Are Golf Clubs Optimising Their Land (and Management)?

I was looking back over some posts on Facebook from last year and one in particular generated a huge reach and some good feedback. With the subject continuing to be in the news, it got me thinking a little more about the subject and so thought I would develop my initial simple post into a more detailed article.

The original headline & post:

Proposed Plans for Middlesbrough GC

Proposed Plans for Middlesbrough GC

Golf club unveils plans to build homes on its land after 'haemorrhaging' members – an article in the Teeside based “Gazette Live” about Middlesborough Golf Club planning to build some executive homes on land it has to generate much needed income for the reportedly struggling golf club. 

 

My post that generated so much interest was;

“Clubs looking to develop available land to generate funds and even clubs merging and selling one of the courses are becoming more common place. They are sensible measures to raise much needed cash for investment or security. But, separate from this, clubs must realise that if they do not solve the underlying issues that has led to their current situation, the money will run out in the future. Will they be left in the same situation in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time. I genuinely hope that such forward thinking clubs also look at their business, their management structure, are they appealing to the market, how do they market and sell themselves? Some of the funds they raise need to be invested in these areas and not just put a band aid over the underlying issues.”

What’s It All About?

This is not a new strategy by any means, with golf clubs having done this in the past for numerous reasons. However, in the last few years it would seem there have been a noticeable increase in golf clubs selling off available land, creating developable land through redesign, doing some form of land swap or deal with developers – both partial or in some cases full relocation of the club.  

Examples of such developments include; 

  • A couple of weeks ago it was reported Preston Golf Club had lodged an outline planning application for 12 homes on land the club owns. 
  • Middlesbrough Golf Club (which the article above was about) join the likes of Meltham Golf Club in Yorkshire, who are looking to develop land or sell off available land to generate funds for the club without impacting the existing course. Our understanding is that the Middlesbrough application was blocked. 
  • Baberton GC, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, sold off the land where the old clubhouse was located and allowed them to build a new 950m2 clubhouse in a new location, which has been a success for the club to date. 
  • Westhill Golf Club, Aberdeenshire, sold land for the development of 7 homes which generated much needed investment for the golf club. 
  • Darlington Golf Club, have voted for a plan that will see them relocate to a new site, with the existing site set to be developed for housing. 
  • Royal Norwich, where the members voted overwhelmingly to sell their whole land to a housing developer and relocate to Weston Park Golf Club, creating an upgraded course (with 27 holes) and clubhouse that both clubs will share. 
  • Camberley Heath sold land for 4 homes and relocated their greenkeeping facility. 

In some drastic cases, the golf course and clubs disappear altogether, such as Botley Park in Hampshire and Amington Golf Course in Tamworth. Sad as it may be, this may just need to happen to help the health of many clubs as we clearly have an over supply that will not be bridged, even with the best of participation growth schemes. Golf Club Management had reported in an article that “House Builders are Showing Huge Demand for Golf Courses”. They went on to state “the demand is both to replace the golf courses entirely with homes and to build housing on some of their land so that the golf courses can remain in existence”.

Babberton GC Clubhouse

Babberton GC Clubhouse

Is this a Good Thing? 

We cannot comment on the pro’s and con’s of the decision by planning authorities to approve such plans. In some cases, such as Clober Golf Club near Glasgow, the golf club land is actually included by the local council in the Proposed Local Development Plan. In many cases, there is a local need to build more houses and golf clubs can be part of this, partly or wholly as evidenced above.

On the face of it, this should be a positive option for golf clubs. Such developments bring often much needed new facilities and funds for the re investment in the golf club and even some funds to improve the future security of the golf club. However, despite some positive noises from the industry, these are still not easy times for golf clubs, with various factors having an impact such as ageing facilities, falling (or static) participation rates, an oversupply of golf courses caused by overbuilding in the 1990’s and 2000’s. 

But there is no doubt that the way golf clubs are managed has also been a contributing factor as to why some golf clubs find themselves in such a position.

In some cases, if the way clubs are managed and operated are not addressed, the injection of funds could just be a “sticking plaster” to cover over the issues for a period. Golf Clubs must look at what they are offering, how they are managed and how good they are at promoting themselves. In today’s market, golf has to compete not just against other golf clubs, but against other activities that vie for our valuable disposable income and even more valuable time. 

What Should Clubs be Doing? 

There is no doubt clubs that seem to be doing the best, are those that have looked at themselves as a business and have invested in their future. This could be;

  • Looking at how they are managed and investing in a more commercial and professional business-like approach. 
  • Re investing in their facilities, including the golf course but also clubhouse, practice facilities and services they offer to clients. 
  • Looking at their products and services and how they sell to clients i.e. membership structures, target markets etc.

