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Women and children first

I received a phone call the other day from a very frustrated junior golfer.

“Why do members hate us juniors so much?” he asked.

I was taken aback for a moment, as I pondered this rather unexpected question.

It turns out that the club where he recently took up a junior membership had begun restricting the availability of tee times for juniors, making it extremely difficult for him and other junior members to get on the course, especially on weekends.  When he did get on the course, many of the older members would turn up their noses to the juniors, or roll their eyes at the group, etc.  In general, he told me, it wasn’t a very welcoming atmosphere.

“We just want to learn the game, and have fun,” he said. “It’s not like we are making trouble, or anything. We play by the rules, repair our divots and wave people through. But they [older members] still frown at us.”

That same week, I was playing golf at a public course with a mate of mine, when we came across a lone woman golfer sitting at a teebox, waiting to hit. There was a bit of a backup ahead, as a few groups in front of us (all men, by the way) were all playing extremely slowly.

She immediately suggested that my partner and I play through. When I offered that we might as well join up and play together, she smiled politely but declined.  “I’m just getting into the game,” she said in a rather embarrassed tone. “I just joined at [a private club] and I need to get better before I play with anyone. I don’t want to make anyone upset.” (Her swing, I discovered later, was FAR better than any of the players in front of us. She was also a very quick and capable player.)

Is this really happening? In this day and age? Are club members still so entrenched in old-fashioned ideals that we don’t welcome anyone and everyone keen to take up this fantastic game of ours? Are we really alienating women and junior golfers?

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: Women and junior golfers are THE future of golf. Plain and simple. Without them, a club simply cannot survive in the modern world.

As the product of an extremely supportive American-based junior golf program, I am continually puzzled (and disgusted at times) about the lack of real support that many Australian golfers afford to today’s young players. Sure, many club websites and brochures claim to welcome juniors with open arms, but when it comes right down to it, it is the members themselves who are responsible to roll out the welcome mat.

With a strong junior membership or contingent, a club can look forward to decades of revenues, income and future membership numbers.  Likewise, women represent the fastest-growing segment in golf. You’ll see more and more products and services (and clubs) targeting women and junior golfers in the near future. There is a reason why: they are the future.

Junior golf in Australia has endured its share of ups and downs. Years ago, Greg Norman captured the hearts and dreams of Australia’s juniors, catapulting golf to the top-of-mind for many of our youngsters.  The rise in interest – combined with strong support by clubs — led to players like Adam Scott, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley climbing up the ranks to take the world stage. Not coincidentally, club membership following that time was strong and healthy.

But then junior golf faltered for a while. Increased competition from other sports like Cricket, AFL, Tennis and Swimming–in addition to things like video games and other “cool” activities– have led to a gentle decline in junior participation numbers.  And, not coincidentally, club numbers (in general) have also followed that decline.

Yes, there have been other factors at play. But at the end of the day, juniors and women golfers are a critical part of golf, and they need to be welcomed to the course with wide open arms.

So the next time you see a junior or woman (or any beginner, for that matter) teeing off in front of you, remember that he or she may be the next Adam Scott or Karrie Webb– and that they hold the key to the future health of your club, and of Australian golf in general.

The private to public conversion…is it imminent?

Over the last few months, I’ve received a heap of emails from readers regarding my columns on Club Memberships, Social Golf and the like. While the emails have been almost overwhelmingly positive (Thanks!), there have been some which have stated that articles like “Is your club Anti-Social” are missing (or ignoring) important viewpoints.

By far, the most common argument I hear from club members is that social golfers (for example) should not be able to just come to a private club and make use of the clubhouse and facilities which were painstakingly paid for (and built) by the members.

It’s an understandable viewpoint. Members have poured their blood, sweat and tears (and considerable money) into building their clubs and facilities. So they have a fair amount of pride of ownership, and can justifiably feel threatened when a non-member just waltzes in to enjoy the fruits of the members’ labour.

But what many of these members fail to realise is that today’s golfer sees golf MUCH differently than golfers of the past. And if you ignore that fact, things will only get more difficult.

