19 Feb

Staying Up to Par

New Innovations On and Off the Course

Arnold Palmer golfing
Arnold Palmer

1457—this is when the game of golf, as we know it, originated. Historically, the game dates back even further; but it wasn’t quite the same game that members know and love today. Fast forward to 2019, and golf has come a long way from those first days in Scotland when feather-stuffed balls were hit with club-shaped tree branches. That was a long time ago—and just as the game has evolved over the years, so too have the people who enjoy it.

In today’s fast-paced world, the modern member is constrained for time. And after a bustling workday, likely followed by soccer practice or dance lessons, members choose wisely on how to spend the time they have leftover. Priorities have changed, and private clubs have done a wonderful job of making necessary adjustments along the way to meet these new lifestyle demands. A family-friendly club is now top priority, and though clubhouse activities have adapted … has your golf course done the same?

A Traditional Game In A Modern World

Today, research tells us that although the number of golfers hasn’t decreased—the number of people playing hasn’t increased either. So … with 34,011 golf courses in the world—45% of which reside in the United States—what’s the disconnect? The three main obstacles we often hear surrounding the game are: it’s intimidating, hard to learn, and expensive.

In addition to these physical and sometimes financial setbacks, there’s a cultural one as well: members—now more than ever—crave a social atmosphere. And not just a social atmosphere that they can enjoy with business associates or friends, but one in which their loved ones can appreciate as well. Let’s be honest, a four-hour long game doesn’t quite pique the interest of all significant others. Cue in Top Golf. How exactly did this game reach such a high level of success, so quickly? Because their strategy addressed every single one of these hurdles. Top Golf creators made their version of golf accessible and affordable—and frankly, they hit a hole in one.

Private clubs can respond to this shift as well by making golf more social, either with the implementation of a standalone golf learning center, or incorporating a golf simulator lounge into an existing facility. Though these amenities are on a smaller scale than Top Golf, they’re equally as effective. This doesn’t mean that the classic game of golf is on its way out—in fact, research shows that golf is here to stay, but evolving to meet current member needs is crucial to retention and recruitment.

A golf simulator lounge (like the one we designed above for The American Club, Hong Kong) simply makes the game more approachable and provides that elevated social atmosphere members are looking for. It also provides beginners the opportunity to pick up a club and learn the game. “Members practice three times more than they play,” notes Chambers’ President and CEO, Rick Snellinger, “this is why innovations should be implemented both on and off the course.” Aside from practice time, golf simulators and practice areas also allow members to enjoy a game they love, without committing to the hours it can take to complete an 18-hole course.

Not Just A Gentlemen’s Game

According to the National Golf Foundation, only 19% of all golfers are women. Of that 19%, even less play on a regular basis. But why? Today, private clubs are no longer built just to close business deals—and gone are the days of “men-only” memberships. Clubs have certainly evolved to become more female-friendly—and with the clubhouse being more inclusive and accommodating than ever before, it’s time the course follows suit. Families today enjoy doing things as a unit—but as we’ve mentioned, an 18-hole course can be daunting to those just starting out.

This is a large part of why “9-hole leagues” have grown in popularity in recent years. By creating a 9-hole game, your club can cater to those just getting their toes wet on a course that’s far less intimidating. Additionally, 3-hole courses can be completed in under an hour—perfect for both the amateur and professional when time is less than abundant. Implementing different course options can drastically increase utilization from people of all skill levels and has the potential to turn the game into one that everyone can enjoy.

Additionally, with “clubs within clubs” becoming such a popular facet of the private club world, clubs can consider options that cater to golfers of all types. A “Ladies Night” on the golf course or “Nine and Wine Night” are creative examples of this concept that also incorporate a social element. Or, a “women’s only” intraclub is another way to make females feel comfortable on a course that was once (and still predominately is) dominated by men. These intraclubs aren’t meant to further segregate your golfers but rather strives to provide different environments to make the game more approachable and attract other segments of your membership.

Don’t forget to consider golf-related facilities, too. Historically, greater emphasis was often placed on Men’s Locker Rooms and/or Men’s-Only Lounges. Meanwhile, Women’s Locker Rooms were often neglected and many women didn’t have a place to grab a bite after their round of golf was over. While many clubs have made great strides in golf-related facilities recently, this inequality is still prevalent in some clubs. That’s not to say that Men’s Lounges should disappear or that men shouldn’t have their own space to socialize and smoke cigars … just that women should have a comfortable place to spend their time, too. Each club’s culture is different, so do what is right for your club, but keep in mind that it’s not just a man’s game anymore. Really, a welcoming atmosphere is what matters most—on the course and in your facilities.

Fresh Ideas To Stay Ahead Of The Swing

In general, members today want more than golf—but instead of looking at the game and social offerings separately, make the course part of the social equation. “Sips and Tips” is an inventive way to introduce the game to non-golfers. Provide hors d’oeuvres and drinks while breaking down the games’ objective so that it’s not just educational, but fun, too! A Sunday morning Golf Brunch is another option that can get a mixed demographic out on the course. Food and mimosas are a surefire way to pique the interest of many—your millennial members, especially.

And while we’re on the topic of food and beverage; these items shouldn’t be neglected on the course. Golf is unarguably a long game—thank goodness for halfway houses that help alleviate the hunger that earnestly prevails right around the 9th hole.  But hot dogs and chips don’t exactly appeal to everyone. Today, clubs are mixing it up with options that take a traditional beverage cart to a new level—offering coffee, ice cream, and healthy snacks. Mixing it up with both savory and sweet options including multiple (fresh) drink selections will undoubtedly excite your golfers.

And as always, themed golf activities are a great idea; from a “couples night out” to a holiday-themed affair to the always successful golf fundraiser—there are hundreds of options that make the game appealing to a larger demographic.

Youth Programs To Prepare Tomorrow’s Player

Of course, there’s no question that the youth are the future of private clubs—they’re future members, Board members, innovators, and leaders. And just as it is important to ensure private clubs offer family-friendly services and amenities that cater to the family unit within the clubhouse, it is equally important to do the same on the golf course. To ensure golf stays around, club leaders and influencers must do their part to engage the generation that will determine its longevity.

Many clubs have junior summer camps involving golf lessons, which is a great way to pique a child’s interest in the game. Clubs are also moving toward developing dedicated junior golf programs, with dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of children enrolled. This is a great way to foster a love of the game at a young age, building skills and creating memories that will last throughout their lifetime.

Staff training is particularly important here. When hiring a golf professional, be sure to think about how your young members will connect with them. How is their demeanor? Do they enjoy working with kids? Are they approachable and easy to talk to? If funds allow, clubs can benefit from hiring two PGA professionals—one for adult members and one for your juniors. And while these shifts can help pave the way for the course of tomorrow, some clubs are even taking it a step further.

We recently spoke with David Porter, General Manager of Greystone Golf and Country Club, who described one of the more exciting ways his club is changing the game. “We’ve incorporated a specific youth membership category for children age 7-25 where the kids are actually the golf members—not their parents,” said Porter. “They go through a certification program and are then able to go out on the course and play by themselves just like any other adult golfer. It’s an extremely vibrant program that not only caters to children in our community but also develops them as the next generation of GGCC members,” he continued.

More than anything, today’s golfer wants to feel included—junior members, females, beginners, and even pros—and by adapting your services and facilities to that very objective, your course will thrive for years to come.

How has your club gotten inventive on the course? Comment below!


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