Winter Notes

You know it’s been a while when the first time you think of your website in a month or two is when you see it as a result in Google.

A few notes:
1) Montaup had its drawing tonight for new Associate Members and to reload the waiting list. For the first time I’m aware, there was no need for a sponsoring member. For the patient, a very good deal.
2) Segregansett is preparing to unveil an interesting program with a group called Evergreen Golf. Instead of a traditional membership, you commit to a certain deposit which is good for rounds, food, and drinks with no other minimums (you can even carry over your balance year to year). You still need to apply to be a member. Unclear if they will restrict tee times. At the right deposit levels (say $2000) this would really change the market.
3) Segregansett and their pro parted ways. Last I heard the membership was running the pro shop.
4) Crestwood is under new ownership and mailed out an aggressive offer to the New England Golf Guide mailing list (4K for single membership). I don’t think their website has been updated in years.
5) MGA Days have been announced for 2013 and there are more than ever (registration begins mid-March). A GREAT way to see private golf courses very cheap. Local courses include CCNB, Acoaxet (played there in 2012 — wow), Crestwood, Ledgemont.
6) Talked to a buddy who recently joined Agawam Hunt. He considered the process time consuming but pretty easy. Metacomet was also looking for members. RICC as well, though the initiation is still substantial.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten Ways #4

Pricing the first year

Seasonal clubs (like New England) get new members in two waves: April/May and September/October. April/May is logical — spring is in the air and the new members get a full season of play for their dues. September/October is driven by end of year discounts, which are often pretty good. Such as pay for a year, play 16 months.

But the months you should be recruiting are June, July, and August. That’s when the rounds are played, when the public courses are full, when people have time off, when your course is at its best.

You have to be pretty well off to pay a full year’s dues for play only July 15-November.

I like how Lebaron Hills does it — monthly payment plans. Divide the yearly cost by 12 and say that is the rate. Join in April and its a smoking deal — essentially half-price for the year’s golf. Join in June and you’re paying the normal rate. Same with July. Unfortunately September and October are not so good of a deal under this model.

You should waive minimums the first year. Why do people join in May? Because they don’t want to pay the minimums for March and April, where it will be an effort to make them. A new member who knows very few people is unlikely to be a big diner their first few months.

Best practice is to let the new member play as soon as you have the application and the check in hand. Three or four rounds will provide some actual knowledge to the membership committee. If you do turn down the member, take out for some guest fees or write it off and give them a full refund. Gives the new member 3-4 weeks more value for their check.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ten Ways #3

Encourage New Members to Join

I was talking to some guys last fall. They thought the solution to their membership woes was radio advertising.

Are you kidding me?

The fundamentals are the fundamentals. You should definitely have a kickback arrangement with local real estate agents (pay them $1000 for a new member, $100 for a prospect). Give them the chair of the membership committee’s business card. And a note that you welcome newcomers to the area and will arrange a free round/cart/lunch with a member of the membership committee at their convenience. Local golf newspapers and magazines can be cost-effective to reach serious golfers. Local chamber of commerce mailing lists are a good idea. You need to have a competitive website these days.

What are you really doing to incentivize your membership? Bounties that require recruiting 3 or 4 seldom work — most people are pushing it to recruit 1.

I spoke to a local pro about a member for a day event. The events are a great idea, but it should be focused on new members, not having a “semi-public for the day” event. The pro told me he wasn’t sure he could fit a single in — that everyone had signed up as foursomes.

I wasn’t surprised when two months later the 100-person event hadn’t yielded a single member. It was a great deal — $60 for a private course with cart and lunch. Grab your foursome and go.

Instead of targeting 100, target 25. Charge $100 — private club membership isn’t about saving money. Consider $125 with a clinic beforehand. Every foursome should have a member of the membership committee in it (or every other foursome and switch a person at the turn).

Joining a club isn’t about the physical environment — it’s about the social environment. Every aspect of your recruiting from the website to in-person events needs to emphasize how easy it will be to fit in the social environment.

Fall river advertised a “member for the day” every day for a while last year. Just call the pro shop. Sigh. Two years ago, I called their membership chair (who suggested I drop by, no follow up, no engagement), and a few days later I gave myself a full tour of the clubhouse including the pro shop staffed with 2 people without anyone attempting to engage. To be fair, their previous membership chair had engaged several times over a two year period.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ten Ways #2

Time is the Essence

A critical part of your value proposition should be speed of play. A peak round at most public courses is 5-6 hours. At my course during busy times it is 4 hours 15 minutes. That’s an hour and a half of my life that I just got back. More time to work. More time with family. More rounds of golf since work, family, and darkness tend to inflict hard stops on when I can play.

Swansea country club lets you reserve fixed weekend tee times for the season. One of the primary benefits is speed of play. It occurs because it’s not some random person in front of and behind you. It’s Steve’s group and Bob’s group, just like the last 10 weeks. Groups who play too slowly are easily identified and talked to. Not a bad public course tactic to help this issue.