For some clubs, they may have the funds to do this, but for others they may not and having to look at other means of raising capital, such as looking at land development opportunities. In some cases, it is a necessity for clubs for financial purposes, but in all cases, it is key to optimise such moves and then utilise the gains correctly, to put the club on the right footing for the future. The golf clubs land is a finite resource and any redevelopment needs to be carefully considered with professional advice, as for most this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Maximise Your Land Potential

From a Golf Course point of view, if this is something that a club is going to do, out of necessity or not, then key is looking at all options to maximise the opportunity in terms of the resulting product, financial gain and balancing disruption with benefits. 

A good golf course architect will help you to look at how to maximise your opportunity from the land you have. Clubs should be looking slightly “out of the box” and not just going with what seems the obvious / easiest option. A club on the outskirts of Edinburgh has recently sold it's practice facility to a developer, with the funds likely to be invested in a new clubhouse. Whilst losing a practice range may not be ideal, the club is located next to a well established driving range, so the loss of the facilities could be mitigated with the right collaboration.

As well as looking “outside the box” It is also worth looking at land “outside your boundaries”. Check who owns adjacent lands, which may have little development potential / value, but could allow the golf club to sell parcels of valuable land and have the funds generated pay for replacement holes and facilities. Clober Golf Club in Scotland, if plans proceed, is a perfect example of this. In this case the adjacent land was owned by the housing developer allowing for an appropriate plan to be drawn up for consideration. Maybe your neighbours will work with the golf club to mutual benefit.? Developers are looking for land, why not investigate such opportunities that could work for all parties?  

Engaging a good golf course architect and importantly a local land agent (or both) will help the club ensure they look at all possibilities and vitally understand the true valuation of the land involved for any negotiations.

Artist's Impression of Royal Norwich's New Clubhouse

Artist's Impression of Royal Norwich's New Clubhouse

Is This Just a “Sticking Plaster”? 

Well, it could be if the club is having operating problems or cannot sustain itself. The key is to utilise such opportunities (although even without such an opportunity it is imperative as well) to invest in both the infrastructure of the club (the course and clubhouse) and the way the business is managed for the longer term.In a press release from last year, Durham Golf Union reported a significant upswing in members. The reported reasons, unsurprisingly, included;

  • Improved marketing 
  • More innovative membership products

The industry is changing but many clubs are still not structured or managed to compete commercially. Golf clubs are competing for individual and family’s disposable income and even more valuable time. They are not just competing against the golf clubs in the area (well they are but not only them) but against gym’s, other leisure pursuits, restaurants, function venues etc. We are in the entertainment and hospitality business as well as the sports business and to succeed, you have to have a good product, good service but you also have to be really good at communicating, promoting and ultimately selling your club.

To achieve this needs;

  • The right management / governance structure
  • Strategic Planning for the long term future that committees / board will work towards – not deviate from!
  • The right people doing the right jobs 
  • Reporting
  • Results and accountability

So, as well as thinking the windfall from selling developable land will help pay for that leaking roof, that much needed facelift to the clubhouse, that bunker renovation programme and new fleet of machinery, think also about investing in how you will manage your golf business in the future. Your well earned funds should be a platform to future success, not just a sticking plaster for the next 5, 10 or 20 years!


If you think your club could benefit from this type of development, or would like to get a professional assessment of your golf club’s land use or discuss if your club could be performing better commercially, then please contact Keith Haslam at keithhaslam@braemargolf.co.uk or call +44 (0)1334 478578.

Digital Marketing - Delivering Tangible Results

There is still a lot of discussions about the actual tangible benefits of using social media and digital marketing. My view on such matters is that on its own, it is not a silver bullet, but used as part of a well planned and executed sales and marketing plan, it can deliver real benefits.

From my dealings in the business, I still do not believe enough golf clubs, from the smallest member’s club to the big resorts (especially the smaller to medium sized clubs), really utilise digital marketing anywhere near to the potential it could deliver for them and really cost effectively.

The following are a few examples from some case studies of how projects utilised digital marketing, to communicate their product, services using some innovative promotional ideas to a targeted market and the results they contributed to.

