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As I travel around the country consulting with municipalities, I see a lot of proposals and activities related to renovating and updating “tired” municipal golf courses. In some cases, the municipalities are seeking to drastically upgrade their facility so as to fundamentally change the very nature and operating structure of the golf course and clubhouse. I can tell you from my 25 years of experience in golf facility consulting – this sometimes works and it sometimes doesn’t.

Below I offer some very basic opinions in defining the characteristics of muni golf renovations that tend to work and which characteristics tend not to work. These observations are not meant to be scientific, but reflect general observations of my field work over the last quarter century.

Municipal golf course renovations are more often successful when the project:

  • Broadens the appeal of the golf course

  • Is supported by existing regular players

  • Does not lead to drastic fee increases

  • Includes re-branding when there is a major upgrade

  • Includes appropriate clubhouse amenities to match the golf experience

  • Is a strong fit with the surrounding neighborhood

  • Includes expanded and upgraded practice amenities (range, chipping, putting)

Municipal golf course renovations tend to struggle when the project:

  • Leads to a high level of new debt or bond issue tied to the golf course (i.e. Revenue Bond)

  • Is opposed by existing regular players

  • Leads to large fee increases

  • Relies on outside, or infrequent golfers for support

  • Changes the basic character of the property so it no longer reflects the neighborhood

  • Goes too far with expanded clubhouse amenities (banquets, lockers, restaurant)

In short, I can say that there are many municipally-owned golf courses out there that would benefit from improvements to facilities, both golf course and clubhouse. Thus, I think my message here is to be careful and have a good plan upfront. Upgrades can benefit the golf course and the municipality, but should not be completed “at any cost” and there should be an established ceiling to the proposed investment.

Funding Options / Naming Rights

Another layer to add to this story is the price tag for golf facility improvements that often run into the millions of dollars, thus leading to the question – how to pay for it. Some ideas that I have seen lead to success for funding muni golf improvements, other than going into debt include:

  • Grant Funding – finding some type of grant to help defray specific costs, such as neighborhood, transportation, waterway/bridges, parks / conservancy grants.

  • Public / Private Partnerships – Finding a private company willing to fund (or help fund) improvements in exchange for certain rights (property, management, development, etc.).

  • Sponsorships – Finding a partner willing to sponsor specific projects in exchange for recognition.

  • Naming Rights – Finding a partner willing to pay for naming rights to a specific project – i.e. the “Big Corporation” clubhouse at XYZ Golf Course, Or the “John Q. Public” Pavilion at ABC Golf Course.

Thanks for your attention. I sincerely hope the information is useful. In the next postings we will continue our discussion of ideas to help support the long-term health of the golf industry we all hold so dear.

See you down the road.

Richard Singer

As you all know, golf courses come in all shapes, sizes and operating arrangements. One segment of golf facilities includes the smaller 9-hole, par-3 and executive golf properties that our industry has defined as “Alternative Facilities.” Over the years these facilities have been supported by a market of golfers seeking an easier, faster or less expensive way to enjoy the game of golf. However, in the last decade or so I am seeing more and more economic stress in this segment, leading to reduced quality and even outright closure. This leads me to a few questions: “Is it worth it for the industry to provide support to keep these facilities open given that they tend to provide a passage for beginners?” “Don’t we need shorter and easier golf courses to support the future of our game?”

Before we answer the questions, let me give you a quick primer on short courses in the U.S. As of February 2014, there are 5,144 short courses representing 29% of the total of 17,683 golf courses in the United States. There are 3,230 9-hole courses, 796 par-3 courses and 1,118 executive courses. Only 16% of these facilities are private, meaning the vast majority are open to the public. A total of 1,234 short courses closed in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013, or 65% of the 1,910 total golf course closures in the U.S. over that period. With 299 closures, approximately 25% of the total inventory of par-3 golf courses has closed since 2001. For executive courses, 224 have closed since 2001 (17% of total).

The fact that short courses represent a high share of golf course closures is not news, as we have always known that these facilities have a tough economic model with expenses that are comparable to full-length golf courses and much lower revenues. As a result, operating losses tend to be common with short courses, even when they are operated appropriately and efficiently.

Many of the multi-course municipal golf systems with which I work include shorter golf courses and these tend to be first on the “chopping block” when fiscally-conscious lawmakers look to save taxpayer money. But as I often report to these communities – it is in your interest to provide economic support to the short courses provided they are properly used to create new players that will demand golf at your other full-length facilities.   

So as we watch these facilities slowly and quietly disappear, I am beginning to wonder if the industry should take a more active role in preserving this segment of golf facilities. Short courses have the potential to generate new golfers that can be future customers for equipment, apparel and playing fees – hence the future support of our industry. The key to preserving short courses may be through providing direct economic support and/or creating formalized operating programs that focus on new player development.

