Monday, May 24, 2010

10 Adult members leave = 40 new juniors needed
Ian Hamilton examines the present day methodologies of member recruitment and explores the myths between perception and reality.

A lot of people have recently been asking me: ‘What is the best method of marketing their golf club? Is it via the internet, magazines or publications? Is it through cut-price offers such as two for one or discounted twilight rates?”
When I recover from the induced wincing, I get round to asking them what is it that they actually want to achieve? At times; the silence can be deafening. It seems that the natural approach to generate sales in the golf facility market is to throw a lot of money into mainstream golf publications on the whim that ‘being out there’ will attract business. When everybody thinks along the same lines, they all become lost in the ‘noise’ of augmented competition. It becomes impossible to stand out and furthermore, it drives the consumers into a conclusion that the lowest priced offer becomes the most attractive. Not a good scenario to be in and very much counterproductive.
The other mitigating factor which currently catches my eye is that the golf sector seems content that junior golf promotion is going to save golf clubs from the current recession and future proofing it for years to come. I am not entirely convinced on this particular facet.
Don’t get me wrong, every golf club should pour their heart and soul into junior golf but they need to be aware of a few critical parameters. The first is that junior golf promotion is only a small piece of the overall jigsaw. The main reason being is that on average, it is going to take at least three or maybe four discounted junior golf subscriptions to financially balance the loss of one adult paying subscription. If ten adults leave the club membership (a common trend right now) then 40 new juniors are required.
If mainstream golf clubs set junior golf development as their one and only sales drive, then they will need to find about 40 new junior members – per year. It’s a tough ask and likely to fall short.
Secondly; in terms of augmented expenditure, junior golf members do not spend anywhere near the same as the adult members. To an extent, they will still support the financial commerce of the club professional and catering operation but their additional revenue generation to the club is negligible.
Thirdly; golf club memberships are in effect top loaded. That is the bulk of the club membership is likely to be over 55 years old or in business speak – customers with a limited lifecycle. Customer replacement in the method of junior development becomes the natural succession. Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the first time that golf facilities have ever had to rely on junior development as a sustainable source of investment? Golf clubs and junior golfers have rarely formed a harmonious relationship but it is welcome to see attitudes change and barriers removed. The fly in the ointment is that at some stage, somebody will need to explain to them that they are going to have to financially underpin the golf operation for not one generation but two. Creating a long term and loyal customer base in this particular era where customer mobility is automatic is in my eyes extremely ambitious to say the least.
This particular examination can be manipulated by asserting that new adult members are joining clubs on specific open days etc but how many of these new members are actually new to the game. My reckoning is that they are ‘drifters’ and move around golf clubs because they don’t have to pay large joining fees. So we are in essence ‘recycling’ existing adult golfers and not generating any new ones. Any smart money would now be on a method of retaining existing golf members whilst attracting the drifters. I don’t know about you, but I get lots of letters from credit card companies, offering me to switch banks or transfer debt. Have we reached that level in the golf industry? Unscrupulous as it is, it can’t be too far away. You heard it here first.
I have often waxed lyrical about the strength of the product – in our specific case, the golf course and the augmented golf experience. This is because golf clubs don’t realise the importance of increasing their market share and out performing their competitors. It’s not exactly rocket science to work out that there is more supply than demand and golf facilities are going to compromise their business through lack of investment and then fail completely. Let’s put it another way, there are going to be lots of farmers buying up redundant golf courses in the not too distant future. Probably at a fraction of the cost they initially sold the land for in the first place. Farmers are not often out-foxed.
There is an easy solution for all of this but it involves the dreaded C word – change. A change in attitude is required coupled with a sense of belief. Belief that change is going to attract market interest and generate sales. Let’s put in the simplest terms possible. You want to sell your twenty year old family car which looks tired, needs investment and doesn’t run too well. This is what golf clubs are essentially asking from their marketing campaigns.
All the glossy pictures, spruced up price promotions in all the fancy magazines aren’t going to make a bit of difference. The thousands of pounds spent could be better invested on actually making the product more attractive or at least creating a unique selling point.
The one common trait provided by British private members’ golf clubs is that they consume an enormous amount of energy preserving their past and fail to invest any energy analysing their future. All products have life cycles and an evolvement process – golf courses are no different. Am I talking about digging up the Old Course here?.No, of course not.
But look carefully at how the Old Course has evolved. How it appears on the ground now and how it appeals to the market. Look how St Andrews Links Trust has included diversity in their product portfolio. Look at top courses such as Wentworth, Pinehurst #2 and the Dukes and see how they continue to advance their product to capture market interest and therefore increase their market share.
This last week has seen the introduction of a new Government and, more importantly, a new style of politics. In strategic terms, we call this “enforced diversification” –‘An action induced to meet the challenges of present market conditions’. Golf facilities would be wise to follow a similar lead.
+Ian Hamilton is committed to ‘Changing Golf for Good’ and assisting golf facilities to meet their true potential. The full range of services can be viewed at
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