2013 Update (See item #19 below). I may lose a few friends over that article.


Presented by Golfmak, Inc. Golf Course Business Consultant.

You can't market a product or service until you know your product and your competition.


When was the last time you measured your golf course against the competition? You need to know what 'league' you're playing in and how you stack up against the competition.
Complete Your Self-examination: 10 Areas to Rate Your Golf Facility Against the Competition
1 Greens How do your greens stack up against the competition? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
2 Tees How do your tees stack up against the competition? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
3 Fairways How do your fairways stack up against the competition? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
4 Bunkers How do your bunkers stack up against the competition? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
5 Readiness Is your course 100% ready for play every day - including Sunday? Bunkers groomed? Ball washers fresh? Hazards clearly marked? Carts clean? A hundred other items? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
6 Friendliness Are your service employees friendly? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
7 Cleanliness Would you use the commodes in your establishment? Look behind the stoves in your kitchen. Can your clubhouse pass the 'white-glove' test? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
8 Food Quality Hot Dog, Deli-Sandwich, or Full Meals - how do you rate the quality and value of your food service? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
9 Merchandising Does the pro shop look professional - tidy, properly displayed, organized. Any old (dusty) stock? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
10 Overall Value Design and layout of the golf course. In terms of value, how to you rate with the competition (honestly). Rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 10: ________
Total up your score. If you're not above 75 points (75%) you've got work to do!





1 Word of Mouth Best Advertiser/Marketer you've got. Not even a line in the ad budget. Good greens, fairways, tee boxes, service, value.
2 Newspaper Got to be there regularly - somewhere in sports - because that's where most golfers look for golf ads.
3 Brochures If visitors are part of your business, you should be in brochure racks in hotels and tourist spots.
4 Television Can be good with ads during major golf events. Golf channel has a captured audience. Rates are low. All viewers are likely customers.
5 Internet Build your Email database. Cheap and easy communication with customers.
6 Billboards In the right location only. Very expensive.
7 On site Use the traffic you have on site to advertise. Put out posters about specials. Be sure to change posters often (or they disappear).
8 Premiums Hooks! 5-gets-you-one tickets. Rain checks can work well too! Remember, only one person on a rain check.
9 Charity donations Shows you're a winner. However, pick one or two then say, "No!" (they'll run you ragged if you don;'t learn to say no).
10 News items Take advantage of any opportunity to put news about your place, league results, etc. in the paper. Don't be afraid to fax an unusual story to the sports editors now and then.
11 Creating new players A lost art in the golf course business. Golfers you create may be yours for a long time. Very lucrative too! Lessons, accessories, golf clubs, memberships are all things new golfers need.
12 Radio Only very carefully. Drive time is the best bang for your radio dollar.
13 Golf Guide Books One of those ad items that feels like a tax. Damned if you don't, because everyone else is in them.
14 Co-op Advertising Can be useful and inexpensive. The Myrtle Beach insert edition each year in Golf Digest seems to work. However, often very expensive.
15 Sponsorships If you're making good money. Otherwise, there are better places.
16 Magazines Don't! Glossy coffee table magazines are very expensive for the results you get.
17 Mail Sometimes mail can work. However, it's becoming the most expensive way to reach a market.
18 Advertising Specialties (pens, calendars, etc.) Most expensive of all. If you do, keep it simple.
Networking, Web Site, Email, Facebook, Twitter, CRM

It's 2013. This article was originally written wayyyy back in 2001. Item #5 above was email in its infancy. In fact, I was one of the very first in the business to use email as a marketing tool. In 1997 and '98,I was managing Oak Ford Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida. I created their first web site - even registered the domain name. I started collecting email addresses at the sales counter and encouraging people to sign up for specials in our newspaper advertising. 90% of addresses back then were AOL or Mindspring (or something like that).

Fast forward and the Internet. Web sites and social networking are in integral part of the marketing fabric of 2013 - And it's all (or almost all) virtually free! However, all that free marketing doesn't seem to be working! I'm looking at spreadsheets from 2003 showing over 50,000 rounds, $20.00 a round higher than the same golf course in 2012 that on 38,000 rounds. Twelve thousand rounds fewer and $20.00 per round less. But there's another significant number I'm seeing: Marketing dollars down 90% from 2003!

Golf course operators, management companies, managers and bean counters (accountants) are applauding the savings by eliminating all types of broadcast marketing. Gone are newspaper ads, radio commercials and TV commercials. So, that 50,000 round golf course, down 12,000 rounds and $20.00 per round from fees has also ('proudly') cut their marketing expenditures by over 90%. How do I know?

I was managing the place. I spend over *$100,000 in newspaper, billboards, TV and radio. I was getting $45.00 (seasonally adjusted) for those 50,000 plays. The 2012 average, same place, was $25,00 for their 38,000 rounds. The current management saved $90,000 in advertising expenses (whoop-dee-do!), but they delivered $1.3 million fewer dollars to the bank.