In general, the modern golfer sees a course as a “facility” to be hired for the day. Like the neighbourhood tennis court, your local gymnasium, swimming pool or even a movie theatre. It doesn’t matter who built the facility, or when it was constructed or how much it cost. It only matters that it is there, open and in good condition.  If your facility isn’t up to scratch (or open to non-members), they will find another one that is. Plain and simple.

To put it another way, consider the MCG.  Originally built in the 1800’s for cricket (and ONLY for cricket), economics of the 1900’s soon dictated that it be opened up for other uses. Its long-term future is now dependent upon things like AFL , concerts and other “users” of the facility.

Were the original members of the Melbourne Cricket Club worried that their grand stadium was going to be opened up to things like footy? Sure, in so much that there was a concern that there would be damage to the turf, etc. (in much the same way that a guest golfer at your club might make a divot, or fail to repair a pitch mark, etc).

Now, yes, golf is different than cricket. And yes, there are golfers that are looking for camaraderie, social interaction and friendly members, etc. That shouldn’t be ignored, especially if it is your club’s point of difference. But understand that today’s “Social Network” has a different definition. It isn’t found in a Member’s Lounge, but rather online (via Facebook, Twitter, etc), so the majority of Generation Y (and Z, and all the others that your club should be working hard to attract), don’t usually need a golf club for anything more than a round of golf. If they want to play, they are likely to bring their own mates (Welcome to our golf club… BYOM.)

If you need further proof of the trends in golfers’ preferences, then let’s look across the pond to the U.S., which is often used as a predictor of future trends here in Australia.

In 2008, the National Golf Foundation in the US published a report, “The future of private clubs in America”, which uncovered some trends that are eerily similar to what is currently happening here in Australia.

For instance, golf courses in the US are experiencing increasing levels of “Private to Public conversion”:

While the total number of clubs has remained relatively constant over the past several decades, there has been considerable conversion activity. And, while many clubs have faced severe challenges, it hasn’t resulted in closures so much as opening doors to public play. In fact, conversions outnumber closures by 10 to one,” the report says.

Private-to-public conversions are usually prompted by a drop in memberships and associated revenues (initiation fees, dues, food and beverage, etc.) resulting in an inability to meet operating costs and debt service.”

Sound familiar?

Further points hit even closer to home.

Other reasons for conversion to public include: an aging membership, underutilization, competition from other clubs or courses, assessments that drive members away or a poor local economy. In almost all cases, a club’s financial difficulty leads to a sale which marks the conversion to public.

After converting from private to public, most clubs enjoy an increase in rounds and revenue. Club conversions have an impact on the local market, as some members join other clubs and some play a variety of public courses. Some members decide to stay at the now semi-private club, typically with a reduced dues structure.”

Most importantly, the report recommends that clubs take a cold, hard look at themselves.

Club presidents and their boards, especially those whose clubs are financially at risk, need to honestly assess their club’s business situation. This involves conducting an objective competitive analysis, analyzing current and latent demand, and preparing realistic financial forecasts.

The development of a strategic plan is a must. Too many clubs operate without one. Member input into the planning process is critical and can bring everyone together for the cause. All options, including raising membership caps, converting to semi-private status, introducing new membership categories, and even bringing in third-party management, should be put on the table.”

The list of similarities to what’s happening here goes on. In essence, if your club is failing to plan, then your club is planning to fail.

For a bit of inspiration, perhaps we should all look at forward-thinking clubs like Portsea Golf Club (see this month’s Industry feature). A traditional private club, with a passionate member base, they were struggling just like many other clubs in the country. But instead of burying their heads in the sand, they took a proactive approach. They built a $20million facility that will not only be good for members, but more importantly will embrace social golfers, tourists and other “users” of their new facility. And they are well-positioned for weddings, corporate events and other revenue-generating activities that are becoming a must-have for many courses. Portsea have certainly set themselves up for success.

And that’s my point with all of these columns: To help ensure the future of the game that we all love by helping the clubs to succeed long into the future.