The Ideas – that Delivered Results

  • Created a series of “offers” that over a period the club promoted – always having a major campaign running – to generate data and qualified leads:
    • “With Our Compliments” Campaign – during what was one of the quietest months, we ran a “With Our Compliments” offer, which people could sign up for and receive a “voucher” for a complimentary round of golf. We set the terms and conditions, (certain days of the week, certain times and you had to hire a cart). The result was over 800 qualified leads, actually generating more revenue in cart and secondary spend than in green fees the previous year and we are in control of our own campaigns, so it was not seen as a “discount” but a positive move to get people to our property.
      • Many third party vendors are discounting your product for their benefit, why not use your assets and inventory for your own benefit and take back control!
    • As part of this opening campaign, the leads were asked what products or services they would be interested in, which generated over 200 golf club membership “prospects” to start to follow up on of which we estimate 15% were converted.
Figure 1 – Leads Indicating Membership Interest via the Complimentary Golf Promo

Figure 1 – Leads Indicating Membership Interest via the Complimentary Golf Promo

The offers and promotions were publicised in the following places;

  • Facebook – using limited Pay Per Click advertising spend. This allowed us to target people within25 miles of the property, of a certain age range, interested in the likes of golf, golf instruction, golf events – so was very targeted and specific. Using appropriate software, it was set up for them tolike the Facebook page to claim the offer – so the club got hundreds of new likes and grew their fanbase as well. You need to consider spending a modest amount on pay per click with Facebook – growing organically is getting more and more difficult – but a little spend can go a long way.
  • A minimum daily feed of Facebook posts – some facility info, some educational, some entertaining, some promotions, all trying to be engaging with your growing audience. It isrecommended you “boost” certain posts with a modest pay per click spend – but very sensible, targeted to your market.
Figure 2 – Fanbase Growth in just one month!

Figure 2 – Fanbase Growth in just one month!

  • Website – the actual sign up was directed to the website with the appropriate sign-up forms and as people opted in, this automatically sent out a voucher as an autoresponder – which was used as a voucher on a day of play and provided all terms and conditions of the offer. A “hover ad” was also placed on the website for those going straight to the website or not on Facebook.
  • Email – an email was sent to the small database we had at the beginning of our work, directing people tothe Facebook page.

Note: This type of offer is not for everyone and there were circumstances specific to the project and timing that made it a compelling offer, but importantly we were in control and using our assets and inventory to deliver results.

We felt it would kick start the strategy to grow the database, raise awareness quickly and it proved successful – but it is up to each project to assess what “offer” you are prepared to do – but certainly the more compelling the offer, the more response you are likely to get.

Other such promotional campaigns, were anyone opting in could participate, subsequently run included;

  • 25% discount voucher when booking lesson (had to be within a certain timescale). People could simply provide their details online and they would be sent a voucher automatically and were asked to book in advance.
  • 4 for 2 Voucher where we asked for all four names and emails – so many courses participate in 2 for 1 schemes, why not run your own and get the data and keep all the revenue – you are generating valuable data whilst generating revenue as well.

As an alternative to the above format, you can run some more “competition” based campaigns were an eventual winner is selected, such as;

  • Win a Membership – in a specific promotion with another client, to test the response rates, the competition was publicised in the local newspaper for a week. The response was 24 entries. The following week the same promotion was publicised on Facebook and spent just £20 on targeted pay per click – this generated over 140 responses!
    • The club presented one complimentary golf club membership (PR coverage), which really cost the club a limited amount (more just opportunity cost) and generated 150+ responses of which approximately 30 had some real interest in memberships and they converted 6 of them into full paying members.
    • All who entered received a thank you offer, which brought more people to the project – because they are engaged with you.
Figure 3 – Lead Capture in Action from Win Membership Promotion

Figure 3 – Lead Capture in Action from Win Membership Promotion

  • Win a Driver – the clubs suppliers helped out on this with the prize. This was a random draw of all entrants – but sent a voucher to all who entered as a thank you (with T&C’s).
  • Win a “Society Day” for 24 people – the winner actually brought 48 (paying for 24) in the end and they had to buy an F&B package. With over 60 entries, this generated for the club valuable data for future campaigns for golf society bookings and got great awareness.

Again, there needs to be an appropriate approach by each club so that it fits with their strategy and business model – but these methods can work and are extremely cost effective and ensures you control your own inventoryand promotions.

Also, use non-digital media to promote these campaigns as well – any adverts, posters etc that were printed at the same time, had the promotion and the website url for people to go to and enter – this also has the benefit of seeing which leads came from different channels, giving you valuable information on future decisions.

Email Marketing

The database building that the previous campaigns created then allowed the club to market directly to qualified leads and people who had given permission to communicate with them in the future. Take a look at software such as MailChimpZoho CampaignsConstant Contact etc – many start with a free allowance and you pay more as you generate more contacts / or send more emails. They are really simple to use, can help build your lists and ensure you respect data protection guidelines – people can unsubscribe or opt out

They are really simple to use, can help build your lists and ensure you respect data protection guidelines – people can unsubscribe or opt out anytime they like. With digital media, small clubs can look as professional and innovative as much bigger golf clubs with bigger budgets.