So, the moral of this brief story is simple – the golf industry should work to create a mechanism to provide economic and operational support for shorter golf courses, making sure they focus on new player development. Perhaps a new “Short Course Fund” that can accept corporate (and other) donations and provide distributions along with operating materials to troubled alternative facilities. This is just one of the many steps the industry can take to help secure our game for the longer term future.

 

Thanks for your attention. I sincerely hope the information is useful. In the next postings we will continue our discussion of ideas to help support the long-term health of the golf industry we all hold so dear.

See you down the road.

Richard Singer

In several of these postings I have been discussing the world of municipal golf, and the constant challenge to preserve the economic health of these vital community assets. As I travel around the country working as a golf consultant, I find more and more that the very existence of municipal golf courses is being threatened due to government budget challenges. More and more I hear the refrain – “why are we in the golf business at all?”

Municipal golf is very much a part of our industry and, I believe, a key component to the overall health of golf in the United States. Since the addition of Van Cortlandt Park at the turn of the 20th Century, municipal golf has played an important role in bringing golf to the masses and providing an affordable entry point for millions of people, especially juniors. The NGF believes that municipal golf still plays that role today, and we ask “how many golfers would there be today without municipal golf?” I myself am a great example of this having taken my first golf lesson as a 10-year-old at the Town of Ramapo’s Spook Rock Golf Course, and played my first full 18-hole round of golf at the Village of North Palm Beach’s North Palm Beach Country Club, both municipal golf courses.

But developing new golfers is only part of the story. Municipal golf courses help their communities in many other ways by demonstrating a community’s commitment to preserving open space, generating low-cost outdoor recreation for all citizens and helping to promote other residential and commercial development. Over the years I have often heard business leaders refer to the “keys” in identifying strong communities by looking at the libraries and municipal golf courses.

Challenges and Solutions

Municipal golf today faces growing challenges from many sides. First, there is pressure from golfers to retain discounted fees and maintain conditions. Second, there is pressure from City, County and State government leaders to sustain fiscal stability and not “lose any more taxpayer money.” And finally there is pressure from daily fee operators, many of whom believe municipal golf is competing with them unfairly.

As the NGF celebrates its 75th Anniversary, our organization is re-asserting our commitment to the health of public golf in general and municipal golf in particular. We believe that the continued health of municipal golf is providing help to ALL golf facilities, as muni golf provides a great “feeder” system to the industry to help increase the number of, and commitment from golf participants. We also recognize that the ideas and advice we give to muni golf operators can apply equally to privately-owned golf courses and vice versa.

As a part of the NGF’s commitment to the golf industry, this organization will be hosting a new Municipal Golf Institute (MGI) in 2011, to be held at the Oglebay Resort andConferenceCenterSeptember 6-9. This Institute, conducted together with the National Recreation and Park Association, will be designed to bring key golf industry leaders together to discuss the latest management practices to improve and strengthen operations, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the key challenges facing public golf.  

I hope you will take the opportunity to go to the web page noted below and review the event for yourself. I am hopeful we will see many of you there later this year. http://institute.ngf.org/pages/default.asp

 I look forward to a great second half of 2011 and am hopeful that I am able to provide information and insights that can help your golf business continue to succeed, regardless of the “facility class” you may fall within.

See you down the road.

Richard Singer

In the tough golf economy of 2010, more and more golf facilities are paying close attention to promotional activities as a way of generating new interest in their respective golf facilities. In the last posting we reviewed the internet and the large impact it is having on golf facility advertising. Many of you have asked me – “now that we are on the internet, what can we say to golfers to get them to come and try us out?”

In this posting I will give a brief review of a handful of ideas that I have seen implemented at public golf facilities across the country, with some success in attracting new golfers and more play out of existing golfers. Some of these ideas have also worked in private club settings, but are most successful in daily fee, semi-private and municipal golf operations. The most successful golf facility promotions tend to fall in one the following broad categories, including:

-Golfer Education / Lessons / Camps: Anything that entices new players to come and give the game a try will be helpful in attracting new customers. Golfers will often continue to play a large share of their golf at the facility where they first learned the game. Female-friendly clinics and group golf lessons have been especially popular in a few places I have seen this year. The continued promotion of lessons and junior programs appears to be a major positive for golf facilities all across the country and should dividends in developing future customers. I suggest considering established programs like “Get Golf Ready in 5 Days,” the adult player development program being promoted nationwide by Golf 20/20 and the World Golf Foundation.  “Get Golf Ready” is designed to bring adults into the game of golf in a fast, fun and affordable way.

