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February 2019

Connecting with Golfers in Off Season a Must

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By Steve Eubanks

If there’s ever a time and place to stay away from your golf course, it’s Chicago in the winter. What are you going to do, build snowmen on the greens? Skip balls across frozen ponds?

But there’s another problem. It’s summed up in the age-old adage: Out of sight, out of mind. The longer your members or customers stay away from your club, the more likely they are to remain away. Absence becomes a habit.
A couple of months away and you become an afterthought.
 
Once the weather breaks and the grass starts growing again, operators have to retrain their customers to come back to the club and resume their normal playing (and spending) habits. 

Doug Friess knows this better than most. The manager at Bolingbrook Golf Club in suburban Chicago, Friess grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where winter weather ranged from brisk to arctic. His golf season as a kid sometimes stretched into January. Other years, the clubs went into the garage before Thanksgiving. Friess also spent a decade in Atlanta managing various clubs for Sequoia Golf and ClubCorp before joining Kemper Golf at Bolingbrook.

“I understand the differences in activity based on geography and weather,” Friess said. “When I was in Atlanta, I don’t think I ever wore a coat at Christmas.” 

Friess also understands the need to keep members active and engaged throughout the winter. That’s why he creates programming to keep Bolingbrook members engaged year-round.

“We do trivia nights and wine tastings and chef’s specials throughout the winter to keep people coming out,” he said. “We also will host cooking classes where our executive chef takes members into our banquet kitchen and teaches them how to prepare something exotic — a dish from the Philippines, for example — where you might have to go to a specialty store to find the ingredients. Those are really popular. 

“We also keep golf going with some indoor hitting areas where our teachers can give lessons and members can look at their (clubhead speed and launch angle) numbers. We haven’t gone with simulators yet, but that is something that we are looking at for the future.”

Because Bolingbrook has a 75,000-square-foot clubhouse, Friess is able to host special events throughout the winter, including some junior golf clinics in the main banquet hall, which can fit upwards of 900 people.

“Anything that keeps people coming out and engaging with us in the off season is a plus,” he said. “We are constantly staying in touch with our members, be it through special events, email, social media: whatever we can do to keep people thinking about the club is a good thing.” 

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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