We all know there’s been an incredible impact on the golf industry with the demand for golf increasing by historic numbers, while facilities depending on events and weddings are coping with drastic decreases due solely to pandemic related restrictions.
What Does the Data Say?
Golf is up over 100% in demand year over year across the country. Wedding venue demand was also up in 2020 even with restrictions on group gatherings (which surprised me). Every golf course operator I’ve talked to reports an increase in rounds between 20-40% year-over-year.
Here’s the latest historical search data from Google in the US1 which illustrates real demand….
Schools of Thought
There are a few different schools of thought on how to deal with the spike in demand to play golf. All of these have good logic behind them and are based on each golf course operator’s view of the future, unique market, customers, and experiences. That’s why I don’t think you can paint with a broad brush, but rather take a close look at each facility’s business and tailor a strategy that best fits their long-term success. We can all agree that no matter which school of thought you subscribe to; the pandemic will be defeated at some point sooner or later (hopefully sooner). The question and decision you’re tackling is which scenario is going to best serve your facility.
I’ve shared the three most common perspectives I hear from golf course owners below.
1: Loss Leaders
There’s a large segment of golf course owners and operators that tell me loyalty programs, memberships, and any kind of frequent player program is a “loss leader”making their inventory available at a discounted rate. They’re focused on leveraging this rare opportunity to increase new customer acquisition and eliminate any kind of program that provides a discount for tee times. They want to use the most fundamental economic principle of “supply and demand” to get the highest possible rate for their tee times. This is hard to argue with based on the dramatic increase in demand and reduction in supply imposed by larger tee time intervals and cart sharing restrictions.
2: This Too Shall Pass! Then What?
There is also a substantial segment of operators who believe that it’s important to think about what happens after this pandemic passes. They want to position themselves to be in good standing when the demand may decrease and many of the entertainment and recreational activities currently under heavy restrictions are open for business. They’re concerned about losing this “temporary” demand and alienating loyal customers who did not appreciate the increases in rates regardless of the basic economic “supply and demand” rationale. So far, most of these operators continue with their current programs without any price increases. Their primary objective may be to capture new customers and transition these new customers into their current loyalty and retention marketing programs.
3: Playing Both Sides
There’s definitely something to be said for “hedging your bets”. It’s hard to argue with the first two perspectives and that’s why marrying the two together makes a lot of sense for many operators. They’re raising their rates for the tee times in highest demand while extending an olive branch to their loyal regulars providing them an option to sign up for loyalty programs or memberships that gives them access to play for a fee that’s close to what they’re accustomed to paying. The golf course also makes sure that any loyalty program customer is forced to book a little later on weekends allowing the facility to use demand-based pricing strategies to maximize their rates during “primetime” demand.
I think all of these perspectives have merit. I’ve heard strong arguments from very successful owners on all three. The proper application of each strategy is debatable based on individual facility and market conditions. If you have a little doubt about your plans for 2021, I’d encourage you to watch our latest episode in our webinar series which provides valuable insights to help plan our pricing strategy for 2021.