Six trends for golf course owners for 2014

As we get to the end of another year, it’s a great time to explore some trends that I feel will be more prevalent for golf course owners through 2014.

I’ve had a great opportunity this year to chat with golf course operators internationally – from the coast of Northern Ireland to a town of 1,000 in Saskatchewan to Myrtle Beach to New Jersey to Arizona and back home to Ottawa and Toronto – and I’ve seen first-hand how different golf courses manage different socio-economic issues.

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The golf consumer is changing, and that means the golf courses offering a particular product must adapt as well.

The issues and problems that I’ve seen, appear to be more focused on courses in North America, though. The linksland, perhaps only in my own eyes, seem to be immune to the issues that we face on this side of the Atlantic.

These are not predictions – predictions are pointless – but instead, these are six trends that I feel will become more important for golf course operators as the year goes on.

1) More cooperation amongst facilities 

A common story I heard this year, whether it be from golf course owners themselves or at various conferences or speaking with people in the industry is that there are too many golf courses in Ontario for the number of golfers. It’s survival of the fittest out there, which usually means golf courses have to heavily discount in order to attract customers. The more they discount, the less revenue they’re actually able to bring in, and before long, they will be out of business. I feel that if businesses began to partner with one another to attract golfers – especially golf courses that are further away from city centres – they’ll have more success. And, they won’t have to rely on discounting (not a marketing strategy).

I’m unsure if this means more courses will join membership-based groups like Executive Golf in Ottawa or ClubLink in Ontario & Quebec, but I’m a fan of the model and we’ll see if more people think about joining a group and trying to stretch their golf budget and play as many courses as possible.

2) An increase in the mobile space

Golf courses are businesses, and businesses are going mobile. There has been a long-standing argument in marketing  that it’s a three or even four-screen world (television, computer, mobile, tablet) and it’s impossible to attract customers who barely pay any attention to your message. However, Mitch Joel (President of Twist Image and author) says that it’s really only a one screen world. The “only screen that matters is the one in front of you,” he says. And that one screen, more often than not, is a smartphone. Joel continues to say that a smartphone is the “remote control of your life,” which is a little sad, but true. The global average for how many times a person checks his or her phone in a day is 150 times. 79% of Canadians expect a good mobile experience from a brand. A golf course is a brand. I’m predicting more golf courses will develop some kind of mobile presence – either an app or a mobile website.

3) Private clubs will develop mass advertising campaigns

Last year I saw ClubLink do a six month campaign (approximate) across traditional and digital media as part of its 20th anniversary. I also saw the uber-private Beacon Hall do a media buy in the Toronto Star and on television. I couldn’t believe that private golf clubs were advertising in this manor, I always had the assumption they had membership waiting lists miles long and it was word-of-mouth that got more bodies in the door. If a club like Beacon Hall – ranked in the top-10 of the best courses in the country – would reach out to the general public with a “join” message, I would not be surprised to see one or two other clubs follow suit.

4) Alternative revenue ideas – beyond golf – will take off

Golf courses have always focused on, well, golf. And why not. But now more than ever golf course owners are facing money-making issues. I’m betting that more courses step up their food & beverage services to compete with local restaurants, and look to other ways to take advantage of their facilities. Cardinal in Newmarket is a perfect example. They have a ton of different dining options through the week, and even show a movie on the driving range in the summer. It’s a great way to bring the community together and, considering a lot of golf courses in Ontario are outside of city centres, the golf course would be wise to become a focal point for dining and entertainment in a particular community.

Golf courses have also not been afraid to adapt their facility for different sports. Whisky Run in Niagara is in the midst of building a disc golf course that will be ready for play in 2014. Muskoka Highlands was featured in a CBC News story earlier this summer talking about its FootGolf course. I just played a course in Arizona where I rode a Segway around with my bag attached. Old Tom Morris may be rolling in his grave at the thought of these things, but they are very real alternatives for golf courses that will likely provide very real revenue.

5) A successful LPGA means a lot for women’s golf

It’s not hard to see the state of the LPGA is the healthiest it’s been in some time. Commissioner Mike Whan – who is a great, smart dude – has a vision and has executed on it. There are 32 tournaments scheduled for 2014, up from a dismal 23 just a few years ago. More importantly, the developmental circuit, the Symetra Tour, has increased its schedule by five tournaments as well.

Not only that, but the quality of play is fantastic. Although there is still much conversation about Asian women dominating play, there is a crop of young, international talent that is ready to challenge week in and week out.

If the LPGA is able to secure some main network TV coverage – which they are attempting to do from what I understand – you may see the game pique the interest of more women next year.

6) Success of Canadian pro golfers will influence people to play more

In 2003, Mike Weir won The Masters. I can recall exactly where I was, and exactly what the shots were that allowed him to win that day. It’s ingrained in my memory. It also helped to inspire me, as a 15-year-old, to go out and play more golf. Although Weir has had his struggles, he is still a champion for Canadian golfers. That said, Graham DeLaet has taken Weir’s place as the most prominent Canadian on Tour. I’m confident that DeLaet’s success in 2014 will help to inspire another generation of Canucks to play more golf. His coming out party was the 2013 Presidents Cup, and the whole golf world is predicting big things for him next year.

Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons is a big advocate for the importance of heroes in Canadian golf. Graham DeLaet will emerge as a hero in Canadian golf in 2014, and there will be a spike in people playing because of it.

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