-Organized Activities / Leagues: Giving avid players a reason to come to the golf course more often is a great way to enhance your rounds activity. A common promotion at successful golf courses is to offer leagues and other organized golf competitions. This is a great way to attract golfers to your facility in off-peak periods such as weekday afternoons. Going around to local businesses and offering modest discounts for larger groups is a great promotional tool. Include scoring and league management services in your package. Golfers love to compete, and both inter-corporate and intra-corporate leagues have been successful.

-Outings / Tournaments: Tournaments and other events are a proven method for stimulating interest in a particular golf facility and maximizing the activity on the golf course. These organized outings and tournaments are also a way to expose your golf facility to a whole new group of golfers who may not be familiar with what you have to offer. Always try to be full service on tournaments and outings – including poster scoring and prize packages through your pro shop (if you have one). I have several clients who have been successful in promoting tournaments to both large and small groups, including corporations, associations and other private organizations. These operators always leave a brochure of information in every “goodie-bag” showing how easy it is to book your next tournament at the club. Also, make every effort to re-book each event for next year before this year’s event is complete!

-Loyalty Programs / Other Quantity Discounts: Loyalty programs are becoming more common in all industries and golf facilities are no different. I often see how important it is for golfers to finally play that tenth round of golf so as to activate the free round promotion. Good loyalty programs at golf facilities offer a free round after a certain volume is hit, but also include discounts in the pro shop and food and beverage service as well. I often see tee-time preferences and first notice for events and outings included in loyalty programs. Further, your loyalty program should include an email component and perhaps a dedicated page on your website. It is always good to make your most loyal customers feel special!

Remember – your website should promote all of the above-noted activities!

So as you contemplate ways to grow your golf course revenue in 2010, don’t forget to keep thinking about new promotional activities that stimulate interest in your facility. Remember, every new customer you create could be worth scores of golf rounds over the next few years!

Thanks for your attention. I sincerely hope the information is useful. See you down the road.

Richard Singer

As I review golf facility operations in 2010, one area of golf revenue generation is more clear than ever – ITS ALL ABOUT THE INTERNET! There is no doubt that the Internet is the most cost-effective form of advertising outside of word-of-mouth. The Internet is having a larger and larger impact on golf as time goes on. Golfers, especially when traveling, are using the web more and more to find places to play. The web has several key advantages over other forms of advertising:

  • Cost: A website is relatively inexpensive to setup and maintain.
  • Reach: As the name “world wide web” indicates, the Internet is international in scope. Today, almost every household that contains a golfer will have access to the Internet.
  • Information: The amount of information that can be put on the web is virtually unlimited. At the very least, clear directions and contact information can be used to dramatically increase business.

In my consulting engagements I have found that some golf facilities have really outstanding websites, while others simply do not. What is it that separates good from bad in golf course websites? Here is a selection of key items that the most successful golf facilities (public and private) are using on line in an effort to drive new business to their facility.

First, it is essential that the website be kept current for rates, hours, etc. The best sites are the ones that are constantly being updated with new promotions and news items, so that customers get in the habit of checking them regularly. The website should include:

  • Pictures of the facility
  • Verbal descriptions
  • A full scorecard
  • Map/directions to the course
  • E-mail signup – allow a way to sign up for an e-mail program.
  • Information about group and individual lessons
  • Current rates and operating hours
  • Amenities
  • A calendar or news of promotions and upcoming events

Second, I have observed that the most common problem with golf facility websites is that they look great and are very informative, but if prospective customers cannot find it, it does not do you any good.  It has to be designed such that today’s web search engines will find it based on key terms people are likely to use. Therefore, the first task is to create a website that can be found easily by prospective customers looking for golf in your area.

The website should be promoted in all advertising and literature put out by your facility!

So as you contemplate ways to grow you golf course revenue in 2010, don’t forget to keep your website up to date and easy to find. The money you spend in this area will come back to you many times over. Definitely more than most any other advertising you can consider.

Thanks for your attention. I sincerely hope the information is useful. In the next postings we will continue our discussion of golf facility marketing with a review of some successful golf course promotions that have been tried by golf operators in the last few years.

See you down the road.

Richard Singer

Happy belated New Year to all. Sorry for the delay in postings in 2010, but I am back on track now. The first topic I would like to hit in 2010 is one that has been coming up more and more in my consulting engagements with public golf courses – the food and beverage concession. This is one area of golf course operations that has traditionally been ignored and/or left aside. Many golf operators still go by the old adage of “F & B as money losers,” or “my goal is to just breaking even.”  In reality, I am finding more and more that golf course concessions can, and should, be a profit center for the facility. Below are a handful of ideas that I have seen that work in this segment. I should note that the successful food and beverage operations are the ones that provide additional revenue to the facility, AND provide an added service to the golfers so they feel at home and stay on your property longer and want to come back soon.

