June, 2015: Mirror Mirror on the Wall – Who is the Fairest of Them All?

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Executive Summary

If you wanted to know what your customers thought of the quality of your service, you would ask them.  But a question would remain: Are they answering truthfully or are they just trying to pacify you because they don’t want to debate your deficiencies and the anticipated natural defenses you may exhibit?

Retaining an independent organization to poll your clients and the industry might produce a different perspective.   Every major corporation undertakes independent research.  That is what we did on April 1 to ascertain who leads the golf industry in providing valuable education.

The results may surprise you.  They surprised us!  The lessons for your course are numerous and relevant, including why conducting customer surveys and engaging secret shoppers are essential tools that you must employ if you want to optimize your business.

The Truth Sometimes Hurts

Every major corporation undertakes independent research.

It is our opinion that every golf course should survey their customers and conduct third party secret shopper reviews.  Early this year, JJKeegan+ conducted a survey to learn how many golf courses engaged in such practices.  Not surprisingly, 82% of golf courses do not conduct an annual survey and 88% do not arrange for independent golfers to secret shop their facility to see how they deliver the 14 steps on the “Assembly Line of Golf Operations (customer touch points).  CLICK HERE to learn more about “The Business of Golf – What Are You Thinking.”)

We understand why more courses don’t engage in these necessary practices to improve their operation.  Most operators already have a long to-do list, little capital and would rue the thought of others adding to their pending list. But these efforts are essential and among our top recommendations for determining how you can improve your golf operation.

While each of us thinks we are far above average, the harsh reality is, as Yogi Berra was quoted, “The Average Person is Average” and being told one is such stings.   It is ironic that the best managed golf courses and their leaders, i.e., Jim Roschek at the Alamo City Golf Trail,  Del Ratcliffe in Charlotte, Peter Aiello at Kokanee Springs Resort, Scott Atkinson at Play Golf Calgary, and Steve Friedlander at Pelican Hills, are always pushing the envelope and have an unquenchable thirst for more information to improve their operations.  There is a lesson there for the masses – the leaders are widening the competitive gap while most operators moan about their woes.

Under the theory that we practice what we preach, JJKeegan+ hired a loose knit group of Silicon Valley techies who like to undertake research on sports, particularly the golf industry. We tasked this group (known under the acronym as SMILE for Sports Market Insight Leisure Enterprise) with surveying the golf industry to determine who the industry viewed as the top sources of information and golf operations consulting.

At our core, JJKeegan+ is in the education business.   Our focus is to create astute insights that create value for golfers on a foundation that optimizes the financial performance of a golf course.  We deliver what we believe is valuable content through are online resources bookswebinar series, or our golf executive management system of 21 templates.

But we are guilty as the next person thinking our work is superior.  We wanted to learn how golf course operators, specifically, and the golf industry, in general, perceived our brand image.

The results of the survey revealed many things that have great relevance for you, and we immediately realized how important it was to share this data. Stick with us through the end of this article and you will see how you can utilize what we learned.

Who Are the Leading Associations for Education in the Golf Industry?

The survey by Sports Marketing Insights Leisure Enterprise (SMILE) generated 360 responses producing a 95% confidence factor with a 5% margin of error based on a total sample size of 15,404 golf courses.

Presented below are the leaders in education within the Golf Industry, who educational programs are de facto competitors to JJKeegan+ to some degree:


Rating Scale:  5 = Excellent, 4 = Very Good, 3 = Fair; 2 = Below Average; 1 = Poor

As an instructor for the GCSAA, I would agree that the diligence they perform on their speakers presentations is laudatory.  Everyone would benefit from attending classes sponsored by the GCSAA.

Regarding the other results, what was surprising to me was the low rating for the CMAA. , In our opinion Dr. Jason Koenigsfeld, Senior Vice President, Professional Development does a superlative job with many online educational opportunities for the CMAA members.  I thought the primary benefit of the BMI classes that I attended was networking.  Though the educational content of Levels 2 and 3 were rudimentary, I am confident that he has greatly strengthened those programs since 2009 when I attended.

It is not surprising that the LPGA, whose focus is primarily on instruction, came in last.  I have long believed that Michael Whan has done an amazing job in revitalizing the LPGA Tour.  I ponder whether spinning off the Tour into its own entity, similar to what the PGA Tour did in 1968, with the consolidation of the educational programs focused on the business of golf absorbed under the capable leadership of Dawes Marlatt of the PGA of America would benefit the industry and strengthen the diversity and inclusion themes now resonating within golf.

Unfortunately, that idea is not likely to happen for several reasons.

First, on the JJKeegan+ website we poll via our “Business of Golf Barometer” challenges now facing the industry.  For the past six weeks, we have been asking a question, “What is the biggest challenge that is impeding diversity and inclusion within golf?  The answers are below:

Difficulty of the Game 19.6%
Financial Expense 27.5%
Historical Cultural Barriers 17.6%
Pace of Play Concerns 7.8%
Unspoken Caste System 13.7%
Women Prefer Separate But Equal 13.7%

Nearly 45% of respondents believe that historical culture, unspoken caste system, and the fact that women prefer separate but equal remain as barriers within the golf industry.

