Even in a recession, Bryan DeCunha, owner of Dragon’s Fire Golf Club near Carlisle, Ont., maintains his sense of humour and he told a funny story he heard recently.
A Texan apparently was talking about how his town got hit with a freak storm that left about an inch of snow on the ground, causing panic among the townspeople who weren’t used to such conditions. The Texan put it all into perspective, however,
“He said, `In Canada, they get an inch of snow, the golfers are happy because they can still see their golf balls,’” said DeCunha, who was telling this story with a purpose.
He was using it to illustrate his point that Canadians will play golf whenever they can as they try to stretch out a short season in this country. It’s that passion that will keep them playing this summer, even if the economy is hurting, according to DeCunha.
As a result, there is no need for golf courses to start panic discounting just to keep golfers coming out.
The subject of discounting came up in yesterday’s blog and elicited a few e-mails and comments, including this one from Ged Stonehouse, who helps market golf courses in Atlantic Canada.
“We have been cautioning the clubs in this area about discounting. It is very hard to bring those fees back to where they need to be. We are encouraging added-value options, improving on the golf experience, making sure you are providing the best service at the level you have chosen. Look at options of working with other courses in your region, offering some cooperative packaging, work with the tourism industry to make it easy for visitors to enjoy your facility. Train and motivate your staff to deliver the best you can each and every time.”
A popular school of thought is that discounting sets a bad precedent for golf courses that may haunt them for years to come as golfers start to expect those rates, even in good times.
DeCunha says golfers will continue to play even in this difficult economy and the industry can’t be afraid of the picture being painted by a constant barrage of bad news.
“This is our industry,” said DeCunha. “This is how we make a living. We’re all in it together. If everybody’s writing doom and gloom all the time, that’s what it becomes.
“We’ve had golfers call us up and say, `Well, how can you charge the full rate? Don’t you know that this economy is really tough,’” said DeCunha, who opened Dragon’s Fire last June and charges in the $70 range for green fees.
“I was talking to a friend of mine and he said. `How is this economy going to affect you?’
“I said, `You’re an avid golfer?’ and he said, `Yes, I am.’ He’s got an eight handicap, he loves to golf,” said DeCunha. “I said, `You know a lot of golfers?’ He said, `I sure do.’
“I said. `How many people do you know personally that are going to golf less because of the economy?’
“He said, ‘Nobody.’
“(Golfers) may try and get better deals because the golf courses are offering discounts, so maybe they’ll wait until the last minute and they’ll go out and play this course because they posted a bunch of rounds they can get for 30 per cent off,” he said.
“They’re not going to golf any less. They want to go out and golf,” said DeCunha, who says he won’t get into a bidding war with other golf courses for tournaments or golfers. He will, however, offer special rates for golfers who remain loyal to his facility.
“If we’re going to offer a discounted price, I’m going to give it to the people who have golfed here four or five times, as opposed to somebody who has purchased a book or is a member of some club.
“Our objective is very simple,” said DeCunha. “We want to do 30,000 rounds this year and I’m not trying to attract 30,000 golfers. I’m trying to attract 5,000 golfers six times.
“For them to come back six times, they have to like golfing here and we’re going to give them service and we’re going to give them great value and we’re going to make them feel like this is their club,” he said.
DeCunha isn’t the only person to believe that service and value are preferable ways to deal with the recession over discounting.
“I think what happens is you end up redefining your brand when you start to discount your product,” said Miles Mortensen, director of golf for Tobiano, near Kamloops, B.C.
“We’re looking here, specifically at Tobiano, to add more value to the experience and find efficiencies within our operation to make sure we can do that.”
Tobiano is coming off the high of being named best new Canadian course by both ScoreGolf and Golf Digest.
Its green fees will range between $70 and $130 with prices depending on traditional peak and down times that allow golfers to choose their times based on price, but Mortensen stressed there will be no discounting
Instead, according to Mortensen, Tobiano is looking to offer more on-course presence from its staff, a superior first tee experience and different ways of saying thank you to its customers. As part of their green fees, golfers receive a package that would retail for $30, as well as cart, four bottles of water and yardage guide.
The result, according to Mortensen, is people receive a memorable experience as opposed to just remembering a deal they got. “This is people’s recreational and social time and we need to manage that to make sure that’s maximized,” he said.
DeCunha points out that discounting programs in the United States have led to devalued green fees that eventually lead to a devalued experience for golfers.
“How do you keep your staff and maintain your golf course?” he asked. “You start cutting the greens crew. You start cutting staff. You start not offering the same kind of service because that’s all you can deliver for the price you’re getting.
“I would like to think the better courses are not going to get involved in heavy discounting,” said DeCunha. “There are lots of ways to attract golfers. The first thing is to give them a good golf course, give them good service and give them good value for their dollar.”