The most financially successful food and beverage concessions that I have seen at public golf courses are the ones that do two things – serve golfers and attract non-golfers to the property. In this posting we will look at the first – serving the needs of golfers. First and foremost, a golf course food and beverage operation must provide the appropriate service to the core golfing customer. This may sound simple, but a common complaint I have seen is facilities that are so focused on banquets and weddings, that they ignore the golfers. Serving golfers means being open early and serving (some type of) breakfast and coffee to the early-bird players. Inattention to these early players is a very common complaint from golfers. Also, it is important to have space available for players as they come in from their round of golf, and they can feel comfortable sitting in their golf attire, with golf shoes and hats. The bar and/or “sports pub” setting has become very popular and successful at golf facilities. The inclusion of multiple TV’s, especially on sports weekends, is a great way to keep golfers hanging around after the round of golf. Outdoor seating with outdoor service and coverage from the hot sun is especially appealing, when the climate is appropriate.

Another key is to allow the golfer the option of being served quickly and without the need for wait staff. This is especially significant when golfers want to order something quick at the turn. Having cart traffic pass by an open food service window that will be quick and convenient, going from the 9th green to the 10th tee, is the best way to add concession sales at a golf course.

Also, it is very important to have on-course beverage service (beverage cart) with appropriately trained beverage cart personnel. Beverage carts are a revenue center, but also a value-added service to golfers. The two biggest complaints about beverage carts at public golf courses are that either you never see them when you want them, or they are racing around so fast that you don’t have time to waive them down. Beverage cart staff should be trained to know the spots on the golf course that tend to be slow, like the tee on a par-3 hole. Also, beverage cart staff should be trained to have a basic understanding of the game of golf, and how it is played so they know where to be so as not to slow up the pace of play (i.e waiting behind the green to serve golfers between holes). A friendly smile and the offer of a certain return is also a must from staff.

So as you contemplate ways to grow you golf course revenue in 2010, don’t forget the food and beverage concession. There may be more there than you might think.

Thanks for your attention. I sincerely hope the information is useful. In the next postings we will continue our discussion of golf facility marketing with a review of some successful websites and more discussion on growing (and balancing) non-golfer food and beverage revenue.

See you down the road.

Richard Singer

One of the most important aspects of my consulting services with golf courses is to assist with improving the marketing of client golf facilities. Through the years I have often found that golf courses tend not to market their services the way other businesses market, thinking that the “golf course will market itself.” However, in this ultra-competitive golf industry environment, golf course marketing has become a critical element in the success (or failure) of golf facilities nationwide. As I work with golf facilities in 2009 I am finding that the most successful marketing / promotion programs that are genuinely driving customers to golf courses are email campaigns, and not necessarily campaigns that offer discounts!

One of the things I like to do when working with golf course clients is sign up to the facility’s email list. This way I can see what the club is sending to its customers and prospects. What I am finding is many very clever ideas used to drive both new and repeat customers to the golf facility, for BOTH golf and other services (i.e. merchandise, F & B, lessons, etc.). In today’s world, it Is clear that email is the most effective way to stay in touch with customers and let them know what is going on at your facility (events, tournaments, etc.) and when you are offering specials and discounts (for golf and merchandise / F&B promotions). After a while I get conditioned to seeing the emails, and they also function as kind of a “newsletter” about what is going on at the course.

The most successful campaigns I have seen this year typically fall into two categories: The food and beverage campaigns and specials that involve the attraction of a new party to the facility. For example one of my golf course clients did a successful promotion this summer offering a free round of golf to any customer on the club’s email list that brought three other new customers not on the email list. This way the course was able to attract three new paying customers and add three names to the email list. Then these three new customers brought in three friends of their own and the cycle just kept going. This client was able to add over 200 new email addresses to its list during the course of the promotion.

In general, I tend to like promotions that offer discounts for new customers who are not presently on your email list. This way you get the revenue from the new customer, plus capture some record information so as to stay in communication with that new customer. The best part of all is that this form of advertising can be done with minimal expense. Compare that to the “phone book” ad so many golf courses continue to pay for.

So as you contemplate ways to drive more customers to your golf course this year, don’t forget about email. If you do not yet have a formal email program, think about adding one. If you are already capturing email addresses think about ways to expand the list and reach many new customers. It is almost 2010! Email and internet advertising is where the successful golf courses will be this year.

Thanks for your attention. I sincerely hope the information is useful. In the next postings we will continue our discussion of golf facility marketing with a review of some examples from the best golf course websites I have seen this year.

See you down the road.

Richard Singer

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