So much for all the free Internet marketing.

If you are not out in the marketplace using 'conventional' broadcast marketing sources, you are going to continue to see your business decline - REALLY!

TEE TIME RESELLERS: You mow the greens, pay property taxes, answer to 25-different government agencies, while tee time resellers are the only ones making money ofF your golf courses. This industry has to get rid of tee time resellers - sooner the better.

*I consider myself a golf marketer, because I have studied and refined marketing for golf courses for over 50-years. Golf courses I managed always out drew my competition. I was highly competitive with my fee structures.


"We've never been absolutely sure that advertising really works - except that when we don't advertise, business slows down."



A diner summons the waiter to her table. As the waiter arrived she pointed to her rock hard New York strip and asks, "Do you get many new customers in this restaurant?" The waiter replied, "That's all we get!"

I am miffed when operators don't seem to have a true handle on why their golf course is not competing. To me the reasons are obvious. When I review a golf course I look for a few subtle, but highly important presentations. In the clubhouse I inspect the washrooms, the kitchens, behind the service counters, the windows, merchandise displays, and dress habits of employees. I watch the behavior of employees toward customers, and when the opportunity presents itself, I listen to their telephone manners. Usually that's about all I need to review to write my report.

If my clubhouse inspection indicates substandard cleanliness and indifferent employee attitudes, I don't expect any better results on the golf course. On the grounds I inspect the comfort stations, I look for trash lying around, watch for empty ball washers, check carts for faulty breaks, and look for three-day-old footprints and weeds in the sand traps. I look to see whether the hazards are clearly marked. I watch for potholes in cart paths, and nails popping out of bridge rails. I inspect the maintenance building, and the machinery. I haven't even inspected a green or a fairway.

The reason I don't pay first attention to greens and fairways is because often their condition is more a result of factors you cannot control. Sure, I'm looking for an effort to present the best greens tees and fairways possible, but poorly cut flag holes, crocked tee markers, or uneven mower cuts further reflect the overall presentation of the property.

I was recently hired to review a golf course in Pennsylvania that was continually making cash calls from its investors. In a highly competitive neighborhood, most of the areas I reviewed were substandard. I took one of the principals to review several more successful competitors and the differences were very clear. He (the principal) knew the first remedy for his golf business was old-fashioned soap and water.

I press my point of presentation, because North Americans are nuts for cleanliness, appreciative service, and the perception of an honest effort. Golfers can be extremely loyal to their favorite golf course, even when the greens get into trouble. They'll stick by you as long as they believe the effort is sincere.

I'm hitting strongly on this area, because the presentation of the facility is one of the most important advertising and marketing tools you have. These are issues you can control!


I challenge all of you. When was that last thorough inspection you made of the golf course facility under your care? Did you look up into the kitchen exhaust hood? Have you checked a ball washer lately? Can you see napkin shims under the legs of wobbly tables? Have you even played your golf course lately? Do you know whether your clerks are making eye contact with customers? Are your bathrooms clean enough for you to use? Would you eat food prepared in your kitchen?"



The first thing you can do to improve the marketing of the golf course (or courses) under your care is to plan a regular walkabout the property. Meet with your employees and discuss way to improve the presentation of the clubhouse and service areas.



There are three employees who should play the golf course on a regular basis (not in the same group) - the golf professional, the general manager, and the superintendent. In fact, this should be part of each of their job descriptions. I recommend they play in a regular golf league so they can see the course as it is presented day in and day out. Unless these people play the golf course in the face of their peers (customers) they will never know what their best advertisers are saying about them when they leave the property. Any manager, professional or superintendent with pride in their work will be strongly motivated to present the golf course in the highest light when they play it regularly in the company of their peers.




What's wrong with presenting a product or service that makes the customer say, "Wow?" Why not go that extra mile to make a customer happy? Why not tell a caller the greens will be fertilized spiked today? Why not offer a refund, and even offer to call a competitor to book a tee time for an unhappy customer? Why not offer rain checks?


A really well run organization will empower employees to do what is reasonably possible to make a customer happy. Allow your employees to offer refunds or rain checks to dissatisfied customers (in the absence of management).

Here's a 'Wow' story:

A golfer complained to a maintenance employee that the greens were in poor condition. The employee apologized and handed the golfer his own business card. He told the golfer that if he presented the business card at the pro shop he would get a full refund of his green fee if he didn't wish to finish his round. The employee also told the golfer the pro shop would help him find another place to play.

The customer was astounded! He not only finished his round, but he couldn't wait to tell his buddies that a maintenance employee was empowered to make him happy. That kind of service and desire to make a customer happy is the sign of a winner!

I know the incident and I know where it occurred, because I was the one who empowered every employee to do what is reasonable to make a customer happy - even if it meant offering them a full refund! Can you imagine how my 'NO-RAIN-CHECK' competitors felt when they heard this story?



