The demographics of our market work against us because as we age, the less we are willing to change anything, and that stands foursquare in front of any attempts to remedy the situation.
As this is being written, the “fiscal cliff” is being debated, and no one knows where that will end up. Since the only subject being discussed is taxes, and not a word about real spending cuts, I’m not encouraged.
No matter what happens, we must face some issues in our own business lives, and we have to solve them to be viable as an industry:
Our membership median age and new member recruitment
In my travels across the country and in my own club, I get the feeling that when it comes to getting serious about attracting new (younger) members, we are whistling past the graveyard. We talk about it, we say we “have to do something,” but year after year, nothing changes. The demographics of our market work against us because as we age, the less we are willing to change anything, and that stands foursquare in front of any attempts to remedy the situation. And the demographic time bomb keeps ticking.
The answer lies in putting new member recruitment on the same plane as the golf course, food and beverage operation, clubhouse and campus. We budget religiously to maintain the course, improve our facilities, and upgrade our F&B, but is there ever a serious budget for membership marketing and recruitment? Do we have an outreach program on the part of our younger members to bring in new members? Are our facilities and programs truly family-friendly? Do we have budgetary plans to make them that way?
My suggestion is that there is no more urgent issue to be addressed than this one, and it should be on the top of every club’s long-range plan.
Reversing the decline in golf rounds
This really goes hand-in-hand with the first issue. Getting people to play golf is why we exist and unless we have new golfers coming into our market, nothing else will work.
I’ll give you a personal example. In my younger days I was a pretty avid tennis player and played no golf. While attending industry conventions, I noticed that I was at the pool talking to my customers’ wives, while my competitors were playing golf with my customers. This, coupled with the fact that I was getting older and couldn’t move as fast on the tennis court, led me to make the decision to take golf seriously. So I looked around for a golf academy, found one in Galena, Ill., (Eagle Ridge) and took a three-day class. While no one would call me a good golfer, I can break 100 (with no mulligans) and from that point on have loved the game so much that I started this magazine.
My point is this: These types of programs (golf academies) and other “junior” programs should be aggressively promoted to our members and their children. But in all too many cases, they are afterthoughts or relegated to “when we get around to it” status, which almost never happens. Every season should start with academies, warm-up clinics, and aggressive programs aimed at kids. The pros and assistant pros should get out from behind the pro shop register, and really reach out with programs for young golfers.
Food and beverage is getting better all the time
This is one area where we are ahead of the curve. For the last decade, club food and beverage has improved markedly. We have long recognized that we must become the “dining destination of choice,” rather than one of convenience. Across the board our menus, quality of ingredients, presentation and overall dining ideas have shown dramatic improvement. We have learned through our Chef to Chef Conference that today’s club chef is second to none in terms of education, experience and knowledge, and it shows in every aspect of club F&B.
What is my guess as to how these issues will be addressed? I’m not encouraged. We are set in our ways, but those ways have to change.
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