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March 2024

Volume Up

Your 2024 Golf Industry Playlist

By Michael Williams

2024 is now upon us, a new year and a new start full of promise and anticipation. Some people look at a new year like a highway stretching over the horizon. Others see a new year like a notebook with blank pages waiting to be filled. I like to look at a new year like a music playlist, with a year's worth of music ready to be played. With that in mind, I thought I’d cue up a few of the tunes that should be at the top of the charts for golf course owners and operators.

What’s LIV Got To Do With It?

The battle for professional golf between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf enters its third year. The battle has been acrimonious and bitter and has seen longtime friends become enemies. It has caused a sport known for its genteel nature to rip back the cover on rivalries and animosities that had long simmered out of public view and now the rift and recriminations have been revealed for all the world to see. Some of that has certainly tarnished the sheen of professional golf and has seen the reputation of a number of individual players get dragged through the mud.

The basis for most spectator sports is that competition among top players in high-stakes competition creates compelling viewing. That is the formula that worked in every sport from football to fly-fishing. The more people watch, the more money flows into the game through ticket sales, sponsorship and advertising. The LIV model completely dissolves that formula; an endless supply of money is made available to players who are playing less golf in front of fewer people than ever. Some of the best-known names in the game have defected to the upstart LIV venture, including Spaniard Jon Rahm arguably the best player in the world, departing at the height of his powers. The question for operators is a slightly metaphysical one: if a pro tour falls in the forest, does it make a difference to their business?

Keith Miller, CEO of the Montgomery County (MD) Revenue Authority, which operates nine golf facilities in suburban Washington, DC, doesn’t think it is much of an issue for operators at this point. “I don’t think it matters to golfers. Also, I think it is best for operators to stay away from it.” Miller has a point, in that much of the conflict between the feuding pros has incorporated questions of politics and national allegiances, which is a third rail for almost any business. The topic remains a bit thorny, but with more top players joining the LIV Tour, operators may want to consider ways to use it to their advantage. Whether it's having an event or two on the TV in the grille, to establishing a league that mimics the team format of the LIV tour, there may be an opportunity to generate a bit of interest and a bit of revenue from one of the few topics that gets even non-golfers talking about golf.

People Who Need People

Technology continues to change the way that golf course operators do business. From POS systems to automated sprinkler systems and even robotic mowers, the day-to-day success of a golf operation depends on its people. In a post-pandemic world that has seen seismic changes in how people define the workplace and the work week, golf remains a business that requires an in-person presence. I spend a great deal of time advising managers in a range of businesses, including golf, that they must be skilled at four things when it comes to their talent pool: Attracting, Training, Retaining and Advancing.

Managers must look beyond traditional recruitment strategies to get new talent. In the past, courses were populated with employees that had a golf background, but the next generation of general managers are just as likely to come from a hotel management background. And when you are bringing in talent that is not familiar with golf as a sport or as a business, it’s important to have effective training tools that bring recruits up to speed on the basics and the intricacies of their business. Once the talent is in place and engaged, retaining them is essential to maintaining quality and continuity in the business. Managers must be consistant and intentional about building an organizational culture that says that each team member is valued; for the record, one of the best ways to find out what makes employees feel valued is to ask them! Finally, managers must give their team a path for personal and professional growth. Without a clear and compelling vision for what comes next with your organization, employees will look for it elsewhere.

New Kid in Town

There’s no denying that golf is in boom times. Rounds and number of players participating in golf or golf related activities continue to rise; and for the first time in decades, course inventory is on the rise. The ongoing challenge is similar to the one that operators face with staffing: a large contingent of their customers will be new to the game and some of the norms and traditions that those who are experienced in the game take for granted. Ideally, operators can craft an atmosphere that is respectful of their loyal customer base while being welcoming for the newbie. The fact is that a facility doesn’t have to be everything to everyone. Some will choose to install Toptracer and encourage music on course, while others might stick to a more traditional model. Either way, operators must make sure that they are ready to give the uninitiated a warm welcome and a magic moment that connects them to the game and to their facility. Knowing that golf is a game for life, a well-placed sign or a courteous interaction with a team member could generate revenue for years to come.

2024 promises to be a dynamic year for the golf industry. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely ready to hit “Play”.
 

 

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