Written by: Dan Cortese, Chris May, and Jeff Ginther, PGA.
Another PGA Show has come and gone, and those fortunate enough to attend in conjunction with the annual NGCOA Golf Business Conference heard from the sages of the industry on their various outlooks for what the 2023 golf season may bring. While macroeconomic uncertainty, inflation, and back-to-back great years may have operators waiting for the other shoe to drop, there are reasons for savvy operators to be optimistic once again concerning 2023 revenue performance.
Indeed, many have good reason to hope for more playable inventory due to better weather (2022 was historically bad for many regions) and the potential for daylight to shift to more favorable afternoon hours via the Sunshine Protection Act. Looking ahead to the 2023 season, the theme at the front of every operator’s mind should be retention. As the gentlemen at Pellucid put it during their presentation in Orlando, “mastering retention is a big opportunity.”
Retention can be tricky as the average customer only visits about once a quarter at most daily fee courses. Plus, many golfers play at multiple facilities. Adding a question to your post-round experience survey asking how many rounds your customers play at other facilities can help you determine your wallet share of guests’ total rounds (tip: if you do not survey guests’ experience post-round, start today).
INCREASING WALLET SHARE
Since trying to find brand-new customers, it is often easier and more cost-effective to increase wallet share from existing golfers in your local market. By examining how golfers find your course and incentivizing them to play your facility more often, golf course operators can create loyalty and a stronger value proposition. One of the best new ways to do this is through a public membership subscription program. Since existing golfers have already cleared the hurdle of buying clubs and the other significant upfront costs to playing golf, creating a subscription-based public membership program can be more fruitful than other growing the game or golf entertainment crossover initiatives as this bundles the benefits they need to play more and encourages improvement and consistency.
“THE GYM MEMBERSHIP”
Subscription-based programs are familiar to your customers. Many may already utilize streaming services, gym memberships, meal subscriptions, and others. Subscription-based programs are also not new to golf, as they have existed at private clubs for decades. However, they are relatively new to public golf. With a public membership program in place, golf courses can anticipate a certain level of income each month or year, which can help with budgeting and financial planning. Additionally, golf courses can benefit from increased customer loyalty, as members are more likely to return to the course and recommend it to others.
Subscription-based programs for public golf courses have become increasingly popular as they offer golfers more value and exclusive benefits. With the rise of online booking platforms, it’s easier than ever for golfers to sign up for public membership programs. Golfers are then able to pay the golf course a predictable monthly, quarterly, or annual fee to receive a range of benefits, including discounts on green fees, a bucket of range balls, and exclusive access to tee times, special events, and tournaments.
Another advantage of offering a public membership program is the ability to manage and control tee time access. Golf courses can use their public membership programs to regulate the flow of golfers, ensuring that the course remains at a manageable level of traffic, even on weekends and holidays. The public membership program can also be used with dynamic pricing, offering members better rates on the shoulders of busy hours while leaving the busy periods open to drive higher rates from public play.
Subscription-based programs allow golf courses to develop long-term relationships with their customers. This builds trust, loyalty, and repeat business, allowing companies to maximize each customer’s value over time. Subscription-based programs provide the ultimate flexibility for golf course operators. Operators can set the membership pricing, establish the value equation, and set access rates and range access.
OPTIMAL WAYS TO GROW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION MEMBERSHIP INCLUDE:
Encourage the golf course staff to sell public memberships to your golfers while loading a bag or welcoming golfers to the golf course. The most successful operators pay their employees a commission for each membership they sell. This is a win for the golf course as their staff is bringing in recurring revenue, and a win for the staff as they have the chance to increase their income by benefiting the golf course. This not only provides the golf course with a competitive advantage regarding employee retention but also motivates the staff in the process of building public memberships and engaging golfers.
Leverage technology to upsell public memberships on your course website and apps during the tee time booking flow. This can significantly increase your dues-paying member base while taking pressure off the pro shop when it comes to public membership sign-ups, tee time bookings, and payments. Technology platforms that are integrated into your tee sheet and point of sale software also offer additional benefits such as auto credit card updating to reduce declines, payment deposits directly into your bank account, reporting, customer management, etc.
Subscription-based programs encourage customers to stay engaged with a product or service over a long period of time. This helps to build a deeper connection between customers and the company, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. Public membership programs can provide a consistent and sustainable revenue stream for golf course operators, lessening their reliance on weather and other outside factors. Public membership programs can also help golf courses build a more engaged community of golfers through special events, tournaments, and other activities exclusively offered to members. This can help foster camaraderie, create a more positive and supportive environment, and build stronger relationships between golfers and the course.
Public membership programs have proven to turn golf courses’ financial performances around. Many public courses have well over 2,000 members that significantly impact the financial performance of the course and separate themselves from their competitors that rely only on daily green fees.
“In the Bay area during January, we experienced a year-over-year reduction in available inventory of 18% due to the rains,” Al Weinhold, General Manager of Monarch Bay Golf Club in San Leandro, CA, explained. “Because we committed to maintaining our Players Club program and retaining members through COVID, we have a subscription membership base of over 2,000 golfers. And according to our Sagacity Operations Benchmark reporting, we achieved a 58% higher RevPar and 17% higher occupancy than our local competitors, largely due to the weatherproof nature of subscription dues.”
Owners can offer discounted rates to members during non-peak times to fill tee times that would otherwise be filled with additional marketing efforts. When you factor in the dues and add them to the member access fees, the ADR of the member is generally one of the highest ADR categories for the course.
SELECTING THE RIGHT SOFTWARE
When choosing a subscription-based program for a public golf course, there are several factors to consider, including the types of memberships, the cost of the membership, and the benefits and perks included. One of the first things to consider when choosing a public membership program is the type of membership offered. Some courses offer individual memberships, while others offer family and corporate memberships. It is essential to select a public membership program that fits the value equation of your golfer and the economic needs of the golf course owner.
When you create a subscription-based program, you will be on your way to solving one of the most significant issues in public golf! Mastering retention and capitalizing on the golfers you currently have will give golf course owners ultimate control of their assets. Operators that are savvy with retention strategies will rule the roost in 2023.
One of the best new tools for creating retention, increased utilization, and customer satisfaction is public membership programs. Spring is almost here; consider it as you plan your revenue strategies for the upcoming season.
Supreme Golf published the above article Increasing Golfer Retention – The Gym Membership For Public Golf Courses”, in the educational center of the National Golf Course Owners Association.