My best friend of well over a decade allows me to indulge in conversation about golf and the golf industry frequently and I very much respect and consider his insight. He does not play or even enjoy the game but our desire to have lively discussion tends to trump those seeming shortcomings. I convinced him to tag along during a recent round while he tried some photography and enjoyed the walk. I felt the need to ensure his comfort and enjoyment during this time which took me from the box created by playing the game. I did not play particularly well but the chance to observe and discuss the things happening on the golf course provided very fertile ground for discussion.
More than ever, I consider the thoughts and opinions of intelligent non-golfers to be valid and worthy. Too often, golfers lean on the things about the game that appeal in order to cope with many of the issues inhibiting healthy growth and public perception of the game. With this in mind, I would like to present a few thoughts after my round with an intelligent non-golfer.
Identify Bad Customers
Many specialized goods and service businesses have customers that demand more of the company than is profitable. Golfers who consider the availability of alcohol on course, the attractiveness of the service staff and availability of golf carts above the quality of the strictly-golf experience, for example, place demands on the business that deviates from the chief goal of operating a golf course. In a general view, these customers seek to fill the downtime in golf with another activity or distraction as opposed to minimizing the downtime.
The issue as I see it is two-fold. First, the golf facility seeks to fill the downtime with a service that barely breaks even or is categorically expensive to cover the cost of the convenience. Second, the services or distractions offered for the downtime bloat the actual expanse of the downtime causing an even longer round. This increases the cost in time and money of golf to unsustainable levels in many cases.
A golf business must identify and refuse to serve its bad customers outside of the standard expectation for service set by the scope of the facility. In considering this point, one must remember that a reasonable pace of play is an expectation set by the golfer and not the golf course. The ability of a facility to guarantee a distraction free round played in under four hours for a reasonable cost is, by far, the most competitive trait.
Eliminate Scope Creep
Along the same trail as the above point lies the actual services offered by the golf facility. Is the facility in the golf business or the restaurant and bar business? In the former, every customer arrives to play golf. Not every customer arrives to play golf and have a drink or meal after (or during!) the round. Golf facilities with anything more than a modest refreshment stand with a bare minimum menu suffer from major scope creep. The food and beverage element is ultimately subsidized by the golf revenue, placing the cost of a less-used service on every golfer in some form. The restaurant and bar business is tough enough as a stand alone.
Eliminate Discrete Tee Times
This one may raise a few eyebrows. Most every frequent golfer realizes that golf courses typically operate on tee times spaced by either 8- or 10-minutes, with a few facilities even operating on 7-minute times! Each time has four spots. However, the tee time system glosses over what is essentially a capacity and flow issue. For simplicity let’s say a golf facility uses a 10-minute spacing therefore offering six times per hour with a maximum capacity of twenty-four golfers. Instead of asking the golfer(s) to reserve a discrete time like 9:10 AM, et al. ask the golfer(s) to reserve one or several of the dozen available spots between 9:00-9:30 or whenever the case may be.
The advantages to this system are numerous. Foremost, it prevents the feeling of ownership a golfer or group of golfers may have over a particular spot. Nothing will bog down a golf course more than a series of twosomes stacked up one behind the other that absolutely refuse to join into foursomes (On the day with my non-golfer friend, we encountered four twosomes stacked, two of whom got into a heated exchange on the fifteenth tee about playing through the other – at no point did either group consider the mutual benefits of forming a foursome for the remainder of the round, the height of selfishness). This systems allows the golf facility to better manage the flow of groups from the first tee by adjusting and pairing groups according to capacity based in a range of times and not particular times in a series. During busy times, individuals and pairs will join to form foursomes and during down times, the starter can effectively space groups of less than four to help promote a better rhythm and pace.
The system also prevents the backlog caused by a late group or an influx of walkers as the managers can assign late or extra groups to time blocks that are less busy. Furthermore, the system encourages positive social interactions between golf facility staff and golfers while encouraging/requiring golfers to form groups themselves.
While these are by no means comprehensive nor complete ideas, I believe the thoughts are worth discussion and have significant merit for implementation. The golf industry should assess streamlining individual golf facility operations to provide better management of both time and money spent by golfers to enjoy the game. The goal should be to minimize downtime on the golf course and not to distract or fill that downtime with non-golf activities.