Figure 4 – Database Growth

Figure 4 – Database Growth

The 90 Day Game Plan

Our “way” is to have a “90 day Game Plan” – every quarter, in advance, we would prepare our email marketingcampaigns (plus our FB, Opt In Promo’s and actually any sales / marketing activities that could be done in such a time frame).

Now I am not one for quoting studies that say this or that – as many contradict each other and there are stats to prove anything – yet we find 90 days is a manageable period that the team could work in.

Activities and offers are planned around the specific time of year, notable dates – ie Valentines Day, Mothers Day etc, sporting and other events i.e. the Majors, Local events that influenced our business, off peak / peak times – you get the drift.

This ensures a well-planned approach and a stream of emails, once or maybe twice per week, which were sent to the database. Try to “segment” your database to some extent ie members, visitors, those who identified or responded to certain specific products ie weddings / functions etc – the more you can do this the better response rate and more likely to keep your opt ins – but this does depend somewhat on the time and resources you may have at your disposal. Usually keeping it simple works best!

Try mixing golf related news, with interesting stories, caption competitions, club newsletter, up coming events, opt in promotions and some just general entertaining fun stuff. It is not always about selling, it is about engagement with your audience – but this allows you to sell products / services to an audience who are interested in you.

Personalisation

It is important to ensure your communications are tailored and personalised for your club. So try not to use stock shots and use great images of your course. For a Society Day promo, get some images of happy clients on your golf course. People will engage and relate to tour communication far more if they relate to it.

Also, use images of your members and guests (if they give permission) enjoying themselves at your golf course.People love to see themselves on Facebook, in newsletters (most do anyway!) and they will do your marketing for you by “sharing” and “forwarding” and this just increases your audience hugely.

The Follow Up

What you must be prepared to do is follow up on the success of any campaigns that you run. A lot of this activity creates leads and prospects – but you have to be prepared to follow this through as it may take weeks, months or even longer for people to finally buy from you. But if you don’t try, then the only sure result is nothing will happen.

So, if it is a membership lead, invite them to the club for a complimentary 9 holes to try the course (and let them bring 3 guests – as long as they give you their contact details), be there to meet and greet and give them a club tour and see if you can convert.

Send follow up emails, call them, give them a further offer, provide an incentive to buy etc.

The Results

The following are actual results from a golf club in Europe – members and visitors. Not all results can be attributed to “digital marketing” and there were certainly other factors such as improvements in agronomy / golf conditions, investment in staff, better business planning etc – but there is no doubt that using Digital Marketing and Social Media as a central tool to the promotional efforts allowed the club to deliver these results.

If you get into the discipline of using the CRM system, you will actually see some conversion information, helping to make future decisions on what you do with your valuable time and resources.

Database FB and Website Stats Graph.png

The “Housekeeping” Bit!

Before getting to the actual front-end stuff, there is a need to put in place a bit of back of house structure. Key to digital marketing, or any marketing to come to think of it, is to generate interest ie “Leads” or “Prospect” who may now or some point in the future buy your services or products.

So, it is critical to be able to record them and track them. This does not need to be overly sophisticated, but it needs some structure. You would be surprised how easily you can find simple CRM or even list management tools, which are cost effective and easy to use.

Like anything, it takes some dedication and discipline to actually implement and utilise these systems, but in no time at all they become second nature and part of your companies “way” of doing things. You wouldn’t not have a process to follow for opening up an operation, or closing it down on a daily basis – well using a CRM system is no different than that – its becomes part of what gets done.

For small business’s these tools may even be free to start with, sure with no bells and whistles, but let’s face it, how many of us use all the bells and whistles with tools such as Word, which I am using to write this article! Then you can spend more resources as the systems grow, which probably means they are delivering benefit and a return on the investment.

Take a look at Zoho CRMSales ForceInsightly for example. The data in these systems is yours, so you can export, import into a new system, upgrade etc – your choice. Speak to your golf software supplier, they may have built in systems you can use, or they may work with 3rd party software to integrate the process more.

This CRM system, if nothing else, is the place where any leads that are generated digitally (ie people filling in forms online) will be dumped and are then available for you to follow up on. Plus you can upload or add manually as well, so they are all in one place.