See you on the fairways

Is your club anti-social?

Over the last year or so, there have been many course closures, sales and merger announcements throughout Australia..  One by one, golf clubs and courses are breaking under enormous financial pressures and a changing mindset and lifestyle of golfers.

“But surely it won’t happen to OUR club,” I can hear you whisper.

For those of you whose clubs (and Boards or Committees) continue to bury their heads in the bunkers, then be warned: It can happen to you. No amount of money, history or pride will make you immune to the growing threat of a dwindling market. Waiting lists are all but gone, joining fees are disappearing and high-priced subs are being slashed.

The brutal, cold truth of the matter is that today’s golfers are a completely different species than in the past.  They seek (nay, demand) a different offering for their golfing dollar. And most clubs are failing to give them what they want.

This is precisely why more golfers are choosing to ditch their private memberships and migrate to social play. Australia’s Social Golf market is growing at an amazing rate.  Clubs and groups like the RACV Golf membership, iGolf Queensland, Crown Lager Social Club and the SGA Tour operated by Social Golf Australia are all capitalising on this growing trend. Their fields are getting larger, their prizes more significant, and the camaraderie stronger than ever.

So what, exactly do today’s golfers want?

Variety: Variety is the spice of life. In golf, this can mean different challenges, layouts and experiences.  Social golf groups play a variety of spectacular courses every week/fortnight/month. A Club golfer, on the other hand, has only one (maybe two) courses. And yet most Clubs refuse to overhaul their current reciprocal arrangements. In my opinion, more clubs should band together to create “Super Clubs” where their golfers can pay one annual fee, and have open access to multiple of courses in their area.

Flexibility: Today’s golfer demands options around when they play. They likely cannot play every weekend due to family, work, etc. A social group allows them to pick and choose when they play, at a time that is convenient. Club golfers, however, usually must choose only a six or seven-day membership –with no options like, say, one-day, three-day, twilight or credit-based arrangement.

Value: Social Groups often have little or no joining fee, can offer official handicaps, and a “pay when you play” ability. If a golfer cannot play one week, then they don’t have to pay. A club golfer, on the other hand, pays their subs whether they play golf or not. The maths are simple: if subs are, say $2400 per year, and a golfer can only find time to play once a month, then they are in essence paying $200 per round of golf. Is your course truly worth $200 for 18 holes?  Before you answer that, be aware that social groups are playing some of Australia’s very best courses for a lot less.

When you look at it, most private clubs simply cannot compete.

So how can clubs bend (and not break) in this environment.

Firstly, it’s important to welcome these social clubs to your course. They are today’s largest possible “potential membership pool” and offer a much better long-term value to your course than, say a corporate group (which is often composed of once-a-year golfers, etc), or a course value-destroying Scoopon-type deal.

Secondly:  Take care of them regarding group pricing. One social group told me recently that a certain course—of which this social group has brought significant business over many years—was suddenly offering a Scoopon-type deal to the general public that was significantly below the rate at which the social group had been paying for years.  The real shocker to me was that the club wouldn’t offer the social group a competitive rate anywhere near their Scoopon rate.  As a result, the social group took their 70+ players to another course.  And with them went thousands of dollars in potential green fees and food & beverage sales, not to mention 70+ potential new members.

In essence, the course was thumbing their nose at a loyal social group in favour of selling deeply discounted green fees to total strangers who, by and large, have more loyalty to a Scoopon site than they do the course itself (the vast majority of these discount-shoppers will never join a course, but will instead “follow the deal” from course to course.)  In the process, the course de-valued itself to a point where the average golfer would baulk at ever paying the original/normal fee.

Finally—and most importantly—don’t simply ignore the growing social golf market. These players could very well be the difference between your club posting an “Open for Business” sign or a “For Sale” sign.

 

When no news is bad news

One of the most common flaws in any business or organisation (or, according to my wife, a marriage!) is a failure to communicate.
Get it right, and you’ll reap the rewards. Get it wrong, however, and you’ll be in the doghouse.

