they’re going, one road is as good as another.

Strategic thinking increases when you expand your sources of information and gather more knowledge. Learn which tactics are working for other similar facilities. Just as important, go to school on other business categories and apply their successes at your course.

Expand your reading list beyond your own association’s periodical. Read the best ideas from other segments that rely on attracting consumers to a service-oriented business.

Strategic thinking requires market research and understanding. Do you know what your golfers want? Have you asked them lately? Ask members or players what you can do to encourage them to play more golf and what would encourage them to refer their best friends for membership or play.

Of course, in the end, membership and revenue enhancement usually comes down to selling. Improve your selling skills by understanding that good salesmanship is as much science as it is back-slapping.

A commitment to success in 2015 should also include a willingness to fail, at least on occasion. If you are not failing from time to time, you are not trying enough new ideas.


Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. DeLozier joined Global Golf Advisors in 2008 after nine years as the vice president of golf for Pulte Homes. He is a past president of the National Golf Course Owners Association’s board of directors and serves on the PGA of America’s Employers Advisory Council.