Barry Hill: Your golf club will never get a second chance to make a first impression
No matter how attractive the golf course, how impressive the history of the club, times have changed. Even the best established of golf clubs can no longer sit back and wait for members to flock to their doors.
Many clubs have already introduced flexible membership schemes, reviewed payment facilities and abandoned joining fees as they fight to keep existing members and introduce new ones.
So what else can be done?
Attracting visitors and visiting parties is becoming an increasingly important source of income for every golf club.
And the key word is marketing.
To your golf club, marketing today is just as important as it is to the success of any other business. More than ever, there is a need for a totally professional approach.
Prospective visitors have a wide choice. If you want to see just how wide, try a little exercise. Draw a circle around a five mile radius of your club and see how many golf clubs fall within that circle. Then widen it to ten miles.
So how do you go about marketing your golf club? The answer is with all your might.
Basically, there are two stages:
1) Sell your club.
2) Live up to the expectations that you have created.
Take a long, hard look at what you have to offer. Does your club have a unique selling point – some feature that makes it stand apart from other clubs in making it attractive to potential visitors?
Make a list of all the positive points, then emphasise those that make your club stand out from the rest.
And make sure you know what the opposition is offering. If you are going to look at your own club in isolation, set green fee levels, offer catering packages without having a clue as to what the neighbouring clubs are doing, there is no way you are going to put up a more attractive offer to potential visitors.
When you get an initial inquiry from a prospective visiting party, try from the outset to arm yourself with as much information about them as you can. If you know where they are coming from, exactly what they are looking for, it is half the battle.
Try to find out where they have been in the past. This will give you some idea of the standard of club they are used to dealing with.
When you are faced with the all-important question “what will it cost?” reply with “what were you looking to pay?”
All clubs will have a scale of green fees for visiting parties, of course. But I would urge secretaries / managers to bear in mind two key points: 1) The second most important factor to anyone after survival is to be made to feel important; and 2) it costs the club absolutely nothing to put a player on the golf course.
I am not suggesting for one moment that you sell your club short, but if you can give the impression that you are offering something special it may make all the difference. Building the ‘something special’ into your scale of greens fees will give you some leeway when coming up with costings.
I am not advocating taking a negative attitude towards green fee income as soon as the phone rings with the inquiry – just weigh up all the circumstances, particularly if it is for a slack time of the year, and never forget that 50 per cent of something is always more profitable than 100 per cent of nothing.
• Praise the advantages of your own club at every opportunity (but never run down other golf clubs)
• Don’t offer what you can’t fulfil
• Don’t arouse expectations you cannot meet
• Never try to change things you cannot change
• Always be prepared – make a mental note of the most frequently asked questions and have the answers ready
• And be a good listener. Don’t be so eager to get across your pitch that you don’t hear what your prospective visitors are looking for.
So how do you encourage prospective visitors to make that first contact?
Make sure your club is mentioned as often as you can, from weekly competition results to major events. Invite the sports editor, and / or golf correspondent to any event you think is worthy of coverage, and worth a picture. And it can be a cast-iron investment to invite them down for 18 holes from time to time.
An attractive, accessible and informative website is essential. Make sure it contains everything the browser wants to know about every aspect of your club – course, location, professional, clubhouse and dress code / etiquette, and always include booking forms.
Visitors’ information pack
As with the website, make sure it contains all the information they need, and if you have to spend a bit of money on a decent presentation folder, it will be money well spent.
Whether you are answering the telephone, preparing your website or your information pack, never forget – you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
When you have your booking, make sure every aspect of the day is covered, that everyone concerned – professional, bar steward, caterer and so on – know exactly what is required of them. Never leave anything to chance.
Invite your visiting party organiser along to meet everyone responsible for his day. When he arrives, remember that you are representing your club. Reflect your pride in it in your welcome and your enthusiasm.
On the day of the visit, be there personally to greet them and make sure they have everything they need – and then leave a number where you can be contacted should there be a problem.
Many clubs are realising the importance of marketing, and they have appointed someone to take over this responsibility.
If your club is fortunate enough to have a member who has marketing experience and is prepared to fulfil the role of marketing manager without any financial reward, you are extremely fortunate.
But if some inducement is needed to get a member to take on the responsibility, it is well worth considering. A reduced annual subscription, for instance, or a certain number of occasions when he can bring friends onto the course without payment of a green fee.
Bear in mind that one additional visiting party of say, 30 people at a green fee of £30 a head is £900 – probably equivalent to one year’s annual subscription – and that is without catering and bar profits, or sale of prizes from the pro shop.
Barry Hill is the author of ‘Marketing Your Golf Club’ and a former honorary secretary of Bramhall Golf Club in Cheshire