History is rife with examples of poor communication.

One that quickly springs to mind is NASA’s famed $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft which, in 1999, met a disastrous end as it smashed into the red planet following a nine-month voyage. The problem: engineers from Lockheed Martin sent raw ‘course correction’ data (based on Imperial units) to engineers at NASA (who had blindly assumed the numbers had been sent in Metric). Over that nine-month voyage, if even one person simply made a short phone call just to say “Hi” and confirm the numbers, a disaster could have been averted.

Back here on Earth, I receive stories from club golfers (and committee members) who often feel out of the loop when it comes to communications from their club.
Whether it is due to the club’s apathy, lack of communication skills or simply the desire to keep things “under wraps”, there appears to be a growing problem whereby club members are simply not receiving information that is important to them. From simple matters like a change of hours at the Bistro, to a more serious situation like changing personnel, budgetary issues or course closures/relocation, members have a right to be informed.

And according to readers, the communication problem isn’t confined to just clubs. Our governing bodies and associations are equally culpable. Over the years, I’ve fielded heaps of emails/calls from readers on topics like the national handicap system revamp/rollout (with “ambiguous dates on deliverables”), national course re-ratings/slope system (“very little communication at all”), the “silent” dismantling of Golf Access, etc.

To be fair, in some cases, information HAS been communicated from, say, the Associations to the key contacts at clubs, but the clubs have failed to pass the information on to members. Golf Australia, the state bodies (like Golf NSW, Golf Victoria, etc) and other associations generally send out regular communications, emails and newsletters that are packed with the latest news. And it is the responsibility of each club to pass this information on to the members (and not simply assume that the members will read it on their own).

In some instances, a club may defend their lack of communication with “No news is good news” or “Well, there just wasn’t anything new to say.” The problem here is that there is ALWAYS something to say.

Remember: every time you communicate with members – no matter what you say — you have an opportunity to improve the relationship. And building on that relationship is critical if you want to keep them as a member.

Even if you say “Regarding [project x]: there has been no further progress, but we are looking into…[etc]” you will get a much better reaction from members than simply staying silent. Silence, on the other hand, can breed suspicion, generate rumours and create an overall feeling of discontent by members.
If we draw some parallels with “Business/Customer Communication” we can shed further light on this.

For example, if you look at committee members as your “partners”, then the fallout of poor communication can be things like lower efficiency, unclear goals, poor leadership, lower morale, decreased innovation, increased misunderstandings and lack of trust. These are not good traits/results for a committee.
Likewise, poor communication to your everyday members (i.e. your “customers”) can result in poor retention, customer confusion, decreased customer life cycle, customer anger and long-term increased costs.

(Does any of this sound familiar in your club?)

Now, I’m not saying that clubs need to start disclosing confidential information. But when it comes to anything that has been communicated by the governing bodies/associations which is intended for distribution to club members—or for anything club-related that could have an impact on even the smallest number of club members –then clubs MUST do the right thing and pass it on, no matter how mundane it may seem, or how overloaded the key contact’s workload might be.
More importantly, remember that it is always better to “overcommunicate”. Studies have shown that, for a message to “stick” it must be heard/seen multiple times.

You can’t expect to send out one message and have everyone read/understand it the first time. Or the second/third time. Repetition is key.

Clubs have many communication tools available these days. From email, to newsletters, to notice boards, to flyers, Twitter, Facebook, websites… the list goes on. Use them all. There is simply no excuse to not take five minutes and connect with your people with a short note to say “Hi, here’s a bit of news.”

It’s not rocket science (as NASA found out).

Women and children first

I received a phone call the other day from a very frustrated junior golfer.

“Why do members hate us juniors so much?” he asked.

I was taken aback for a moment, as I pondered this rather unexpected question.

It turns out that the club where he recently took up a junior membership had begun restricting the availability of tee times for juniors, making it extremely difficult for him and other junior members to get on the course, especially on weekends.  When he did get on the course, many of the older members would turn up their noses to the juniors, or roll their eyes at the group, etc.  In general, he told me, it wasn’t a very welcoming atmosphere.