Now that you've got the presentation under control, the best way to meet the competition head on is with good greens, fairways, tee boxes and bunkers. Start by knowing a little more about your golf course. Know your basic grasses and green speeds, etc. Know something about the rules of golf, and how the golf course must be laid out according to the rules. Know the competition by physically reviewing their properties. In fact, know as much about the competition as you can. Then begin regular meetings between the 'big three' - manager, golf professional and superintendent.

In the big three meetings you need to discuss the competition and your golf course. Listen to what the superintendent says about his/her needs and wants. Anticipate a request from the superintendent for more help, new machinery, more supplies (chemicals and fertilizers) - really meaning one thing - more money. If you feel your golf course is below the competition in terms of condition, you need to support the superintendent to help get the course up to competitive standards. It is here where you, as manager need to make a stand.

If the ownership of the golf course is unable or unwilling to provide the necessary funding to present the golf course competitively, they should acknowledge that to you in writing to protect your own career. Failing to provide the necessary personnel, equipment, and supplies to maintain the golf course is a form of commercial starvation. You have to be assured you won't be blamed for results due to lack of proper funding.



We're talking word-of-mouth marketing when we talk about presentation of the golf course. You don't want people leaving the establishment with complaints they'll tell their friends. You want people telling people what a great experience they had at your place. That's good marketing.


"Your best source of advertising? The customers you already have! Your best promoters? Your employees!"

  • Ways to get your customers to do your advertising for you - treat them all like Kings and Queens!
  • Comment cards: Love to receive complaints. They're probably telling you something that bothers 250 people! give you a chance to fix it before it can't!
  • Remember the bad steak you had? Remember the great steak you had? Quality and value must be your goal.
  • Develop a team spirit among your employees - inside and outside! Always reward employees.
  • Treat service people like customers too! A delivery person meets hundreds of people every day. Don't you think it's better if they say nice things about your business?


"The best customers I ever had were the ones I taught how to play golf."

Teaching people how to play golf from scratch can create the best and most loyal customer a golf facility could want. Too few public golf courses provide inexpensive learn to golf programs for people who don't play.

A way to encourage people to play. Leave them no excuse not to come out and learn by providing all the equipment and the teacher. Keep a bunch of five irons, drivers and putters for teaching purposes (don't forget left handed clubs).


"Marketing people say it costs from $5.00 to $10.00 in advertising dollars to gain a new customer. They also say it can cost up to $250.00 in advertising dollars to get back a customer you've lost!"

  • Eye contact, smile, show a genuine effort to serve
  • Give employees authority to make customers happy
  • Good greens, fairways, tees, proper daily grooming
  • Clean surroundings, spotless washrooms, clean kitchens and windows
  • Consistency - hours and service whether busy or not
  • Fresh coffee ready when the doors open - not 1/2 hour later (Use airpots too! Don't serve coffee that's been sitting on a burner for more than a few minutes.)



"Don't you hate when somebody tells you your competitor is busier than you are?"

  • Watch the competition. Go there and see what they do.
  • Know your facility, its needs, shortcomings, customers. Walk it regularly.
  • Staying in the people's eye. Never stop advertising.
  • Customer comment cards. Read them. Act on them.
  • Use "Hooks" - 5 for 1 passes, rain checks, etc. Build loyalty.


Display Advertising Tips
Always show a Golfer
Small ads often get the best position


Tourist area brochure racks can be a very inexpensive and effective marketing tool for golf courses located in popular holiday areas. In the Sarasota, Florida area we paid one dollar per rack per month with over 360 locations from St. Petersburg to Port Charlotte. Locations included Hotels, motels, restaurants and other places frequented by tourists. We went through an inventory of 30,000 single panel brochures in less than ten months. You'll likely see a rack in the lobby of this hotel and probably in the entrance to Bob Evans restaurants and such places. Most racks you see only have a few golf courses represented and some have none!

Next time you look for a golf course in a brochure rack, note which ones are easiest to spot. I am amazed when I see advertising agencies getting paid to design brochures then do not properly plan and lay out the front page. Remember that brochures located in tourist racks are sharing the spotlight with a hundred other brochures from boating, to quilt shops, horseback riding, golf, and 100 other places. You need to make sure your brochure gets noticed by persons with an interest in what you have to offer - in this case, golf. Like the newspaper ad shown above, you need to be sure the top portion of a brochure (about 2 inches) has the word 'GOLF' in large block letters. I also recommend the golfer silhouette with the word GOLF located at the top of the brochure. Like the Nike swish, a golfer in the classic finish position identifies your brochure's product immediately - in every language on the planet.

Here's a simple illustration:

If you're a golfer, the brochure of interest to you stands out above all others. Unless rack brochures are designed properly, they'll be a complete waste of money.