The Role of Service in the Golf Industry
Golf Reimagined Business Analyst Justin Lukacs delves into service in the golf industry.
Quality service is now an integral ingredient to any successful business. With the immediacy of reviews available for companies all over the internet, having a solid structure to provide friendly and helpful service will benefit the public perception of the business, simultaneously creating a more positive environment for staff and patrons. However, many in the golf community feel that this topic is absent in discussions at many courses around the world. Golf has always had the moniker of a snooty sport, a reputation that has unfortunately been held up by the environments at many courses. While the culture is slowly starting to change, we believe there are many service options for courses that can greatly increase their image and, in turn, help profitability for the business.
Golf Reimagined has amassed a large amount of data on the industry through research and experience and over the last number of years. A large chunk of this research is secondary; however, we try to get as much primary as we can. One of the best members of the team for primary research is Bob Schmal, whom I had the recent opportunity of interviewing for our podcast. One of the themes of the episode was exactly that of the topic under current discussion, and Bob has been focusing on service in the industry as a key factor in the overall health of a golf course. We spoke on the impact of service in our region of Alberta, as Bob looked at reviews for all the courses in our province. The overwhelming trend among positive reviews is mentioning the friendly service upheld at the given course. Adversely, the negative reviews expressed a lack of the aforementioned service. This tells us that quality service is important to golfers, especially to the casual demographic. This may not be a groundbreaking point, after all, you would expect consumers of almost any service to expect it to be performed in a friendly and professional manner. What is surprising is the lack of initiative shown by management at a plethora of golf courses to increase public incentive and accessibility, almost ignoring their market altogether. I have personally been to a few courses over the last two years where I have felt the same heir of pretentiousness and side-eye glances for simply not being a member. Now I am certainly not suggesting that the exclusive and prestigious nature often associated with golf has no place in the current landscape; Augusta and St. Andrews have certainly earned their reputations. Simply, we are suggesting that approaching service with raised noses and folded arms will hurt your business in more ways than one.
Well then, what is the solution? There are some basic changes that can be made operationally that will go a long way. A larger emphasis on friendly and professional service can be made in team meetings and in employee handbooks, not only for the restaurant/bar staff but for all members of the team. One thing that is sparse at many courses is the integration of the grounds crew to the rest of the clubhouse staff, as most often grounds crew are relegated to their separate area and are not wanted around the clubhouse. I, too, experienced this as a supervisor of the grounds crew for three years at a course here in Calgary. We suggest combining the entities in a reasonable way to increase a sense of teamwork and pride through more open communication with all staff at the golf course. This can help raise morale which, in turn, will have a net-positive effect on providing the friendly service we are promoting. It will also elevate the quality of work and work ethic of the staff, making management happier in return.
There are, of course, some more controversial changes we think will benefit a club. for example, another issue discussed in the podcast with Bob was the transformation of the pro shop experience. The pro shop is a model that has been around for quite some time with little deviation from the recipe. Every pro shop I have been to is nearly identical with the exception of architecture and (to a small degree) selection. The same golf shirts, balls and visors can be found at nearly every course across North America, and unfortunately the same can be said about the service provided. This is sure to ruffle some feathers and while I have no doubt the pros at your golf course are friendly, I am simply talking about an update to the model. Accessibility can be an issue with pro shops, a lot of which are stationed in the back corner of the clubhouse. This makes it difficult for new patrons to find their way around, as they need to find the pro shop to check-in before they can start their round. As part of the ‘New Golf Experience’ model at Golf Reimagined, we replace the pro shop with a visitor center at the front of the clubhouse, or just outside. Golfers are greeted by friendly staff who can direct newcomers and members to where they need to go, allowing them to grab a hot coffee right away before the round. This sets an immediate example of what can be expected for the rest of the visit, helping to ensure golfers enjoy their time. This obviously is just a start to transforming service at your golf course.
An important aspect of providing quality service is the services provided, another area that is commonly lacking at clubhouses. Again, we are familiar with the current infrastructure; a bar/restaurant accompanies the pro shop and, more recently, golf simulators that make up the services most locations provide to their customers, outside of golf resorts (and the apparent round). Why not increase the number of services you can provide patrons to increase the satisfaction of their experience while increasing profitability? One of our favorite suggestions for courses is implementing massage therapy in the clubhouse. Anyone who has walked 18-holes knows the toll it takes on the body, but even swinging the club 80-90 times in 4 hours can be rough. This is especially true for more senior patrons, who make up the majority of the golf market to this day. I’ll leave the physiological benefits of massage therapy out of the conversation, as this is not our focus, but the known benefits will help elevate the experience of golfers by improving how they feel physically and mentally. Further, this encourages spending more time at the clubhouse, increasing the likelihood of spending more elsewhere. This idea can also help business in the winter months, again by encouraging members of the club or community to visit for some relief. What about the kids? We suggest offering a small daycare service, so parents have fewer excuses to skip a tee time, in tandem, aiding the positive perception of their experience. Don’t want to add a full daycare service? Add some video game consoles. The Nintendo Switch™ is a family-friendly system with a game selection that can appeal to all kids and can often keep their attention better than a babysitter. The emphasis here being on adding some simple services, specifically to the clubhouse, to increase gravitation to the hub of the golf course.
At this point, I think the main point has been hammered home. We want to see golf courses succeed and one of the most pertinent ways we think it can be done is through friendly and helpful service. Stressing this as an important point in team meetings is a good first step to take and this will obviously take form differently at each course, but we want to stress there is more you can do. Invest in your team by bolstering the sense of community between the management, restaurant staff, and grounds crew. Add a few additional offerings to the clubhouse to increase the amount of time patrons want to spend at your location. Finally, elevate the overall experience you can provide through innovative ideas, truly providing a ‘New Golf Experience’. Service may have not traditionally been a focal point of the golf industry, but absolutely should be moving forward.
For more on this topic, check out the recent podcast episode with myself and Bob Schmal, where we dive further into the ‘New Golf Experience’ and the role of service in the industry at www.golfreimagined.ca.