“We just want to learn the game, and have fun,” he said. “It’s not like we are making trouble, or anything. We play by the rules, repair our divots and wave people through. But they [older members] still frown at us.”

That same week, I was playing golf at a public course with a mate of mine, when we came across a lone woman golfer sitting at a teebox, waiting to hit. There was a bit of a backup ahead, as a few groups in front of us (all men, by the way) were all playing extremely slowly.

She immediately suggested that my partner and I play through. When I offered that we might as well join up and play together, she smiled politely but declined.  “I’m just getting into the game,” she said in a rather embarrassed tone. “I just joined at [a private club] and I need to get better before I play with anyone. I don’t want to make anyone upset.” (Her swing, I discovered later, was FAR better than any of the players in front of us. She was also a very quick and capable player.)

Is this really happening? In this day and age? Are club members still so entrenched in old-fashioned ideals that we don’t welcome anyone and everyone keen to take up this fantastic game of ours? Are we really alienating women and junior golfers?

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: Women and junior golfers are THE future of golf. Plain and simple. Without them, a club simply cannot survive in the modern world.

As the product of an extremely supportive American-based junior golf program, I am continually puzzled (and disgusted at times) about the lack of real support that many Australian golfers afford to today’s young players. Sure, many club websites and brochures claim to welcome juniors with open arms, but when it comes right down to it, it is the members themselves who are responsible to roll out the welcome mat.

With a strong junior membership or contingent, a club can look forward to decades of revenues, income and future membership numbers.  Likewise, women represent the fastest-growing segment in golf. You’ll see more and more products and services (and clubs) targeting women and junior golfers in the near future. There is a reason why: they are the future.

Junior golf in Australia has endured its share of ups and downs. Years ago, Greg Norman captured the hearts and dreams of Australia’s juniors, catapulting golf to the top-of-mind for many of our youngsters.  The rise in interest – combined with strong support by clubs — led to players like Adam Scott, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley climbing up the ranks to take the world stage. Not coincidentally, club membership following that time was strong and healthy.

But then junior golf faltered for a while. Increased competition from other sports like Cricket, AFL, Tennis and Swimming–in addition to things like video games and other “cool” activities– have led to a gentle decline in junior participation numbers.  And, not coincidentally, club numbers (in general) have also followed that decline.

Yes, there have been other factors at play. But at the end of the day, juniors and women golfers are a critical part of golf, and they need to be welcomed to the course with wide open arms.

So the next time you see a junior or woman (or any beginner, for that matter) teeing off in front of you, remember that he or she may be the next Adam Scott or Karrie Webb– and that they hold the key to the future health of your club, and of Australian golf in general.

When your best isn’t good enough

What is it with the media these days?

Following Adam Scott’s unfortunate performance at The Open Championship, words like “Choke” and “Collapse” rushed to the fore throughout the media, with overdramatic journalists dredging up stories about Greg Norman’s 1996 Masters, or Jean Van de Veld’s 1999 Open Championship, or the other “greatest chokes in history” yarns.

Soon after, Australia’s Olympic team suffered a similar fate, walking away from London with a bounty of silver medals along with an equal number of “Disappointing” headlines about their performance.

“Disappointing”. Seriously?

Let’s put something into perspective: There are an estimated 7 Billion people on this planet (with a capital B). Out of those 7,000,000,000 individuals, only a small number have the talent, opportunity, means and drive to succeed at the elite level of sport. Of that small percentage, only tiny fraction could qualify for their sport’s “pinnacle events”, and an even smaller fraction of that could go on to the semi-finals and/or finals.  At that level, the difference between first and second (or even first and fiftieth) is often minimal.

In many countries across the world, seeing an athlete on the podium is cause for celebration or a ticker-tape parade. But here in Oz, things are a bit different. For the Olympics, the media came down exceptionally hard on our athletes, criticising things like their desire, their training, the Australian Olympic Committee, sports funding and anything else they could think of.

