Growing the Game With Your On-Line Club Strategy

Pictured here: Ed Mullen playing golf with his sons in Florida.

The game of golf is coming back and your online marketing strategy can help accelerate growth of the game!

The recent economic downturn saw golfers cut back on the sport for a number of reasons. However, there are signs of renewed interest in the game and many of the clubs I’ve spoken with are very optimistic about the uptick in play and group inquiries. This increase in interest is coinciding with a greater awareness by courses and clubs on the potential the web and mobile pose for targeting consumers with special offers, new club services, golf outings and more.

Consumers around the world are online in greater numbers than ever before, and rely upon search engines and social networking channels to find information about all facets of life, including participation in sports and activities. By implementing an online strategy golf course operators can take advantage of this trend, with the potential to drive more participation in the game, boost customer loyalty and even attract new participants in the process.

Smart operators should leverage their own website to promote their tee times and special offers, as well as to facilitate online booking. The keys to doing this successfully are to build out an effective promotional schedule and to implement a well-designed booking engine that allows golfers to easily take advantage of special offers and provides the flexibility to book multiple tee times, multi-group sizes and various price ranges—resulting in more revenue to the golf courses.

The Golf team at Active Network works with numerous courses to help them harness the power of the web and implement booking engines on their websites. As a result, the course can create an email database list, a targeted email marketing program, a texting program, a Facebook page, a Twitter presence and other channels connecting it with local hotels, community groups and businesses. All of these channels are then connected back to the advanced booking engine on the course’s website. This enables golfers to follow a simple process to book multiple tee times in one session on one screen, and also discover upcoming promotions and news about the club in the process.

The web isn’t the only channel consumers are embracing to research new activities, mobile is also exploding in popularity. According to the NGF, 61 percent of core golfers use smartphones and the usage of these devices by the general public has increased 32 percent over the last two years. As such, it follows that courses should also incorporate a mobile element into their overall marketing strategy.

Active Network markets a Golf mobile app that helps courses attract and retain golfers and also drive revenue by providing a customized and more engaging end user experience. Golfers can use the app to book tee times from their mobile device of preference but it’s much more than simply a booking tool—the app can create scoreboards for outings and connect into a GPS system specific to course landing areas and landmarks. It also provides push notifications for golfer promotions and connects directly into consumers’ Facebook pages. This provides an excellent organic marketing opportunity as golfers can share details about their course experience with their network, potentially introducing the course to new consumer segments.

These aren’t just features that are being discussed at a high level—numerous courses are reaping the benefits of online and mobile and driving engagement as a result.Following are just a few examples from Active Network customers:

Increasing bookings: “The online strategy we employ at Abacoa through Active Network Golf is to continue reaching out to new online channels locally, regionally and nationally, enabling us to touch more golf consumers while increasing our online bookings percentage each month,” said Rob Young, Director of Golf at Abacoa Golf Club.

Reaching new customers: “We increased our online bookings by 40 percent and, of those golfers, 50 percent were new to the club,” said Kathy Brown, General Manager at Polo Trace Golf Club. “The website booking engine has helped tremendously. We field a lot less phone calls and our customers really like it. The booking engine software protects our tee sheet, allowing us to pair twosomes and hold space open for larger groups. Plus we tripled our tee time distribution channels using Active Network Golf.”

Promoting specials through mobile technology: “We implemented a Golf mobile app a few weeks ago and have already seen more than 700 downloads,” said Peter Winter, director of sales and hospitality at Palm Beach National Golf Club. “We are especially pleased with the push notification option – when we have spots we need to fill on the tee sheet, we can send out a special offer to our subscribers. This costs us nothing and has tremendously helped us book unused inventory.”

At Active Network, we pride ourselves on being the leaders in activity and participation management—providing technology to more than 50,000 organizations. In addition to golf, we provide solutions for running, biking, hiking, fishing, tennis and more, and have tenured experience in helping both the participants and the organizers of these sports embrace technology for greater enjoyment and more cohesive management. As such, we are well positioned not only to help golf courses improve their offerings with technology, but the consumer segment as well.

As golf begins to experience an uptick in participation, courses should embrace online and mobile specials to be the big winners in their markets. The winning philosophy today is to optimize your tee sheet by creating as many online distribution channels as possible, while controlling the rates and times from one central technology portal.

Based on my interaction with thousands of golf courses over my career, the going trend is to market to golfers that already know your course. In addition to driving golfers to the course’s website, highlighting all of the other activities and services offered around the club is an added benefit of utilizing online and mobile technology. Software platforms can help both consumers easily create and book tee times and golf operators provide a more customized end user experience.

Let’s get the game of golf back on track and firing on all cylinders again by encouraging more courses to create an online strategy benefiting golfers, golf course management and the game itself.

– Ed Mullen is a senior account executive has been in the golf software industry for over 20 years and gets active by playing golf!