Other systems you need to have set in place and get you started;

  • Website – old hat these days I know, with the likes of Facebook, Instagram etc, but still a vital online presence for anyone doing reasonable research of your product. I won’t go into the intricacies of what design works, SEO etc – but you need a good one and think of it as a lead generator, not just an online brochure. So, make it easy for people to pop in their email or contact information, and sign up for offers, newsletters, interesting downloads, competitions, coupons etc. Everytime someone does this, it will dump into your CRM system and even send you a note!
    • Make sure your website is mobile responsive so it looks great whether viewed on a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone – well over 50% of people will view on a mobile device and it needs to work for them.
  • Data is vital and valuable, so you have to work hard to get it. Sure you can buy a database, but if someone goes to the trouble of providing to you directly, then they are probably a qualified lead with interest in your product and likely to be within your geographic target market.
    • Start to build database – with an automated harvesting of data from numerous touch points on a website, Facebook, email and print media campaigns and on the property.
    • Look back at what contact data exists in the bookings system -export it and upload. You are allowed to send an email to them asking them to opt in for future emails.
    • Put a cheap tablet at reception (or other places in the clubhouse) and incentivise all players to input their email address. This simply dumped the information into the CRM system again.
      • Offer a weekly draw and make sure you tell everyone about who won – you have their emails after all and makes sure you follow through on our promises.
    • Business card drop at reception and in the hospitality areas.
    • Guest questionnaire – got valuable feedback as well as data.

This started as an article and case study on the benefits of using digital marketing, but as always it tends to come back to using this as part of a wider approach and the effort, activity and imagination you and your team put into it.

Activity breeds activity – its infectious!

This article first appeared on Golf Business Monitor

Marrakech – Golf’s next Hot Destination!

Having returned from a site visit to Morocco last week to visit three of the golf properties we manage and having spent more time in Marrakech, I thought this would form the subject of the latest Braemar blog.

Morocco has been on the golfing radar for some time and actually has a good golf industry, both domestically and from a tourism point of view. But an increasing interest is being reported in Morocco by the big golf tour operators and travel trade in general and in particular, Marrakech could be golf’s next “hot destination” and we don’t just mean the temperatures!

Morocco has a long history of Golf

Golf in Morocco dates back virtually a century with the Royal Golf of Tangier, Royal Golf Mohammedia and Royal Golf de Marrakech being some of the oldest clubs in the country. Golf was a passion of the late King Hassan II and continued to develop under his guidance. The 1990’s  saw a number of new courses developed, some aimed at attracting tourism, with the likes of Amelkis and Palmeraie in Marrakech, Les Dunes and Golf du Soleil in Agadir and Royal Golf El Jadida and Royal Golf de Fès.

The current King Mohammed VI continued the development in the 21st century as part of the Plan Azur 2010, an ambitious tourism development strategy that has brought about additional resorts such as the Gary Player Mazagan and Mogador Resorts. Currently there are over 35 golf clubs and resorts open to the public in Morocco and as part of the new Vision 2020, there is a current wave of new courses opening or due to open in the near future, which is one factor that is stimulating the golfing interest in Morocco again.

With three distinct, what could be termed “golf destinations” (Agadir, Casablanca region and Marrakech) plus some developments along the Mediterranean Coast from Tangiers to Saidia Med, it is Marrakech in particular that is set to blaze a trail for Morocco. But why is this;

Why Marrakech?

Well my view is that Marrakech has just about everything and is a city quite like no other! Long regarded and known by the traveller as an exotic and mystical place to visit, it is now becoming a great place to play golf as well as enjoy the attractions that Marrakech and Morocco have to offer.

Golf is not new to Marrakech as detailed previously in this article, with courses such as Royal Golf Marrakech, Palmeraie and Amelkis being joined by Samanah Country Club and Al Maaden in the last few years, with no less accomplished architects as Jack Nicklaus Design and Kyle Phillips designing these courses. If you are in Marrakech you should also check out the 9 hole Atlas Golf – it is a beautifully landscaped shorter course which is really fun to play!

This year is also set to see further additions to take the number of golf projects to 10, with over 200 holes of golf to play – very much a dedicated international golf destination.

2014 will see the opening of;

  • The much awaited Assoufid (Marrakech Golf Club) a fantastic site and with a design by Niall Cameron and will be a future venue of a Rocco Forte Hotel.
  • Domaine de Royal Palm, which adds to the collection of excellent Cabell Robinson creations in Morocco.
  • Marrakech Golf City, the closest course to the city and designed by Gary Johnson of European Golf Design.
  • Noria Golf Club, which Braemar Golf is delighted to manage on behalf of our client CGI and features a unique design by Steve Forrest of Hills & Forrest, combining traditional Moroccan landscapes and architectural features including a spectacular 2.5 km Moroccan basin (water feature). The clubhouse is set to become one of the iconic clubhouses in the whole of Morocco!

