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.



How was your Masters party?

Before Spieth melted on #12 (Sunday), I did a random check of 50 clubs via Facebook.  As usual the results were embarrassing:

Zero clubs out of 50 had a ‘Masters special’ enticing members to come out for wings, beer, chips and dip.

One club out of 50 had a picture with their crowd in the 19th hole.

I’m a golf addict.  I watch nearly every Sunday finish from my home (in the garage) but would rather watch at the club.  What if, at least for big events and just for kicks, your club starting hosting Final Round specials to get a little extra traffic on Sundays?

You are already staffing the restaurant (fixed cost) from 3-7 pm, why not give your members a reason to stay after their round or come out to the club?


Rebooting your marketing, part 3

You know the only thing worse than a tiny Marketing budget?  Consistently squandering the few dollars and time from the budget on useless activities that bring no new revenue.

95% of clubs have an abysmal social media presence.

Signing up for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram four years ago was great, not consistently updating it with interesting and relevant information about your club – unforgivable.

Your club should look like the most exciting place in town.  Is it?  Than show it off to your members and potential ones.

How often?  Every day.

Yes, every day.

“But we don’t have that much going on, no one could possibly take that on”.

I bet you do and you can.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all FREE + it only takes about 45 seconds to snap a picture on your phone, click the app, and presto.

Go look right now on your Facebook page.  I bet if you randomly select twenty members, they will each have at least 100 friends.  Some as many as 500.  Each time you post something and they like it, all of their friends can potentially see it.

“Honestly, we don’t have that much…”.  Yes you do.

Here’s a sample of few topics to choose from:

  • The Pro shop – Did you get a new shipment of shoes, belts, shirts, outerwear, hats, clubs, or pants?  Do you have a sale? Is a member wearing one of your shirts currently?  Tag your member, “Dr. Smith is looking good in the new Polo performance shirt”.
  • Leagues –  Men’s, Junior, 9 hole ladies, 18 hole ladies, dog fights…they all should be featured on your social media accounts (especially Facebook).  People love to see themselves.  Tag as many as you can.  What did they shoot?  Who got the best score?  Who won the most money?  Who looked like they are having fun?  Did someone buy a new club from the pro shop?  25% rule:  If you have twenty people show up, you should have at least 5 pictures from the event.  60 people = 15 pictures.
  • Lessons – Who is taking lessons on the range?  How much did they improve?  Who taught them?  Do you have group lessons?
  • Restaurant – You should have a lunch special every day.  Give away a free drink – if they like the picture on Facebook.  Remember, all of their friends can potentially see this.  What does the new salad look like?  Hot soup?  Chips and Queso?  Wings?  Who are the employees that everyone loves in your clubs restaurant?  Who is eating there today?
  • Upcoming events – (hint:  it takes about 5 exposures to get a person that has never attended to try something new).  Start promoting a month out.  Show pictures of the past events success.  Tell them to put it on their calendars – simple messages like this work.
  • Premier events – Member-guest, member-member, guest days, club championships – make them appear fun on your clubs social media pages with lots of pictures.
  • Demo days
  • Trunk shows
  • Video lessons – 1-3 minutes tops
  • Rules lessons, either video or print
  • History lessons from your club, what happened in golf on this date in 19__.
  • Weather update
  • How to hit it farther.
  • How to pitch/chip.
  • How to fix a pitch mark.
  • How to hit a lob shot.
  • How to hit a bunker shot.
  • How to properly grip the club.
  • How to stop three-putting.
  • How to cure a slice/hook.
  • Strategy on the course.
  • Fitness advice, getting stronger, faster, more flexible.
  • What is the difference in balls?
  • How to take a drop – most people get this one wrong.
  • Funny golf videos – these actual get the most views.
  • Did a member get married?
  • Did a member have a new baby?
  • Who’s birthday is it?  You should have a list of ever members birthday and celebrate on your Facebook page.  Who does this?  You can!
  • Upcoming pro-ams.
  • Outside events – who’s coming?
  • Throw back in time pictures.
  • Pace of play tips.
  • Tennis, pool, fitness center pictures/events/people.

If you can’t find something interesting to post each day – you aren’t paying attention.



Food for thought #16

If your local sign company gave you four billboards for free, for two months in the busiest intersections of town, with the stipulation that your club had to advertise, “Hands down, the best Ladies program in (name of your city)” or “You won’t find a better Junior program, anywhere”…could your club pull it off?

If not, why?

What would you have to do differently?




Rebooting your Marketing, part 2

Where are the course tours these days?

Why aren’t they on your website?

Do you want google images and (which I love) to get traffic or your club?

Here’s a simple one done on wordpress by my good friends at Sweetens Cove outside of Chattanooga, TN:

If you want to be a bit more ambitious, Oak Ridge Country Club in Oak Ridge, TN has a cool flyover.  Bonus points for narration:

Not having a course tour but needing members is like having a hotel website without views of the rooms.  It’s lazy.