Here’s a stunner. Nonmembers play slow. Regardless of your level, someone who has played the course 100 times plays faster than someone who has played it 5 times. While protection of tee times is one part of guest rules on weekends, speed of play is equally important. This should also be considered during nonpeak times. A dangerous foursome on a course is a member and 3 guests because a single foursome can destroy speed of play. Many guests will play at the rate they are accustomed to (5.5 hours) rather than sub 4 hours they should be playing at. Good members can play really, really fast. I was in a riding twosome and we stayed even with 4 70+ year old walkers in front of us.

The most dangerous foursome, however, is two pairs of mixed ability. You see this all the time at public courses. Each pair believes they should play exactly how they want. On a resort course, this is really a problem since everyone is paying $200 for the privilege. Good players gamble, study every shot, always defer honors, always defer farthest from pin. Bad players are bad players so they lose their balls, mishit, take mulligans, etc. A toxic combination. Either style of play can be fast alone (it’s pretty quick to be bad if you don’t look for your lost balls and drop with your buddy). A threesome keeps up due to the missing person. A 3 and 1 normally plays with the style of the 3.

So — are you encouraging nonmembers to play in 4somes or 3somes? Are you matching people on weekends when you have the room to let them play in 2s and 3s? What is your speed culture? How do new members understand the expectations? Are your games/contests aligned for speed (max strokes per hole, best score of 4) or slow play (18 hole net)?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ten Ways to Recruit New Members

#1 Focusing on Price is a Trap

It’s what most clubs want to do. Because it makes sense. If we can just get people in the door, they’ll see the value of membership and stay.

There used to be two types of courses: grossly underfunded, poorly designed, and overplayed municipal courses and private clubs. Many of the private clubs were not that nice by today’s standards, but were a lot better than the municipals. The whole concept of a sand shot was confusing to me my first 50 rounds of golf because normal sand techniques don’t work on dirt and hardpan.

Now many of the best courses in the world are public though frightfully expensive (see Pebble Beach, Doral, etc.). Most public golfers have played and often routinely play resort courses far better than the local private clubs. Though the courses are very crowded, poor tee times, etc.. Everywhere has high-end daily fee courses (Meadowbrook, Newport National, Red Tail locally). People go to Florida, Myrtle Beach, Bermuda, etc. where daily fee courses dominate.

There are people who focus on price. They join a club as a volume discount. Play 80 rounds a year, and a club is the way to go. Some play with the same foursomes every one of those 80 rounds. Have a better course and a better price and you’ll get them. But they’ll leave just as easily as they arrived. And there aren’t that many of them. Trust me — every person who plays 80 rounds a year has played at all of the local private clubs, knows the advantages and disadvantages, and is making a very conscious choice. They will also be the first to call to book the prime weekend tee times.

Public courses that sell memberships are in the same game. They offer two things — a discount for high volumes and access to weekend tee times. Green Valley Country Club is a funny case. A very easy course to get onto at any time (and a pretty good public course). They can pull 4K/year and a 5K initiation fee for memberships, however. Because a membership at Green Valley (or Newport National) is the only hope you have for a summer weekend tee time if you live in Newport since all the other courses are private.

The members you want for your club will actually be getting a bad deal. Because they play 25-45 rounds/year placing their per-round cost at $100+. At that price, they can play anywhere and anytime their heart desires and still come out ahead at year-end. They can travel with their buddies and not feel guilty. Play in random tournaments. Etc.

So how do you recruit them? It won’t be on price. The best approach is simple: You will play more golf. And then show that your club is organized around that principle. Some of the techniques will annoy your 80+ round members. They’re not going anywhere.

Stay tuned for method #2.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Winter Golf

One of the best parts of being a private club member is playing in the winter.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, I played at Red Tail. My foursome was 4 of the 8 people on the course today. A bit brisk, but proper hat, winter golf gloves, and long underwear and we had a really good day of it.

Twice in November and once in December I played at my club. Poked my head in and told the pro I was going to play a few holes. Totally empty course (never saw a person in front or behind). Hit one of my only birdies of the year. Retired to the bar after 5 or 9 or 11 holes to argue about golf rules with the other brave souls who finished earlier. Then I finished my drive home from work.

Most public courses just don’t drop their prices low enough (red tail was $70) to play below-standard golf until your hands get cold. And their bar is empty and closed before and after. A private club has energy — people want to play golf and are just looking for an opportunity.

The final hole of (almost certainly) my last round of 2010 I lost my ball. I’ve been working on major swing changes (stack & tilt). Found the ball 25 yards further than normal. Four months until April.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The End of Year Dance

As the weather gets cold, fiscal years draw to a close and many people start wondering whether to renew.

Now that initiation fees and waiting lists are mostly gone for the mid-range clubs, renewal is a big decision. You’re committing to $5k or so in outlays. And you can easily join a half-dozen clubs in the spring once you’re sure you still have a job.

Everyone is down due to resignations. Segregansett is down 27. Fall River is down 40. Metacomet is down a bunch. Crestwood is down big (rumors of merging with Ledgemont). Please post any other rumors you’d like to spread in the comments below.

“Normal” for a club is about 10%. Which is also about what you’ll see trickle in from March to June if you have aggressive marketing and outreach programs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment