Over the past few years, plenty of column inches have been written about golf’s seeming demise. Under these headlines, a multitude of reasons are listed.
The game takes too long. The rules are too complex. It is too hard. Equipment is too expensive. Golf Clubs are too stuffy. There is no coverage on terrestrial television. Dress rules are archaic. It is boring. None of the tour pro’s have any personality.
I admit that golf has been through a tough time. The reasons given – I am not so sure. Yes the rules are annoying and so is the official who moans about the length of your socks. But I believe that there is a much more important issue that has turned golfer’s away from the game – POOR FACILITIES.
Consider that an aspiring golfer in the nineties and early noughties would have the following choices to ‘give golf a go’
- A clay ridden, boggy former piece of farmland that had been turned into a golf course by an entrepreneurial landowner inspired by a report that outlined a shortage of courses fueled by Nick Faldo’s Open victories.
- A concrete laden, freezing driving range with wooley mats and muddy golf balls.
- A half-derelict seaside putting course, neglected since its heyday in the 60’s and 70’s.
So, if poor facilities have turned golfer’s away from the game – it makes sense that QUALITY FACILITIES are the key to generate and maintain interest in the present and future. Let us analyse some examples across all levels of the game:
Indoor simulators – The improving technology and falling cost of launch monitors have given a quality investment choice for Golf Club’s and Professionals. The beauty is in their flexibility. Depending on the golfers demands, these tools can be used as part of a lesson, to help with the custom fit process, to gap your clubs or simply as an indoor chance to play the best courses in the world. In England, they offer a fantastic option during the winter months when the weather is poor and courses closed.
Driving Ranges – There has been a re-invention of the golf driving range, with TopGolf at the forefront of the quality offerings.
Utilising technology and parts of the ever popular tenpin bowling business model, TopGolf brings a young, fresh vibe to invigorate a tired format.
Putting Courses – The development of quality putting courses has quietly been happening in the last couple of years – led by various forms of adventure golf.
Interestingly whilst there are various themed environments to these courses, the putting surfaces themselves are smooth and clutter free – offering quite a pure putting experience free of gimmicks. For this reason, I believe there could be a market for top quality grass putting courses such as the Himalayas in St Andrews (below left) or the putting green at Little Aston Golf Club (below right).
Short Courses – With leisure time increasingly squeezed by long work hours, there is an increasing market for short courses, both in terms of the length of the holes and in the number of holes, with 6, 9 or 12 hole quality courses offering successful business models.
Nowhere is this better encapsulated than the 13-hole Par 3 Preserve course at Bandon Dunes.
This remote golfing resort is a perfect example of the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy, with quality, fun and beauty the key ingredients.
Public (Municipal) Courses – Many municipal courses have closed in recent years, with councils no longer able to afford to soak up their financial losses. Run correctly,however, with a focus on quality and these courses can be a huge success.
One such example is Queens Park in Bournemouth. This municipal is positively rammed with golfers every week, enjoying the excellent course in a relaxed environment.
Members Clubs – In the same way as municipals, many member owned Golf Club’s have closed in the last 10 years. With respect, the vast majority of these have been average, or below average quality, often built on poor soil.
Those Club’s that have avoided the temptation to discount and managed to maintain and develop the standard of their course have continued to thrive. An elite example from England is Royal Liverpool, a traditional members club that is good enough to hold the Open Championship.
Private Clubs – Whether you love or loathe the concept of the ultra-exclusive private golf club, there is little doubt that in England they serve a top-class offering for those that have the means to join.
Queenwood Golf Club in Surrey is a prime example of a private Club that sets the bar in terms of quality.
So we have seen examples from all levels of the golfing market of where top class facilities attract golfers and create a sustainable, profitable business.
An important element to their success is that they can maintain and attract customers despite charging prices that are above the level of many of their competitors. Discounting is not the long-term answer. The secret lies in creating and continually investing in a QUALITY PRODUCT.