A Golf Parable

In the beginning, there was no golf… and then the golf gods went to work.

On the first day they developed a golf course… and it was good.

On the second day the golf gods created 500 golfers who lived in the area around the golf course… and they all had a great time playing golf when they weren’t tending to their sheep.

On the third day the golf gods created a 2nd golf course… another fine layout.

On the fourth day the golf gods created 500 more golfers who lived in the area around the 2nd golf course.  While the now 1,000 golfers played most of their golf on their home course, from time to time golfers would cross over and play the ‘other’ course… and it was even better.

On the fifth day the golf gods created more golfers… these golfers were nomads who decided where to play from day to day primarily based on price.

On the sixth day, the golf gods created another group of nomadic golfers who decided where to play from day to day based on course quality.

On the seventh day, the golf gods wanted to rest and play a round of golf, but they still had work to do… and they created another group of nomadic golfers who banded together into a virtual country club and split their time among the two courses based on who they most wanted to play with.

The golf gods then took a month-long vacation and played golf every day.

Then, they really went into overdrive… they created thousands of golf courses … public, private, regulation length, tournament quality, executive, par 3s, pitch and putts, and even a few putting courses… and they created tens of millions of golfers who either became members of specific courses or joined one of the nomadic golfer groups.

The golf industry exploded when a dynamic character with the colorful name of Leopard Irons burst onto the scene and dominated professional golf for almost two decades.  Millions more people took up the game and the industry became a beehive of activity.  The golf gods in their infinite wisdom egged developers on to build a course a day for many years and when the dust settled, they had accumulated over 36,000 golf courses, with about half of them in the US.

During this period of rapid growth of golf, Al Gore invented the Internet… and even though Al Gore couldn’t play golf worth a lick… his invention began to be used by golfers and golf course operators to streamline the communications between them.

A miracle occurred in 1995 in Minnesota when the Three Golf Magi (no, it wasn’t Palmer, Nicklaus and Player… it was Tentis, Doebler and Hsu) witnessed the birth of the first internet booking system… created by a Minnesota company called TeeMessiah.

As use of the Internet evolved, it became possible for large corporate entities to establish monopoly strangleholds on certain activities and golf was no exception.  A service called GolfSoon emerged as the largest seller of golf tee times.  The founders were going to name it GolfImmediately but then they thought that was kind of silly… if someone was going to play immediately they would need to already be at the golf course and the people booking tee times usually hadn’t left home for the course yet, so it became GolfSoon.  GolfSoon grew and prospered, in large part because it was acquired by a media conglomerate that controlled the highest rated golf cable channel.

GolfSoon’s success spawned copycats and competitors… TeedOff.com, GolfFace and others.  All had one thing in common… their objective was to turn golf courses customers into their customers.  They all sat in between the golfers and the golf courses… the golfers began to consider these websites to be their “golf provider” and the websites were able to dictate terms to the golf course operators rather than the other way around.

GolfSoon and TeedOff.com then went on acquisition sprees and soon two large companies controlled by media conglomerates controlled the tee sheet software that powered the operations of many golf courses… the foxes were truly in the henhouse and having a grand old feast.

You couldn’t watch a golf tournament on TV anymore without being bombarded by ads for the booking conglomerates… none of them actually resulted in people playing more golf… they just siphoned more money out of golf courses and into the coffers of the big media companies.

Things became dark for the golf course operators… the collective bulk of the tee time distributors was blocking their view of both golfers and the sun and it was as though a big, dark cloud had settled in over the golf industry.

Meanwhile, the golf gods had organized their activities under the banner of the USGGA (the Unbelievably Swinishly Greedy Golf Association) and were having a grand old time presiding over a professional game that was thriving.  They measured the health of golf in terms of TV ratings and prize money and they spent most of their time hanging out at tony private country clubs with members for whom money was no object.  The fact that the volume of play at public golf courses had leveled off and actually started declining didn’t seem to register as a problem with them, even though golf courses started shutting their doors at a regular, depressing pace.

All seemed lost for the public golf course owners/operators… all but the hardiest were struggling to survive and many course owners sold their land for housing developments or simply shut the doors and put the properties up for sale.

Then a wispy white cloud appeared on the horizon… it was just a speck at first but it grew and grew and the strangest thing happened.  This white cloud drifted very close to the ground and settled in and among the golf course locations… it soon created a large, pervasive presence that touched every golf course and every golfer in the land.

Golf course operators were pleased to find that the white cloud enabled them to extend their marketing reach to many golfers and… perhaps even more importantly… to track the activities of their core customers during their away games.

Golfers were pleased to find that the white cloud enabled them to leverage their memberships at their home courses (if they had them) to help them plan and organize away games and squeeze an occasional extra round of golf into their busy schedules.

Nomadic golfers were pleased to find that the white cloud enabled them to move from course to course more freely and easily than ever before… courses they had never played before used the white cloud to post invitations to these nomadic golfers to stop in and play a round.

The white cloud was a powerful but benevolent force for the golf course operators.  It didn’t try to steal their customers.  It didn’t bombard their customers with emails.  Instead it enabled each golf course to expand its marketing reach but without the negative side effects of trade times and discounted pricing.  It enabled golfers to quickly and easily invite one another to play and that resulted in more filled tee times.  It played nice with tee sheet providers rather than trying to steal their business, too.  It provided services that helped golfers play a little more often, creating a rising tide for the industry that benefited everyone.  It was free for golfers to use and it didn’t clutter up its display with gobs of annoying pop-up ads.  Golf course operators paid a modest fee to inject their information and promotions into the white cloud so they would reach golfers far and wide… paying the fee proved to be a good value because of the incremental revenue it produced.

The white cloud did not try to dis-intermediate golf course operators from their customers… rather, it enabled them to serve their customers better.  Savvy operators started using the white cloud to provide golfers with the convenience they craved but without losing their grip on their customer relationships.  The white cloud wasn’t a complete panacea… some course closures continued to occur due to the raw economics of land use… but the financial environment for golf course operators did improve dramatically.  Some operators were better than others at taking advantage of the situation and got more than their share of the benefits of the new growth created in the industry.

Another byproduct of the white cloud was that it enabled golf entrepreneurs to quickly and cost-effectively create new services that benefited golf course operators and golfers. New golf societies… new virtual country clubs… new events and golf formats were all created by inventive entrepreneurs who were able to leverage the capabilities of the white cloud.

As a result of all of these positive developments, the golf industry started growing steadily again. No longer did 50% of all available tee times go unused and courses were able to generate enough revenues to pay their employees competitive wages, to maintain their courses in fine condition and still yield a healthy profit for their efforts.

Golf course owners/operators were happier.  Golfers were happier.  And the golf course owners/operators and golfers decided they didn’t even need the golf gods anymore because after all it was the golf gods who had screwed things up by encouraging over-expansion and then forgetting about the needs of the average golf course operator and Joe Golfer.

Of course, this didn’t prevent the golf gods from declaring victory and taking credit for the renewed growth of the industry.  Those in the know knew better but they were too busy playing more golf and making bigger profits to be bothered by any of that nonsense.

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The moral of this story is that the financial health of the golf industry can improve but if and only if course owners/operators retake control of their marketing destiny.

If you want more information on how to use the friendly white cloud to improve the health of the golf industry where you are, drop me a line at [email protected].





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