A rare positive to come out of the COVID pandemic has been a massive boost in golf participation in Australia. Handicap rounds have risen by more than 12% year on year, club memberships have significantly increased (source: Golf Australia) and every course offering public tee times is booked solid.
Combined with a lockdown induced decline in clubhouse revenues, it brings into focus the main activity of golf club operations – playing golf.
Clubs that have traditionally sought security from a diversity of revenue activities now find that diversification might have taken focus from the core golf experience. When all you have to offer is the golf course, then there’s a sudden imperative to make it a more profitable asset.
For the moment at least, the significant increase in demand for golf is fueling record green fee revenues, so attention naturally turns to the cost component of the equation.
There’s the obvious cost-cutting measures that apply to any business but it’s interesting to consider some more subtle measures that are specific to golf…
Frequent lockdowns and shifting work hours have upset traditional scheduled fixtures. Rather than view this as a negative, perhaps it is an opportunity to permanently simplify the club’s competition calendar.
Many scheduled competitions are exclusionary either by gender, age or membership category and certain yearly competitions tie up the golf course for entire days – often on Saturday or Sunday, when some segments of the membership are disappointed to find they can’t play their regular game at the only time they have available all week. The current disruption to the usual schedule is a great opportunity to permanently reform it.
The struggle to equitably distribute tee times has also blurred the lines between membership categories. Perhaps this is an opportunity to review and simplify membership options with less age and day-of-the-week based categories and focus more on letting golfers choose a mix of annual subscription fees versus green fees where everyone accesses a bigger pool of tee times that has less blocks dedicated to gender or category-based competitions.
Multi-tee starts are efficient in filling the course quickly and do squeeze in a few extra tee times, but they are complex to manage and actually give golfers less flexibility in the part of the day they can arrive to play – this too can exclude some golfers who have difficulty arranging to start their round in one of the windows dictated by a multi-tee start. Not to suggest that every day should be a single-tee start in the post-COVID world but perhaps one or two more days of the week can be left as single-tee starts. Single-tee starts also provide more time for greenkeepers to prepare the course before it has golfers swarming all over it. This can lead to less equipment needing to operate simultaneously, less maintenance costs and a better golf experience.
Many of golf’s accumulated “traditions” have led to ridiculously complex procedures and unintended consequences. A focus on simplifying golf operations is a rare win for both equity and cost and perhaps even a way to retain the new golfers who have been swept up in golf’s new wave of popularity.