Second, in undertaking research for this article, we interviewed several PGA Professionals who quickly stated that an amalgamation of the educational programs of the LPGA with the PGA, though sorely needed, would never occur.  They stated, in essence, that the PGA of America is a labor union and educating additional individuals making them more employable would be counter-productive to the economic interests of their current members.

So while we can superficially talk diversity and inclusion on a macro level, the harsh reality is that people’s interest of self-preservation will continue to dominate.

Painful Lessons

The associates we retained suggested that we compare our brand against nine other consulting firms in the golf industry who primary focus is to assist golf course owners:  Borders, Edgehill, Global Golf, Golf Business Advisors, Golf Course Business Consultants, Legendary Marketing, National Golf Foundation, Pellucid and Private Club Associates.

The criteria measured were who was the most:  contrarian (Pellucid and Legendary), distinctive, unique, innovative, reliable, helpful, traditional (National Golf Foundation and Global Golf), best in brand and who had the highest loyalty rating.

The  value for conducting surveys for us, and ultimately for you with your customers, became quickly evident.  The results from our study showed we had room for improvement in our brand recognition, and that a repositioning of our messaging would have a dramatic impact on our ability to deliver our message of hope and prosperity to golf courses. Thus, we immediately implemented the following changes:

  1. Developed new corporate logo with Berimbau Design and website via a great firm, Tag Team Design, in which we now offer golf course owners fabulous resources for download (Best Management Practices – Photo Essay). The site includes a NOW section in which the Business of Golf Barometer, podcasts, newsletters, surveys can be quickly accessed.  If you want to know what is happening in the business of golf, you should check that section of our website and our blog weekly
  2. Changed the format for our monthly newsletter featuring six articles organized efficiently with benefits for golf course owners quickly displayed.
  3. Created our exclusive golf executive management system with 21 templates to assist general managers create strategic plans efficiently.
  4. Provide on-line education for students of professional golf management programs with case studies, accompanying resources and a test bank of questions complementing our book, “The Business of Golf – What Are You Thinking?”
  5. Three times per year we conduct a two-month Webinar series for golf courses owners to improve their financial results.
  6. Lowered the prices on all of our books in the Business of Golf series. Use the code WIZARD and get a further 40% discount on the hardback copy of “The Business of Golf – Why? How? What?” for $29.95.
  7. Began daily posting to Facebook, Linked-In & Twitter via Vertical Response where we have 2,428 connections.
  8. Lastly, we have adopted a more contrarian role by posting blog entries on a daily basis to pique the interest leaders and golf course owners. If you want to know what is happening in the golf industry that has the potential to impact your golf course, check out our daily blog.

All of this was done to become more transparent and more helpful to create greater brand recognition and enhance customer loyalty. And at the end of day, we believe these items will create our brand awareness and increase our customer loyalty.

Five Lessons for You:

From the research that we did, there are five lesson applicable for golf course owners.

  1. You should not be dependent on your web firm to post updates. We switched our web site development from Joomla to WordPress and added multiple plug-ins from Woo Commerce. It provides me immediate access to update the site. It is awesome and I suggest you utilize the same software tools.
  2. There is a definite trend that emails communication is becoming graphic and video based vs. text.   Click here for an example at ESPN. Click here for an example of MSN.
  3. 15% of your customers generate about 60% of your revenue. At the end of the day, we have about 3,000 loyal advocates of our insights and perspectives which represent about 15% of our customer database. This 15% correlation is true for all businesses.
  4. An annual survey of your customers is essential. In that survey, you should include your own customer database and include a representative sample of the golfing population within your competitive marketplace. We can help you do that.
  5. Repetition of your message is key. Let me illustrate a trick you should implement to increase your brand.

You would think if you sent someone an email, they would read it, act on it and be done.  Send the person that same email twice would be a waste of time.

Actually, if you are engaged in email marketing, sending the same email twice is a highly effective practice.  Here is how it works.  If you are using a popular email marketing tool, i.e., Constant Contact or Vertical Response, they track opens, clicks, bounces and unsubscribes.

By sending your email a second time to those who opened the initial email but did not click or did not open the initial email can produce fabulous results.  Let me illustrate.

After sending out the May newsletter on May 22, 2015, we resent the same email in which 1,880 individuals opened the second email and 244 took action.  It is also gave us the opportunity to send the newsletter to those individual who registered on our site in May.

Name Launch Date Sent Open Click Bounce Unsubscribes
May Newsletter – Web Registrants May 27, 2015 11:22AM 48 13% 0% 2% 0%
May Newsletter – Did Not Open May 27, 2015 6:03AM 18,297 4% 1% 0% 0%
May Newsletter – Open Did Not Click May 27, 2015 6:03AM 1,565 67% 4% 0% 1%

At JJKeegan+, we can help you implement these insights and perspectives. By attending our Webinar series starting in September we will further help you craft a 2016 strategic plan that will create value for golfers on a foundation that optimizes the financial performance of your golf course. The class size is limited to 10 to ensure each participants get ideal personal attention that is customized to your facility to guarantee your success.

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