And how you can get your slice of the pie through running profitable Beginner Golf campaigns.

Unprecedented, extraordinary, incredible are just a handful of words that have been used to describe the week golf clubs’ reopened their doors on the 13th May 2020. 

Whilst some clubs have seen membership numbers of over 100 sign ups in under a week, there will be many other clubs out there that aren’t feeling the fruits of these jaw-dropping numbers flying around on social media channels like LinkedIn.

Essentially, bar a few more ex-golfers potentially dusting off their clubs or newbies trying the game for the first time, the underlying problems with golf participation are still very prevalent. The stats over the years are there to be seen and there have been so many column inches written about this I won’t waste anyone’s time regurgitating them. 

Whilst membership might seem buoyant currently for some, I still see many cut price offers being advertised by clubs to attract new members. Offers such as these will leave a sour taste in the mouth of the members who stuck by their club during the lockdown.

With the impending ‘recession like we’ve never seen’ around the corner, I predict that these underlying participation problems, particularly when it comes to traditional membership categories, will severely worsen over the coming years unless something is done to invest into the grassroots of the game. Once recession kicks in, people will not think twice about cancelling their membership Direct Debit when they’ve just lost their job and have no prospect for work on the horizon. 

The Long Term – Wealth

In my previous articles I wrote about some short and mid-term marketing solutions in a post-Covid 19 world.

Today I write about how I believe the smart golf clubs can generate long-term wealth by tapping into a demographic of latent golfers (“non-golfers” who say they’re interested in playing golf) sitting under our very noses. A potential market that according to Syngenta’s Unlocking Golf’s True Potential report is worth £2.9bn in the UK. 

To put it into perspective, if all 2500 golf clubs in the UK were to equally share just 25% of this reported £2.9bn, each club would generate £290,000 in new revenue.

And what is this magical market of untapped potential? According to Syngenta it is quite simply, female golfers.

So why is it that the industry from the top down is failing to even scratch the surface when it comes to attracting female golfers into the game? With only 16% of golfers female in the UK*, how is it that we are so far behind the US (23%), Canada (30%), Sweden (29%) and South Korea (29%). 

*as of 2016 according to Syngenta’s Unlocking Golf’s True Potential report

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

With an encouraging latent demand of female non-golfers who are ‘very interested’ or ‘interested’ in taking up golf, I can only put the lack of takeup as one of three things:

      1. Clubs are not interested or welcoming enough to female golfers
      2. Beginner golf programmes and player pathways aren’t doing their job properly 
      3. The marketing strategy golf clubs use to attract and convert non golfers into the game is not executed well enough

Going on the success we have had with our clients who are eager to welcome as many females to the game as possible, my firm belief is the reason why golf fails at attracting females into the sport is this.

Expecting golf clubs to run complex and time consuming marketing campaigns to attract fresh people into the game is unrealistic and not sustainable. The vast majority of clubs do not have the expertise in house to be able to execute a multi-channel marketing campaign that can generate beginner golfers at the level required to make any significant changes to the level of participation in the game. 

The governing bodies can hand out all the ‘do it yourself’ guidance in the world to clubs, however it is very difficult to execute a profitable, scalable, sustainable and trackable beginner golf programme unless someone at that club has the marketing knowledge or the time to learn how to set up a campaign that consists of:

      • Facebook ads
      • Google Ads
      • Email marketing
      • Landing page building software 
      • Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)
      • Copywriting

and the numerous other digital marketing tactics it takes years to master.

Traditional beginner’s golf scheme:

For beginner golf schemes to work at clubs they have to be profitable to the club and the professionals long-term. Golf clubs cannot and should not be expected to make a loss on recruiting new players into the game. This appears to be the number one deterrent I hear when speaking with managers and owners on why they do not invest into the grassroots.

