I visit a lot of golf courses… well over 100 a year.
One thing I pay close attention to is how full the parking lot is. Obviously, that can vary based on day of week or time of day or based on the weather, but when I encounter a place where the parking lot seems to be overflowing no matter when I arrive, I know something special is going on.
The purpose of the “How To Stuff a Tee Sheet” series is to share some observations on courses whose parking lots are frequently overflowing… whose clubhouses are beehives of activity… who seem to have a steady stream of foursomes heading to the first tee all day long.
When asked what their secret to stuffing the tee sheet is, some of these operators just smile and change the subject… others are willing to share some of the ingredients in their secret sauce.
One of the operators who has mastered the art of stuffing the tee sheet chock-a-block full is Tom Abts of Deer Run Golf Club in Victoria, MN. Tom’s efforts earned him the 2017 Minnesota PGA Pro of the year award and Tom’s team at Deer Run is one of the big winners year after year in the annual Tee Times Reader Survey.
While there are some aspects of Deer Run’s success that Tom keeps hidden under the covers, others are obvious to any careful observer:
High Quality Product
Let’s start with the basics… Deer Run offers a high quality product. The golf course is always in impeccable condition, the course layout is interesting and fun but is not discouragingly hard… pace of play is enforced… the old farmhouse clubhouse is quaint and unique… free lemonade is always available but is only a few feet away from an enticing array of for sale goodies including a nice selection of cigars… and the hospitality is overwhelmingly friendly and positive.
Everyone has an occasional off day, but I have yet to observe one from the Deer Run team.
Revenue Rain or Shine
To keep the revenue flowing rain or shine in a climate that is notoriously fickle, Deer Run has found a way to neutralize the weather. With large scale corporate and charitable events booked every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, pre-paid Ladies’ Leagues on Tuesday and pre-paid Men’s Leagues on Thursday, Deer Run is all but guaranteed to generate sizable revenues every weekday, come rain or come shine. How many operators have weekdays sold out before the season even starts? We don’t know of many.
Open Tee Sheet
With weekdays pretty much sold out in advance, Deer Run can focus their daily fee sales muscle on weekends. One unique twist that they employ is that they allow you to book as far in advance as you like. Got a special weekend coming up in August with some friends coming in from out of town? Go ahead and book your tee time in May and save the date.
Stuffing the tee sheet isn’t the sole objective… the real payoff comes when you stuff the cash drawer. While many operators are offering a special rate to anyone with a pulse or are jumping on the dynamic pricing bandwagon and adjusting their prices every day, Deer Run’s rate sheet is one of the simplest in the industry.
Deer Run does not offer a season pass rate. If you want a discount, you can buy a bulk volume of rounds during a limited-time pre-season sale… otherwise, the standard rates apply.
Because they don’t need to spend too much time flogging specific tee times, Deer Run can focus its marketing efforts on driving their brand deep into the consciousness of Twin Cities golfers. Tom writes a weekly blog post that is read by thousands of golfers and he writes a monthly column for Tee Times Magazine where Deer Run often occupies the back cover. It’s hard to avoid the Deer Run brand… they’re even featured in ads posted above the urinals in popular establishments around town. The branding is consistent… every year there is a fun new theme… Fairway to Heaven… the Real Magic Kingdom… There’s No Place Like Home… etc.
Serial entrepreneur Richard Branson of Virgin brand fame famously said “sometimes you’ve gotta zig when everyone else zags”. Tom Abts would adjust that to say “we always zig when everyone else zags”. During one of my visits a few years ago, Tom made the statement “we don’t want to do a single thing the same way that any other golf course does it”. He then excused himself to meet with a rep that was pitching some unique garbage receptacles. I don’t know if Tom made the purchase, but the message was clear… even the trash at Deer Run is different!
No Rest for the Weary
Deer Run’s course usually closes at the end of October. Time to rest, right? Wrong! The team hunkers down and there are always some carefully thought out enhancements in store as golfers return to Deer Run in the spring such as a new cart fleet… pop-up tees on the driving range… some beautiful new flower beds… or this year the hedgerows framing the first tee box.
What does the Deer Run team have in store for you in 2019? You’ll have to make the trek to Victoria to find out… but we already know it will be something special.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
Would the Deer Run formula work for every course? Of course not… that’s the whole point of the Deer Run style… that each course should have its own unique shtik. The success at Deer Run didn’t happen overnight… Tom and team have been gradually building up this success story for over 25 years… but the sooner you start building your unique formula for success, the sooner you’ll reach the promised land.