Golf Writer, Keith Cook, examines how military fee structures are a model for growing the game of golf.
While reading a particularly sobering article from the Washington Post, Why America Fell Out Of Love With Golf, I was once again convinced golf is in trouble. It might be temporary . . . “a market correction” as some will say, but no doubting our game needs some help in modern times.
The Washington Post article (linked at the bottom) details the trending downfall of golf from a business perspective, but also from a popularity sense within our fast-paced culture. The bottom line is financial, but the overall message is of a country no longer as enamored as it once was by the game of golf.
Thinking about this from a personal perspective, I wondered if my experiences in golf could help with a part of the solution. You see, I’m not your typical life-long golfer. I never played golf or walked onto a golf course until I was 22-years old. I would occasionally watch golf on TV and knew some of the game’s biggest names like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Lee Trevino, but never really wanted to play golf – until that is, after I joined the military.
My second assignment in the military was to a large Air Base named Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan. About 2-months into my assignment, August 1987 (yes, a long time ago), I was asked to play in a select-shot tournament with friends. I remember it like it was yesterday and from the first tee shot forward until today, I have been in love with the game.
I wondered however, if golf was able to hook me so instantly, why is the population of today – specifically the younger generation – so unimpressed with “The Greatest Game Ever Played”? Of course, there are a ton of theories and nuanced discussions of why golf has experienced this downturn in recent years. Some popular thoughts involve time, some others include a perceived exclusive nature to the game. However, the primary reasoning as to why golf is currently declining, always centers back to one core idea – COST.
JUST TOO EXPENSIVE
For golf to stop the downturn and perhaps flourish once again, COST has to be addressed. Now my personal experience won’t lend itself to telling equipment manufacturers to calm down on releasing four or five of the next greatest drivers in a two-year span. I think one of the game’s largest, Taylor Made, has learned that lesson. However, what my experience as a consumer could bring is a perspective of how I was able to grow in the game as a beginner and keep playing all these years.
For me, it was simple economics. Even though I traveled all around the world in my nearly 30-years of service, the cost to play golf on military golf courses never became overwhelming or forced me to give up the game. If you are not aware, there are some 200 military golf courses operated worldwide by the Department of Defense. I’m not an official spokesperson and can only speak from my viewpoint, but it has been my experience that within these facilities there is not only a supreme focus on business, but also a supreme focus on trying to grow the game as well.
You may be asking, so how is this different than any other “civilian” course or golf facility around the country? They also focus on business and growing the game. All true, however, there is one big difference that I’ve noted – a staggered green fee and/or membership priced system.
Staggered (or targeted) fees aren’t a hard and fast rule on all military courses. However, more often than not, many military courses will offer staggered fees targeted towards younger personnel, who by pay scale simply don’t make a lot of money. You will see from time to time some military courses that have gone away from this policy. Those courses typically will only offer a straight fee program where everyone pays the same – like you would see outside of the gates. Not surprisingly, the courses who implement a staggered fee approach tend to attract a larger percentage of younger golfers who can now afford to play.
Here’s a look at just one military golf course’s fee structure. This would be something typical you might find at many military courses worldwide. The ranks and divisions may not be familiar to most, but suffice to say, the lower the green fee, the lower the pay scale and vice versa.
With a model like this in place, detractors will say the lower ranking members enjoy the same course and the same amenities as those who pay a higher fee. True, but you are also growing a new generation of golfers. A new generation who will play more golf in their lifetimes simply because they can afford it. I am a good example of someone who was introduced to the game later in life, but could afford to play throughout my career based on staggered pricing. And some 28-years later, I’m still at it.
The idea is simple. Attract the targeted demographic of golfers who will be the game’s future through financial planning and concession. You not only infuse your customer base, but you also grow the game in the process. If you are a course owner, a golf management company, or a PGA pro, I believe you should consider a staggered fee plan for your upcoming season/s.
If you’re having trouble attracting a new generation of golfers or just trying to keep a loyal segment of golfers happy, I’m a big believer in developing a staggered fee or structured membership plan for your clientele. Of course, a staggered fee plan could apply to daily fees, yearly memberships, and/or loyalty programs as well.
The point is to offer the target group you are looking to grow as a customer, the best staggered/structured fee you can as a golf course or facility. #GROWTHEGAME
As an example, a course in my area offers a year-round membership for a specific price (let’s say $1,200). However, to try and grow their customer base, they offer a Junior Membership Plan (19 & below) for $500 and a 20-29 year-old Membership Plan for $800. Both plans offer discounted fees to play golf – and guess what, the course has enjoyed a major influx of 20-29 year-olds and has jumped it’s junior golf numbers as well. Coincidence? I think not.
Courses are all about specials, internet prices, and other loyalty programs, but in these times, money . . . specifically staggered green fees or memberships, may be part of the answer to solving the largest negative factor in growing our game – COST.
Why America fell out of love with golf (The Washington Post, 5 March 2015)
BIO: Keith Cook has been a writer/blogger/contributing editor at localgolfer.com since 2013. He is a retired U.S. Military Veteran and Ashford University Graduate living in Michigan. Follow Keith and Local Golfer on Twitter @_KeithCook and @LocalGolfer.
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