Here’s what I believe are the fundamental flaws in most current schemes and why they have failed at scale in the past. The core marketing components to most beginner golf schemes I have seen executed are:

      1. Print marketing – Put up some some posters and leaflets around the golf course facilities
      2. Email marketing – Send an email to your members and visitors databases (from our experience on average circa 1000 contacts) 
      3. Social media – Organically post on the club’s social media accounts 
      4. Word of mouth – Talk to your members and visitors and ask them to spread the word
      5. Offers – Request people pay £25 – £50+ to sign up a four – six week programme before they’ve even picked up a club
      6. Duration – Run for a short period of time in the middle of summer

The first flaw in this strategy is it is very difficult to scale campaigns like this. Once the initial flurry of attracting beginners has passed there is no way of getting more eyeballs (reach) on your promotion. Essentially this means most clubs can only run these types of campaigns once or twice per year before they fatigue.  

The second flaw is that the vast majority of latent golers will have never considered playing golf before. Golf will not be for everyone who tries it so in order to convert as many people as possible we need to get as many people trying the sport as possible. Asking people to invest £25 before they’ve even turned up to a lesson or picked up a club is a big commitment and will deter a significant percentage of potential golfers before they’ve even picked up a club. 

The marketing adage of this is proposing marriage before you’ve even been on a date. You are jumping in the deep end with a ‘Buy Now’ message which can scare off a number of potential prospects. 

How to run a sustainable and profitable Beginner Golf Scheme

I ardently believe that the golf clubs that are able to generate more female golfers into the game and convert them into members through a well constructed player pathway will be the clubs that are able to come out the otherside in the strongest position. I also believe this is a way that golf can breathe new life into the game. 

Having managed and studied a number of profitable beginner schemes, the ones I have seen that are generating over £100,000+ in new revenue each year execute the following rules.

A successful beginner golf scheme needs to: 

      • Generate beginner golfers consistently over a sustained period of time
      • Use a lead magnet to get people through the door and on site undertaking at least one free lesson before you pitch any sort of financial commitment
      • Use paid advertising channels like Facebook and Google Ads to attract people who are searching for golf lessons as well as those just browsing social media channels
      • Have a successful and well structured player pathway programme that converts potential golfers into long-term members over a 6 – 24 month period 

Get this right and the maths adds up. Each club is different and so please take the below figures as a general rule of thumb. However, if you were to run this campaign over a 2 year period and by the end of year two you received the following results, I predict many clubs could see a significant boost to their bottomline.

A large club with a range and extensive practice facilities who were able to welcome 225 new beginner members a year:

A small – medium sized club with practice facilities who were able to introduce 100 new members a year.

The Beginner Golfer Value Ladder

The whole principle I have called the Beginner Golfer Value Ladder and is born out of numerous Beginner Golf campaigns we have run for golf clubs over the past 2 years.

Fundamentally the golfer is led through a series of offers that increase in value at the right time depending on what stage the golfer is in their player pathway.

From an initial awareness ‘Lead Magnet’ to their final decision to becoming a full member, it is a sustainable and profitable way for you to grow your beginner golf programme at your golf club and maximise the lifetime value of beginner golfers.

Over the past month the news has been inundated with articles around looming recessions, serious rises in mental illnesses, obesity potentially causing disproportionate impacts on how people have been affected by coronavirus. The benefits of golf can help as a remedy to all of these issues whilst at the same time generating new income from the latent demand in the game.

Now is the time more than ever for the industry to invest in the grassroots to grow the game. The question is, which clubs are willing to look far enough ahead to invest.

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About the author

James Wilkinson
James Wilkinson

For over 5 years, Albatross Digital founder James Wilkinson has helped over 100 golf clubs including Celtic Manor and Woodhall Spa succeed using digital marketing.

I've also spoken and written about how to execute effective golf club marketing strategies for associations and partners including the GCMA, UKGolf Federation, England Golf, Wales Golf, 59 Club, Club Systems and more..

About Albatross Digital

Founded in 2015, Albatross Digital are on a creative and analytical mission to help solve the problems and navigate the challenges golf businesses face in a digital first age.

With offices in London and Surrey, we use our industry expertise combined with the latest digital marketing techniques to help our clients grow, thrive and invest in their future.

Our client portfolio include Woodhall Spa, Celtic Manor, Altonwood Group, Maple Leaf Group, Hoburne Group, Hindhead Golf Club, Goswick Golf Club, GCMA, UK Golf Federation, 59 Club and over 100 clubs across the UK and Europe.

For more information about Albatross Digital visit https://albatross.digital and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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