Got syzygy?

Columns - Game Plan

March 18, 2016

Golf could use more syzygy. In its astrological context, the Greek word syzygy (pronounced SIZ-uh-gee) means the alignment of three celestial objects, such as the sun, earth and either the moon or a planet, which can produce an eclipse. From there we can see how its meaning has been adapted to include the alignment of things to increase effectiveness.

If you want 2016 to produce improved results, you need more syzygy. Specifically, you want to align two key priorities: 1) the promise of your brand with the quality of the golf experience you provide, and 2) the quality of the golf course to the price you charge.

Aligning your brand promise with the experience you provide is everyone’s job. Most golf facilities, whether high-and-mighty private or modest daily-fee public, are inconsistent at best and very high handicappers at worst when it comes to fulfilling their brand promise.

Decide what you can own in the minds of your members and customers and promise them that’s what they’re going to get on a consistent basis. Then it’s up to everyone at the course to deliver on that promise.”

The understanding of brand promise is so embedded for most companies and organizations that they don’t make a move until they are sure the two are aligned. Volvo built its brand on the promise of driver safety. That’s the position it owns in the minds of consumers. And that’s where it starts when designing a new model or creating a new TV commercial. Volvo knows safety is a major reason people buy its cars. If its product doesn’t live up to its promise, the trust built up over the years with consumers is shattered.

It’s the same for golf course owners, managers and superintendents. Decide what you can own in the minds of your members and customers and promise them that’s what they’re going to get on a consistent basis. Then it’s up to everyone at the course to deliver on that promise. When considering what promises you will make and how you’ll back them up, ask two questions:

  • What is the market for your course or club? Understanding the market is far more than merely calling your competitors to learn what they’re charging for a membership or a round of golf. Thorough market analysis takes into account such mission-critical considerations as (a) consumer confidence, which changes from one part of town to another; (b) annual household income, which helps determine discretionary spending ability (available at and (c) education levels, which also influences discretionary spending.
  • How does – or can – your course differentiate itself from the competition? Market differentiation is sorely lacking in golf. But it’s an easy thing to understand and build your promise around. Simply ask your golfers why they enjoy playing at your course. Learn what your golfers think of the course and understand what value they place on that attribute. It could be its beauty, conditioning, pace of play or price. Maybe you’ve got the best burger and coldest beer in town. If you want your course to stand out from its competitors, emphasize the things that matter most to your golfers.

The second place you need syzygy is with the quality of the course you provide and the price you charge. Few public or private courses can explain why they charge the prices they do. That’s because they don’t fully understand their market. To get the price right, consider these questions:

  • What are my expenses per round? And can I reduce them without compromising quality? Golf in most parts of the country – public and private – has over-reached its market. Deliberate alignment of what is being spent to maintain the golf course must be consistent with the price elasticity of the market area. Even if the course is magnificent and even if golf is as essential as oxygen to many of us, golfers seldom pay too much for golf on a continual basis. Can you name a course you have played lately where the price should have been higher?
  • How much excess cash flow is required each year to pay the bills and fund future capital needs? Golf course operators who are not saving for the future are doing so at their own peril. Courses have an immense appetite for capital. Careful planning is essential to allocating funds for the future.

The ultimate syzygy occurs when you align your brand promise to the axis of price and quality. What is a fair price? Keep in mind your opinion doesn’t really count. What counts is what golfers believe is a fair price for the experience you provide. Price and experience determine value. Want to win the price game? Deliver greater value. Comedian Steve Martin had it right when he advised, “Be so good they cannot ignore you.”