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Marketing: how to be a big fish in any pond

 Colin Goehring

Many golf courses attempt to gain a competitive advantage by continuously dropping their price. This marketing strategy will inevitably fail over time because you create a perception of being a discount golf facility. You will begin to attract the ''Bottom-feeder Golfers'' who rarely spend any cash in your proshop or bar and usually carry baloney sandwiches in their golf bag. Why not just become more appealing to people who like to spend money for quality services? There are several good lures you can use to catch these golfers with money:

1. Throw in the Towel

DON'T DISCOUNT YOUR PRICES - INSTEAD - ADD VALUE! Price cutting is ultimately a losing game. A better approach is to add value so you can increase rather than decrease prices. Your focus should be on finding creative ways to differentiate your golf course and your customer service. Increase demand so much that you no longer have to compete with the price cutters. Simply do more effective marketing and get so busy that you have to raise you price.

All your ads should create value propositions that provide enticing offers and premiums for a great golfing experience. You can ''Throw in'' a golf towel, hat, complimentary lunch (Hot dog & Coke), range pass, yardage book, poster or a screensaver. By adding these types of premiums, you can easily raise your price to more than cover the cost of the premium and create a higher percieved value at your club. However, you may want to limit these promotions to your tee spots that are already in high demand (such as weekend mornings) so you can raise your fees considerably without it affecting your traffic flow. Consider how the Airlines do this with ''Space Available'' in First Class.

The exception to the rule of discounting is to use it as a reward for your most loyal customers. Give financial incentives to people who buy in volume and pay upfront. Have discount programs for the players who want to buy a 20 round pass or a series of 10 lessons.

2. Make it like Disneyland

Think about how much fun it is to go to Disneyland, ''The Happiest Place on Earth.'' The Park is always immaculate and the staff are highly trained to make people smile.

Disney is in the entertainment business - and really, so are you.

Everything at Disney is designed for fun and creating memories. It's more than just a theme park with rides. In the same way, your golf course should be more than just golf - it's about the experience you help them have.

Think about how you can raise the level of customer service and improve the ''WOW'' factor at your golf facility. How can you make the whole experience at your course more enjoyable and entertaining.

How about making sure your washrooms are impeccable (Women rank this as the #1 most important value in a quality golf course).

Why not serve vanilla scented towels at the turn? Make them hot in a microwave on cold days and icy cold on hot days. Very refreshing.

How about having a friendly guy that greets you as soon as you arrive and takes your bags to the range or starting tee? Dress him in white coveralls like at the Masters.

What about giving your Marshalls Instant Replay vouchers for disgruntled clients? Have them give balls away to people hunting for their lost balls! (This really helps improve slow play and just makes people feel better. The marshall is now seen as a friend rather than a policeman).

How about fun, cute Cart Girls who have been given great training and know how to make people smile.

Why not take a digital photo of every golfer at your signature hole and send it to them by email? (How's that for collecting email addresses? Disney now does takes digital pictures with some of their rides - and even charges you if you want the printed photo!)

What about having a few more ''Fun Tournaments'' with crazy prizes and great social events afterwards. Build a sense of community.

The point is, you should make it your goal to have your golf course become ''The Happiest Golf Course on Earth!''

3. Do it Like Cheers! Remember the TV Show Cheers? Why did people keep going to Cheers? The answer is in the song, ''Where Everybody Knows Your Name.''

It teaches a great lesson - Build loyalty through incredible personalization. Here's several personalization hooks you can use:

Create a Preferred Golfer Loyalty Program where you reward your best customers. If you'd like to see more about a complete loyalty marketing program we've developed, view details at Train your staff on how to remember names. Create photo directories of your members for staff review. Have a rewards and incentives for the best ''Name Rememberer.'' Create all kinds of special social events at your club where it's very easy for people to get to know each other in a fun, informal way. Make sure there's some ''Intentional Interaction'' so it makes it easy for people to connect, even if they're new to a group.

4. Become Heroes In Your Community How would you like to make a positive impression on your community and earn the right to get some ink from your local media? Here's a few ideas:

Have programs for kids to build birdhouses through the school woodshop for your golf course. This program can be especially effective with special needs kids - allow them install the birdhouses on the course and make a meaningful contribution to their community. Have your staff become experts: Let your chef host cooking classes. Have your superintendent host workshops on flower gardens, pruning, thatch control, lawn fertilization and maintenance. Have your golf pros teach etiquette classes to the juniors - complete with a nice graduation ceremony.

5. Use Exceptional Photography to Create an Indelible Impression You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Great golf course photography is critical to improving your image and branding. Make sure you have at least one outstanding photograph of your signature hole so that people will be enticed to play your course. Great photography is the easiest lure you can use to catch golfers with money.

Want to see some stunning Golf Photgraphy? Check out the work of two-time golf photographer of the year John Johnson at Using these five strategies will allow you to differentiate your club from the competition and you will BECOME A BIG FISH IN YOUR OWN LOCAL POND!

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