As a sports-loving nation, we have become accustomed to winning. Whether it’s Olympic swimming, World Cricket, PGA TOUR Golf or any number of other world-class sports, we love to win. And when we don’t win, the media has become accustomed to labelling the teams/athletes as disappointments or flat-out failures.   It’s a shame.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that athletes in all sports strive to be the very best, and for some, second place is like “kissing your sister”.  But when did coming in second warrant being labelled a “failure” by the media?

Coming in second is part of any competition. Jack Nicklaus, for example, is celebrated for his record 18 major victories, yet few people know that he also owns the record for runner-up finishes in majors (19).

History remembers the winners, while the media generally ignores the runners-up. While Rory McIlroy charged to victory at The PGA Championship, can anyone really remember who came in second? (David Lynn, by the way, who nearly stepped on an alligator during the event, and has a heartwarming backstory to his own career). And while Adam Scott “collapsed” at the Open, the REAL story (which was largely ignored) was the fact that a beleaguered Ernie Els overcame a six-stroke deficit and battled his way to the top after most of the world’s media had previously written him off as “past his prime”. Heck, Ernie wasn’t even invited to The Masters this year, despite being one of history’s best golfers!

Certainly, Adam’s slip on the final four holes was worthy of a story. But unlike many of my media colleagues, I don’t label it as a choke. Let’s face it, the course was difficult. I mean REALLY difficult. Among the leaders on the final day, players like Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker all shot over par. Sure, Adam DID bogey the last four holes, but remember that out of 83 players in the final round, there were a total of only eight birdies on holes 15 and on 17 (four on each).  And a lot of “Bogeys/Others”. In my opinion Adam only really made one mistake during that four-hole span: hitting 3-wood off the tee on 18 instead of the iron which he had used for the three previous days. And for that, I reckon a lot of the blame should be on the shoulders of caddie Steve Williams.

Like our Olympic athletes, Adam didn’t choke. Collectively, they just got beaten. And we–as comedian Arj Barker once said—need to “get a deck of cards, and deal with it.”

So the next time one of our athletes walks away from an event having secured “Second Place”, let’s not be disappointed that they weren’t as good as the one person who beat them, rather let’s celebrate the fact that they beat the other 6,999,999,998 people on the planet.

Getting your club ‘on board’

While revenues, membership and cost controls are all important to your club, one area that is often overlooked is the effectiveness of The Board.

Boards are the sole responsibility for the viability of clubs. Plain and simple. And getting the right people onto the Board is critical to success. In a perfect world, a Board would be composed of a diverse group of individuals who (among other things) share a strategic vision for the club, and who have the necessary skills, background, time and passion to perform their duties.

Unfortunately, that is not always possible.

Don’t get me wrong. The majority of Boards out there do a stellar job. In a struggling economy, with other sports and pastimes competing for the almighty dollar, being responsible for a golf club’s viability is not an easy task.

But at the same time, there are many board members in power who are simply not up to the task. This is not necessarily the fault of the board members themselves, but rather the fact that they may not have the necessary skills or time required, in the current environment, to thrive in their position.

A club is like a small-to-medium-sized business — often with huge turnovers, and potentially millions of dollars at stake. But not all clubs select their board members accordingly. While a large business, for example, has specific protocols in place to carefully select each member for their board, a golf club board is usually selected by popular vote at the AGM. And like most popularity-based voting processes (let’s not comment on Federal Elections, shall we), people often get elected even if they aren’t necessarily the best person for that position.

This is sometimes unavoidable, however, as it may be due to the limited pool of candidates.

A Club Board is usually composed of members from that club. A larger metropolitan club would have a pool of candidates from, say, large businesses or corporations. These candidates could be CEOs or Directors of huge businesses, with significant backgrounds in business management. But just because a person is a CEO of a company, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean they know anything about marketing to women or junior golfers. And if they are successful in their business, will they necessarily have the time needed to devote to the club?