It’s not all about the Golf

But in some ways it is not just the golf courses which makes this such an intriguing destination – it is Marrakech itself which is the real star attraction! Marrakech is more than just a city, it is a pearl polished by history and its tradition of hospitality which, for centuries, has known how to welcome visitors. Marrakech captures the imagination like no other city! Known as the “Red” City, with the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains as a backdrop and framed by the red desert, Marrakech offers a rare blend of history, culture, architecture, gastronomy, shopping, nightlife and golf. It is traditional and totally authentic and yet dynamic and contemporary.

Marrakech is also a city of diversity and tolerance, from the ancient walled Medina, traditional riads, the souks and the amazing Jemaa El Fna to the new modern areas such as Gueliz with its hip hotel brands, shopping, casino, restaurants and nightlife. Whether it’s a golf holiday, family holiday, business or pleasure - Marrakech really is a cool city to be in!

It has a well developed tourism infrastructure, with luxury hotels such as Four Seasons and the world famous La Mamounia, down to the more budget conscious and everything in between. But the real stars are the traditional Moroccan Riads of which there are over 800 in Marrakech alone – to provide that famous Moroccan hospitality.

Marrakech is served by the Ménara International Airport and receives flights from many major European cities.

Look out for future blogs on what the rest of Morocco has to offer in terms of golf and hospitality. I rounded my trip off in Agadir and visited the under construction Taghazout Bay. I only have one word for the Kyle Phillips course which overlooks the Atlantic surf from the bluffs above – “WOW”! Watch this space.

Notes:

Thanks to www.visitmorocco.com for some help with the Marrakech info.

Dynamic Pricing & Yield Management - Which Should You Be Doing?

There seems to be growing discussions around the pricing of tee times and the issue of yield management in the golf business. This is not a new subject at all and golf clubs have been practicing simple yield management tactics for a long time - early bird or twilight times are simple examples - but in most cases, never to the sophistication of other industries such as the airline business, hotels, car rental and other travel related businesses.

Golf tends to lag behind other business sectors in the adoption of such techniques and dynamic pricing and yield management is no exception.

So what exactly is "dynamic pricing" and "yield management"?

Both concepts are based on the simple principle that you can sell what are in effect the same product / service at different pricing depending on a number of factors. Yield management more specifically is the objective of maximising the price you can sell your inventory of product / service at, each given time, to produce the maximum revenue and result overall.

For years, the hotel and other industries have been using technology, analysis of data, external factors and employing "yield or revenue managers" to deliver the maximum revenue for the inventory they have to sell i.e. bed rooms, airline seats etc. The principle very much opens up the selling of tee times to the market forces of supply and demand and the fact that two tee times, 30 minutes apart (even 10 minutes apart!) are not actually the same product, as the demand for one of them may be significantly higher, due to a range of factors, than the other.

It should not be confused or thought of as discounting, which is based on the assumption that there is a fixed rate or a "rack" (highest) rate for a tee time and all you are doing is discounting until someone buys. Whilst the practice will lead to tee times being sold at prices which potentially have a wide range, in fact the price for certain tee times may increase above your previous rack rate and the objective is to achieve a higher average achieved rate ("AAR") over a given period than you would otherwise and also to increase the quantity of tee times sold.

What is the price of a tee time?

You actually have to move away from the concept of a "set" price - ie, if someone asked what was the price of a flight to London from Edinburgh, no one could or would expect to provide a definite answer - it would probably be along the lines of;

"what time of day, which day of the week, is it is a bank holiday and even how close to the date of travel you are when booking "

This is dynamic pricing in a nutshell. Sure, other issues for each business will impact such as branding, image etc - but ultimately these are all decisions which underpin the pricing and yield management objectives.

Golf clubs have employed some pricing techniques to maximise sales and revenues (yields), such as peak and off peak pricing, week day and weekend pricing, early bird and twilight offers, discounts and incentives for groups for example, which is all aimed at increasing sales and maximising revenues. Plus increased footfall can also have the benefit of increasing secondary spends in the retail, hire, food and beverage etc.

But from activity in the industry and discussions I have heard in recent marketing bootcamps we have supported with Andrew Wood of Legendary Marketing, it is clear there is interest and perhaps the appetite to take this further.

A couple of examples, one from the US and one from Ireland are very interesting. Walters Golf Management have been employing a "dynamic pricing" approach to some of their golf properties and some of the results they have found are interesting and are actually increasing their revenues on green fees by up to 17% compared to the competitive market performance.

They have found that the following factors impact the supply and demand of their tee times and with the appropriate pricing, have allowed them to generate this increase in AAR, rounds and overall revenue.

