The term “hybrid clubs” may take on a whole new meaning in these tough economic times.
As it applies to golf equipment, the term generally refers to a cross between a fairway wood and an iron and such easier-to-hit products have led to a change in set makeup for many players, with three through five irons often chucked in favour of hybrid clubs.
The term hybrid could also refer to facilities that cater to a game once dominated by private clubs.
Golf has undergone an evolution in that aspect of the game as well, with the proliferation of public courses that have saturated many markets, but also offered variety to the masses, in which many were willing to sacrifice the exclusive atmosphere of private clubs to avoid paying initiation and membership fees
Like long irons, the private clubs aren’t as dominant anymore, but there will always be a place for them depending on individual preference.
It’s no secret, however, that many such clubs are using methods unheard of in the past to lure members these days, including the waiving/reducing of initiation fees, incentives and even – gasp — advertising.
Of course, with all of the public courses out there, depending on the market, the competition for that dollar is also intense, especially with discretionary spending a real challenge for many golfers.
Discounting has been hinted as a way to lure customers to public courses, but it’s taboo for those who don’t want their product devalued. What Bryan DeCunha, proprietor of the public Dragon’s Fire Golf Club near Carlisle, Ont., said in this blog last week makes sense.
“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,” said DeCunha.
“Our objective is very simple. 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.
Making public golfers feel like private club members could mean the emergence of the “Public Golf and Country Club,” a facility that brings together the best of both worlds – in other words, a hybrid.
It sounds like DeCunha has the right idea in his efforts to make his loyal customers feel like Dragon’s Fire, with its reasonable green fee in the $70 range, is their club and using at least some methods employed by private clubs might go a long way toward golfers feeling like a public facility is their home club.
Social events work well in a private club atmosphere. Next week, for example, the private Thornhill Golf and Country Club in Thornhill, Ont., will hold an event in honour of the Masters, at which staff members will wear green jackets to go along with the theme.
The main idea is to have fun, of course, but as head professional Tim Moore, who is also the most recent Canadian PGA Merchandiser of the Year, points out, he will also have new product on display and it gives members the opportunity to meet new staff members.
“I want it to be a sit-down, have a couple of beers and watch the Masters (event). We’re going to have a Masters menu and, with the long drive contest and our putting over there, it’s going to be a fun weekend,” said Moore in a recent blog.
It’s likely that many golf courses – public or private – are holding some sort of Masters celebration next week, but that could be the beginning of the social aspects of the Public Golf and Country Club. How about regular get-togethers throughout the year, either on-site or off, to encourage that private club feeling?
Can a public course appeal to the families of the public “members” by offering fitness classes or children’s programs other than junior golf?
In each of the cases mentioned above, a small fee could be charged to offset the cost, yet still be reasonable enough for players to feel that their loyalty is being rewarded.
Another good idea came from Bill Wogden, the most recent Canadian PGA Club Professional of the Year. The head professional of the Barrie Country Club in Barrie, Ont. and his assistants regularly play with members as part of a “Play With the Pro” program.
“You get out there and get that additional relationship with as many members as you can, get a chance to play golf, to show your skills as a golf professional, help (members) a little bit with their games and just create a fun atmosphere,” he said in a recent blog.
“You can learn so much about the individuals and create a relationship that will go on for many years like it has done for myself at the Barrie Country Club.
“You always hear stories of golf pros that only play with their little group of buddies. Here’s a program where, between myself or the assistant pros, we’re playing with over 100 different members each summer, men or ladies,” said Wogden.
“It just gives us a chance to get their feedback, get them in a relaxed atmosphere – what is it you like about the club, what can we do differently that would be a little better? Those tips, those words of advice, those suggestions pay off at a marketing committee meeting,” he added.
Assuming that a public course has a golf professional and assistants during the summer, could a similar program not be implemented beyond the gates of a private club?
Of course, there are other important duties in mid-season, but consider that Wogden also runs his own shop and a comparable program at a public course needn’t be as extensive as the one at Barrie. Despite the evolution of their roles in recent years, golf pros have traditionally been the great ambassadors of the game.
Those are just a few ideas that could spin off the Public Golf and Country Club. What do you think? Can at least some of the characteristics of a private club be employed at a public facility and, if so, what are some ideas that can work?
We welcome your thoughts inside the GNN Forum.