Earlier this month Golf Australia released its rounds update for YTD August 2020. There is certainly a rounds boom occurring in the rest of the country with the boom particularly evident over the last few winter months. This will increase more now that Melbourne course are back open to 4 players per group.
The positive findings, in Australia and in many other parts of the world, can be linked to the varying restrictions being endured across the country in 2020. Golf’s ability to comply with Covid-19 health advice has provided the sport with a golden opportunity to grow during the pandemic when other sports have been restricted.
In this live discussion facilitated by Club Marketing Specialist Mike Orloff, we dig further into the opportunity presented to golf and about club actions that help to make this demand spike the new normal.
- Jeff Blunden from Golf Business Advisory Services,
- Tony Webeck – Australian Journalist
- Kurt Stegbauer – Head Professional Brighton Lakes Recreation and Golf Club
The perfect product
Jeff Blunden starts out the conversation by pointing out how golf has been the beneficiary of this global adjustment to lifestyle and the perfect product for leisure activity in times of a pandemic.
He also says that the current resurgence of golf is long-anticipated, after the pain the industry has felt over the past two decades where participation number has declined 1,5 percent year over year.
“We have to resell ourselves as a leisure activity. We have been served up this demand, and the questions is; will it be a soft hit or do we make it stick?” he says.
“This demand has material value because it will allow clubs to do things they never thought they’d be able to do through profitability.”
He suggests clubs and facilities need to convey a new message to the community in terms of what they are, who they are and what they offer.
“We need to get rid of the “White men only” mentality and let people know how they can be a key part of the community”.
Rounds are up
Kurt Stegbauer has managed the Brighton Lakes Recreation and Golf Club for the past 13 months while the facility has undergone a major redevelopment.
It has been a turbulent period trying to keep the club at its capacity in times of drought, floods and most recently, Covid-19, explains Kurt.
However, over the past six months, the numbers have been strong and the round per month has increased by 42% compared to last years’ figures. The club is now back to full and is doing well.
“I believe a lot of places think this is the new norm but we need to keep on doing what we can to capture the new market,” Kurt says.
“We resetting the membership model and are doing all to engage with new clients in terms of offering promotions. We want people to see this as their new home of golf -exciting times”.
Tony agrees. He has had a lot of conversation with clubs around Australia and says the sentiment has been pretty much the same: “Members only, we have to go to members only.”
He says clubs have to change this standpoint as “more members playing more golf is a detriment to the facility in terms of finances”, and he is concerned that some clubs eliminated public play to facilitate membership.
Living on the Gold Coast, he uses Palmer Colonial Golf Course as an example as the course, which is usually empty, was at capacity on a recent public holiday as players didn’t have other course options to play.
He believes that clubs and facilities need to alter their offering to the new segment wanting to play.
“Nudgee introduced a 9-hole slot on a Monday morning 6am, which has now proved so popular that they are going to continue. We need to strip back the traditional model of golf to now suit the lifestyle of the people showing interest in joining,” he says.
A balancing act
A big part of the conversation relates to the balance between member play and public play, and finding the sweet spot between the two, to be able to retain the two.
Jeff says the Australian model has always been mixed (between the member and public play), but at some clubs, it has been a case of 95% members and 5% public.
“The business has a need for the public revenue stream, so it’s a balancing act,” he reiterates.
“Coming out of restriction you had to prioritise the ones that been supporting the club, but coming out the balance needs to be right”
“It all comes down to who you are (as a club) and who you can be in the market you’re in,”
“What product can we create for the business to make sense?”
“We need great data to support our decisions making which Golf Australia understands and will help inform the club community,”
“Don’t make decisions in an information vacuum.”
Jeff talks about how clubs need to serve different segments (age groups, skills etc.) that need individual tailoring to be retained.
“You need to understand trends within those markets as well.”
“We need to optimise the tee sheet, move people around, break habits, and grow the membership base.”
The conversation is briefly guested by David Lulham who manages Wyong Golf. He says the struggle has been “finding that balance” as social players at Wyong bring in more money to the club, but there is to enough tee times for them to play.
“Our challenge is to hold on to our new members and remain at full capacity,” he says.
“We got the demand where we need it to be, now we just got to make the little adjustments to make it work,” Jeff adds in.
New report – new member demand
In a new report soon to be presented, Jeff says 9- hole rounds are up 28% by males, and that it’s a demand that will grow slowly, but steadily.
Therefore, he says clubs will need to make this part of the offering as they need to present to new golfers something that better fits into someone’s day or lifestyle.
“What habits can be broken and which can’t,” he wants clubs to ask themselves.
“Golf 7 days a week, 12 hours a day is the goal. Hopefully, days of the weeks don’t matter as much as they used to, which would be beneficial.”
Tony reiterated the balancing act clubs need to get right.
“If you know who you are, you can communicate properly and build a base to come on those days that are normally not attractive. The area of opportunity is to bring members in on the value that suits them.”
“He with the biggest database wins”
Jeff continues the conversation touching upon the immense importance of data.
Covid-19 has forced contact collecting at clubs and less cash is being used around the premises, which makes collecting data even easier, he says.
He also says it can be daunting for clubs to gain all this data not knowing what to do with it. “We need to collect the data, analyse the data and make some good decisions with it. What do we track, how do we track it the best and what do we learn form it?”
“Golf Australia is trying to tell clubs the national story, how it relates to your story as a club is for each club to figure out.”
Tony agrees that “data is the most valuable asset”. He believes clubs need to join the digital age and start using apps such as Miscore, which allows you to track when, and how long people are playing to know where your gaps are in your tee sheet.
“Collect data and be able to understand it and then apply it is central to everything,” he says. “We can’t make any meaningful change until we know where the change needs to be made.”
“Join the digital age, and arm yourself we knowledge!”
Using Topgolf on the Gold Coast as an example, Tony says it’s evident people are not anti golf, they are just anti the way in which it is being presented to them.
Due to Covid-19, he says, clubs has been forces to do thing different quicker than earlier, which can be a good thing. “Let’s take what has happened and run with it.”
The fluid price model
“We need to have a fluid model, weekend price needs to be higher and late afternoon needs to be cheaper,” says Kurt.
“That’s how we get bums on seats on all days.”
Jeff agrees and believes it’s a good sign that conversation challenging the traditional pricing model and different price structure based on where the demand is, is good.
The conversation is then guested by Warwick Hill-Rennie GM for Royal Melbourne who also manages Sandringham Golf Course, a public course in Melbourne who is using a dynamic pricing model that is data-driven.
“We saw an explosion when we could go back to golf at Sandy,” he said. “It has been an incredible resurgence.”
And it’s not just the regulars that are coming back he says, but 25-30% of all players are in fact, new customers.
“Retention of this new demand in a competing market is going to be the challenge,” says Jeff. “In the next 8 months, the challenge will be to retain all the new demand.”
What the future will look like
Wrapping up the conversation and summarising what the future may look like for golf clubs and facilities across Australia, Jeff believes “there is some fun times ahead”.
“How much profit do we want to make, will be the question,” he says. “You have to communicate your vision to your members and get them on board,”
“In the future, I believe there will be less focus on playing, and more focus on enjoying the facility in a different way.
Tony says that “social members will become members if they like the experience, that should be at the heart of everything.
“All that walks through the door should have a good experience,”
“Communication is key. To be upfront with members will save a lot of hassle”.
Kurt believes clubs need to “keep on improving your business.”
“As a club, you need to look at what you have and how you can take advantage of that and promote that,”
“At Brighton Lakes, we are going to be innovators and do things that have not been done before,” he says.
“Watch this space.”