  • Time of day, even to the extent that a tee time on the hour is more valuable than the tee time either side (who has ever asked for the 8.52am slot instead of the 9.00am slot?).
  • day of the week
  • daily weather
  • competition
  • sporting or other major events that are taking place in the town or city of the club
  • seasonal factors
  • traffic flow
  • historical data
  • school closures
  • how quickly the tee times are selling out and remaining inventory to sell
  • and over 20 other factors of supply and demand in your area

So at their clubs in St Louis, they have adopted this dynamic pricing and no longer have a set or public rate for tee times, but the online systems or over the phone you are quoted a price based on the exact time you want. If you have a budget range, they will provide details of the tee times which come within this range – so there is always likely to be an option within your price point.

This has been so successful they have set up a company called Dynamic Revenue Services to offer the service to a wider audience. For more details see http://dynamicrevenueservices.com

A bold move by Mount Juliet

Another live example and I would consider a bold move is from Mount Juliet in County Kilkenny, Ireland, the Resort featuring a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. The course operates as a fairly typical resort business model with membership and green fee access and their rack rate was at the high end. But they felt that having a fairly high end rack rate meant they could only discount a certain amount for off peak golf and as such had spare inventory, which in golf (like hotel rooms and airline seats), if you don’t sell it you cannot get back – it is a perishable resource in effect.

Therefore when you now go to the website or enquire about tee time prices, you get the following information;

 Green fees rates will be quotes depending on;

  • the time of year, the day of the week and hour by hour! 

What Mount Juliet state that this allows them to do is actually increase their highest rate for the high demand times (for the time sensitive golfer) and without “discounting”, offer a rate for those tee times which have lower demand and ensure they have an offer for the “price sensitive golfer”.

Whether they will apply other factors mentioned previously that Walters Golf Management do and vary the price according to other external factors such as booking pace, lead times etc is not known, but you would imagine that they will introduce more factors to maximise utilisation and AAR.

In effect Mount Juliet and Walters Golf Management are focused less specifically on the AAR they generate, but the AAR in conjunction with the utilisation on the golf course, which is termed as RevPATT (Revenue Per Available Tee Time). In the Hotel business, the RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) has long been one of the priority Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of any hotel performance and golf courses would benefit from such a shift in focus as well.

Yes, the positioning and perception of the business has to be taken into account but ultimately a more commercial view on the financial performance has to be high priority.

So, would this work in the UK and Europe?

Many would argue that for golf, people do not like to pay different prices for what is on the outside the same product or service – but we do it every day and accept it when we book airline seats, hotels, rental cars etc – so why not golf? And for the golf courses, this may be a way to actually move away from pure discounting from a “public rate”, from discount vouchers such as 2 for 1 etc and allow clubs to take more control on their pricing and focus on maximising their assets (tee times) and maximise secondary spend in retail, food and beverage etc.

I have questions about how this would work with 3rd party tour operators for businesses who depend on this source of business, given they like to have fairly stable, set rates to deal with, but this is dealt with in the other industries without too much fuss and so should be with golf I guess? Look out for further blogs on this issue and subject.

It will be very interesting to see if this model is started to be adopted by more golf clubs as Mount Juliet have and how it may impact the future of how we price and book our golf? It won’t suit everyone, but I believe we will see more and more of this approach in the future.


A commercial focus to management and operations of golf clubs is critical in today’s challenging financial climate. Braemar Golf operate clubs in both mature and emerging golf markets and ensure a commercial approach and sales culture is developed into the businesses we work with.


 

The Dress Code Debate

The dress code debate is one that is gathering momentum and I feel is a factor that golf club owners and managers have to be aware of and does influence the commercial business of golf clubs.

This issue seems to divide opinion and from reading blogs and forums, strongly in some case. As with most things, "one size does not fit all" and each business will need to carefully consider what is right for their specific business aims, vision, market - now and in the future.

There does seem to be some "myths" about dress code that seem a little un balanced and therefore unhelpful in a sensible debate about what is right for a specific business - who at the end of the day have to make a decision about what is right for them. So the following are a few examples of discussions that I have heard and read recently;

Relaxing the Dress Code will Somehow Lead to a Deterioration in Etiquette, Honesty and Inferred a Lesser Quality of Client;

I have seen this written and said numerous times but I certainly do not agree. Let’s face it, regardless of how well dressed they are and complying with the dress code, we all see golfers (members and visitors) not rake bunkers, not repair pitch marks, even bend the rules, so I do not subscribe to this myth. Golf is a great game and we want to preserve the fact it is one of the most honest sports today and that in general, people are respectful of the etiquette and rules placed on them by governing bodies and golf clubs alike. Our job as golf managers is to uphold and improve this with continued positive education and communication.