A smaller club, on the other hand, may not have the same pool of business-educated candidates. They may have a membership of blue-collar, small business owners. Being a successful small business owner does not necessarily mean they have the skills to direct a multi-million-dollar business. Nor do they often have the skill to professionally manage a committee (to reduce the red-tape and inanity of endless committee meetings that often dwell on minutiae). But what they may lack in Big Business experience, they more than make up for in passion and devotion to the Club.

So which is better?

Every club is different, as are the Boards that run them. There is no black or white answer to this…no one-size-fits-all board formula. Boards succeed (or fail) for many reasons.

But a key question to consider is: WHY are these people interested in the position?

A candidate will run for a board for any number of reasons. While many of these reasons are to improve the club, other reasons may be more self-serving. Do they have a truly strategic vision for the long-term future of the club, or do they just want their own reserved car parking space near the clubhouse?   A new President, for example, may have an agenda to spend $200k to put in bunkers, simply because in his/her sole opinion it will make for a better look. But what the club may REALLY need is that $200k put into infrastructure, like better irrigation or drainage. While this is not necessarily a “sexy” spend of the money, it could potentially have a better long-term outcome for the club.

Many people that I’ve spoken to believe that a Board must be able to balance the needs of members with the financials, and should be composed of people that have a mix of backgrounds, age groups, golf skills, etc.

Aussie golfer Jack Newton recently said that he believes golf club boards and committees should be a diverse group.

“I have suggested the structure of a board should feature different age groups so that you get a perspective right across the board. There should be board members in their 20s, 30s, 40s…,” he said at a recent industry forum. “At least with the young age groups you are going to get a perspective of where they see things are at rather than how older blokes see it.”

No matter how you look at it, a Board is a critical part of any club. And at the end of the day, it may be time to either examine how we populate the boards, or how we can up-skill them to better prepare them to run in today’s environment.

What do you think?

Knickerbockers in a knot – the attire debate

From the early days of the plus-fours and ruffled cravats, to today’s bright colours and plaid ensembles, golf and fashion have long been intertwined.

That’s not to say that golf fashion has necessarily been “fashionable”. Just look at golf photos from the 1970s (or some of the blokes on tour today) and you’ll get my drift.

Attire on the golf course has been a contentious subject of late. The Inside Golf mailbag and inbox are full of letters decrying the “imminent demise of Neat and Tidy”, while last month’s cover photo of a “scruffy looking” Aaron Baddeley even got a fair amount of unhappy reader letters (see page 87).

In the continuing struggle to retain members, and attract the ever-important junior contingent, some clubs are beginning to relax the traditional dress codes. White socks and collared shirts still reign supreme, but it seems that more clubs are starting to “turn a blind eye” to the more creatively-attired players these days. It’s a neon-coloured grey area.

There are two sides to the argument. Traditionalists argue that the standards of Neat and Tidy attire MUST be adhered to in order to preserve the traditions and essence of the game. They contend that if we relax the dress codes – even a smidgeon– then the entire game may spin out of control into the equivalent of a no-holds-barred, “golfers gone wild” frat party.

On the other side of the fairway are those who claim that the game is entrenched in old-fashioned, elitist attitudes and antiquated traditions that have little appeal to the younger generations. They say that if we fail to capture the kids’ attention, the game will dwindle in popularity until it is equal in regard to, say Olympic Trampoline.

Dress codes in nearly all sports have regularly adapted to the times. From the AFL, to (Twenty20) Cricket, to American baseball to the NBA… uniforms have regularly reflected the fashion and styles of the younger generations. It’s seen by some as a “necessary evil” in order to ensure the survival of the sports.

Golf is no different. I’m sure there was a similar outcry centuries ago when a small band of golfers eschewed their kilts and animal skins to don (heaven forbid) ties, knickerbockers and morning coats. And what about those heathens in the 1920s who (gasp) stopped wearing formal jackets on the links? Or the “Free-thinkers” with the radical concept of NOT tucking their long pants inside their socks; or those who wore bowties, V-neck sweaters and even (double-gasp) short pants!

When you think about it, today’s accepted “Neat and Tidy” attire – namely the short-sleeve collared shirts, pleated shorts and golf caps – would have golfers of the 1900’s covering their niblicks in shame.

