There is a reason why your Junior Club championship has terrible participation

I was born in 1972.  My generation was the first to receive participation trophies.  My first year of little league baseball, we won two games – and I got a trophy!  Did I keep it on my dresser?  Yes, right beside the first place one the very next year.

There is a place for participation trophies, despite my badge-of-honor-adult-disdain for them.

The club championship should be the PREMIER event at your club.  It should be a celebration, not an afterthought.  I’ve heard in ‘olden’ times stories of many, many club members coming out to watch.  That isn’t the case today at many clubs as the stories of low participation are more the norm.

Where does all of this begin?  I would submit in the early years, when golf only has one trophy or medal (for the 15-17 year old phenom who takes $100 weekly lessons…and the other six days, applies what he/she learned).

I was playing in an invitational tournament in my hometown a few weeks ago and looked on the wall of the kids activity room.  My head Pro won the 9-11 division in 1979, as did one of my best friends, Walt Chapman, in the 15-17 division.  To hear our Pro tell it, his dad Mr. Dibble had a vibrant junior program in the late 70’s-early 80’s.  I can’t recall a club having this many divisions – ever!  Females too?  Unheard of.

Why can’t your club copy this?

“We don’t have enough to participate, especially with young girls”.


Why can’t this be a major focal point going forward?

Why can’t you hire a young (or old) gregarious Professional that is a pied piper for young people?  One that is fun, kneels down at times to speak, understands their lingo, and won’t give up even when the child wants to?



Junior Golf (still an afterthought?)

I’ll never forget my first trip to Greenville CC in Greenville, South Carolina.  It was early spring, temperature in the low 50’s, a little wind, definitely sweater weather.  After lunch, I went to hit balls and looked over to the right…and saw a good 35+ kids practicing in the short game area.  I said (surprised), “what’s going on”?  My friend (and member) said, “it’s like this all the time, we have a young PGA Pro that is largely dedicated to the Junior program”.  I watched in amazement as several other professionals assistants  — again, read several– went through chipping and pitching drills on a day many kids I thought would be playing video games.

Here is their scorecard:


Separate card.  A great message on the bottom.  A dedicated staff.  If you look closely at the scorecard, notice how the distances are very age appropriate.

Anyone want to take bets that in twenty years they won’t be cutting initiation fees, charging separately for 3 year old beat up range balls, and begging for their members to recruit for a month’s worth of dues?

Kids love to take lessons.  They love to play with other kids in a fun environment.  If given the chance, many would fall in love with the game.  A great PGA Professional that can attract and maintain a strong junior program could be another reason why the parent joins and then later starts playing too.  Can you imagine being able to say that you had the strongest junior program in town – and being able to back it up?


Restaurants are more than just selling food

Clubs needing new members continue to focus on the wrong area(s).  Yes, you need a strong calendar of events.  Yes, you need a decent restaurant.  And yes, it would help to have a strong lady and/or junior program (actually you should strive to have the best in your town since no one touts it)…but don’t fall in love with posting pictures of your $14 lunch items with avocado over your main income line item:  dues (golf).

When it comes to food, by in large, members would much rather have quality over cheap. They pass cheap about 15 times on the way to the club, but there is realistically only so many times a member will pay $22+ for a beer and a sandwich plus service charge for lunch vs. the chain around the corner.

I get margins.  I get that the restaurant is usually a huge financial loser and you need to maximize each time your member visits, but the vast majority will not support what they feel is gouging.  And therein lies the mistake, focusing on margins and not the real source of income.

The country club business is all about dues, not hamburgers with locally sourced angus meat.  Camaraderie, not fish tacos with mango salsa.

You want everyone gathering after their round in the 19th hole or Grill(e) room, not going there separate ways.  Members quit clubs, not their friends.  When you foster an environment of camaraderie and unity, you retain members that otherwise might not have stayed.  You also grow membership, because these happy members tell their other friends in town where they should be members.  This is where your restaurant can accentuate the entire member experience.

Ask yourself a few important questions:

  • Do you have a loss leader?  Convenience stores sell soft drinks for .69.  Big chain retail stores routinely sell household staples at or near cost because they understand people will buy other things while shopping for the one thing.  Would you sell more blackened catfish sandwiches if tea/soft drinks were .99 instead of $2.25…because a member smelled or saw one pass by?
  • Does your restaurant/19th hole look like the coolest/cosiest place in town or old and dated?
  • Does your staff expertly remember names?  Remember the 1980’s show Cheers?
  • Do you have a few signature items on your menu that are affordable when compared with the Applebee’s and Outbacks of the world?
  • Does your staff regularly wow members as evidenced by the number of times they tell the General Manger?  If not, why?
  • Do you have weekly specials that change each week?  What about seasonal items?  Are they well promoted on Twitter, Facebook, and email blasts?
  • Does your GM or Head Pro routinely eat with members?  This is a huge opportunity to casually gain important information about what members like and dislike about their entire club experience.