It is a Tradition of the Game and Should Stay

As the saying goes the only thing that stays constant and will not change is that "things will change". Golf rightly holds on to many traditions, but I would suggest that changes in trends, society and what people consider "smart" dress is something that golf clubs have to consider and adapt to. Golf has changed hugely over time, including golf attire.

We no longer play in tweed jackets, shirt and ties as the likes of Vardon and Ray did.

And trainers have been a complete no no in golf clubs - on or off the course. But, the latest golf shoes from Puma are "trainers" - the Faas Lite Mesh Shoes are the lightest golf shoe in the industry and will be seen on golf courses - and surely they will have to be accepted in golf clubs as many clubhouses now allow "golf shoes".

In other areas of the hospitality business, changes have to be made as our clients are telling us they need to.

One of my first examples of this was in my first job in the golf industry at the beautiful Gleneagles. For years the famous Strathearn Restaurant was "black tie" - but it was clear it was not moving with the times and client preferences. This was relaxed and allowed what was a bit of a dying reputation to one again thrive as a business and experience.

I also heard a very apt anecdote recently from the GM of Claridges on the excellent fly on the wall documentary about the workings of one of London's finest and most traditional hotels. The GM stated that their traditions were "innovations that people liked and we kept" - we need to keep innovating to create tomorrows traditions - if that makes sense!

Relaxing Dress Code Will Lead to Scruffy Image

Again, this needs to be taken into context and different businesses and even parts of a golf club will ask their members and guests to respect certain dress codes - no one is saying it will be a free for all. A great example of this I heard at the recent KPMG Golf Business from a GM of a very nice club in Surrey. He recalled a meeting they were having at the golf club with their chosen architect for some clubhouse work they were doing.

The architect turned up, looking very smart in jacket, shirt, but smart (and expensive!) dark denims. After the meeting, it took no more than a couple of minutes for some members to express their dissatisfaction at this happening in the clubhouse. The GM rightly pointed out that although they were "technically right", in fact when he looked around, the architect was the smartest dressed person in the clubhouse and some of the members, whilst complying with the dress code, could not even be considered smart!

This was one of the factors, along with some pure commercial reasons why The club in question have changed their dress policy for the clubhouse to "smart casual dress".

The "Commercial" Rationale

 Although different clubs will be in different commercial situations, I think most people would agree that "golf is not exactly in rude health" in terms of participation, people taking up the game and many have commercial challenges.

Now, the dress code of golf clubs is not to blame - but I think it is a contributing factor (how much is debatable).

From a participation point of view, I think it is time to consider being more open minded about attire on the golf course but especially on the range and in the clubhouse. As per the point above about the architect, trends have changed and the focus should be more on being "smart" more than specific dress codes. Golf clubs and managers need to do all they can to encourage more golfers but also encourage use of the hospitality facilities. n tough times, dress codes can make it eve harder.

Another great example of this was another reason why the golf club in Surrey changed their policy. The GM again recounted how many times he would call his wife and suggest she stop by the club and have lunch with him - but the answer was often "I'm out and in jeans so I can't". This was a massive issue stopping valuable spend at the club - but not anymore and they are seeing an increase in f&b spend as a result of "giving people what they want" - that is in their own specific case.

Although based in the Home of Golf, St Andrews, the majority of the work Braemar Golf are involved in is in continental Europe, Eastern Europe and North Africa. Experiencing different culture and different attitudes to business and dress has been illuminating. Growing the game of golf in such new markets is essential to the health of the game. Believe you me, if the traditions of dress code were implemented in important markets such as Russia - golf would just not take off. Dress codes are different and you either work with this, or have no one in your clubhouse! Yes, we have to work very hard to instil the great things about golf in new markets, but this surely is etiquette, honesty, respect before worrying about whether a $300 pair of jeans are allowed in the clubhouse or practice range?

Gladly rules such as wearing "knee length socks" on the golf course are mostly gone - but they still do exist! Maybe it is also time for the Professional Tours to also help - it certainly is not offensive to me if we saw Tour Players in shorts. It would not appeal to all golfers, but why not allow those who want to do this - at least in some events? I saw this in the unsanctioned event in Turkey last year promoted by Chubby Chandler and thought it refreshing. The Ladies Tour seem more relaxed about dress codes and the girls seem more fashionable and trendy and it is great to see some of the younger players coming through such as Charley Hull - this will only encourage participation in the junior ranks.

Whilst the juniors would probably tell me I amusing the wrong terms - we need to make golf "cool" and to quote Charley Hull "wicked"!

In summary, this is not a black and white issue, as few are and each business will need to determine what is right for their circumstances, but surely time has come (and commercial and client pressure) to make changes to the management of our industry to secure the future.