I’m not saying that we need to allow singlets and budgie smugglers on the course – on the contrary, I firmly believe that young golfers and beginners need to respect the traditions and the culture (and attire) of the game. But if we really want to keep our game alive, surely we can open up our minds a little, and maybe let our white socks drop a bit? There is certainly a compromise out there.

See you on the fairways (in a collared shirt, of course).

Thinking outside the (tee) box

In February, you may recall that we suggested that there may be too many golf courses in Australia, and that the industry was ripe for consolidation. Well, last month, we learned of multiple courses across the country that are currently affected by this phenomenon. Corowa Golf Club (NSW) is in dire need of a financial injection; Richmond Golf Club (NSW) reportedly went into voluntary administration; Burleigh Palms Golf Course (Qld) announced it was considering selling; Halls Creek Golf Club (WA) is struggling to stay viable, and Amstel Golf Club (Vic) announced that they would likely begin management of Settlers Run.

As stated, mergers, acquisitions and closings are elements of any business. So this is all part and parcel of a cycle that will doubtless continue for a while.

At the heart of the matter, some believe, is the inability (or lack of desire) of some clubs to embrace a new way of thinking as they try to attract new members (or retain existing ones).

So let’s look at a few things your club can do to generate more interest by prospective members:

1: Embrace technology. Simple fact: the vast majority of prospective members (and many of your current members) are on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, online golf forums and the like. These sites are free, easy and all provide a two-way communication avenue between you and members/prospects.  If you don’t use these sites, you are way behind your competitors.  Adopt apps like SmartCart to get your Food & Beverage up to par. Update your website with daily comp results. Look into online tee-time bookings and packages from sites like iseekgolf or Golfnut (but not Scoopon), to fill your slow days. Remember: Technology is your ally. Clubs like Eastern Golf Club in Melbourne do all of these things extremely well. Your club should too.

2: Embrace Social Clubs and Open Days: believe it or not, these guys (and ladies) are not always the disruptive hooligans that you may think. They are bona fide golfers with money to spend, respect for the course and a real opportunity of joining in the future.  And they represent an enormous segment of our golfing public. So when they play at your course, welcome them with a smile – show them the friendly side of your club. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

3: Embrace Juniors and Families. This is a biggie. Embracing juniors is a lot different than simply letting juniors join. Get them involved. Give them significant discounts to play/join. Host junior days, or Father/Mother and Son/Daughter junior tournaments. Have, say, a 6-hole tournament with tees half-way down the fairways. Get a Caddy program started at your club –if a junior can pull a buggy for 9 holes, it will teach them a lot about the game, not to mention the life lessons that go with it. Growing the game helps everyone.

4: Embrace alternate membership models, pricings and reciprocal arrangements. Unless you are a top-echelon course, the high-priced entry fees and long waiting lists to play only one course are the most common gripe/obstacle for many golfers. Many people claim it is outdated.  Explore things like twilight memberships, seasonal memberships or anything else to lower the cost of entry. Just make sure it’s financially feasible and doesn’t upset current members.  And get a solid list of reciprocal courses in your stable. Melbourne’s Yarra River and Sandbelt courses have great reciprocal deals to let members play in the other member courses in their area.  Give golfers more than one course to play, and they’ll stay happy.

5: Embrace the media.  Have you ever noticed that some clubs get regular media attention in magazines & newspapers? This is not by accident – they work at it. Sending a weekly/monthly email to an editor/writer – with specials, news, photos, events and the like – will do wonders for getting your club into the spotlight. It doesn’t have to be a proper press release. Just a friendly email with useful information is often enough. And don’t forget to also advertise your club once in a while. Ever wonder why so many clubs place regular ads in Inside Golf month after month? It’s because they are getting good ROI. (And no, my publisher did NOT ask me to write that – it’s just a simple truth. Ask any advertiser in our magazine.)

These are just a few things that your club can do. By thinking outside of the (tee) box, you can help ensure the long-term health of your club.

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