The game’s professional golfers spend hours checking on and honing their ability to set up correctly at address. The key goal being to ensure that the main physical elements of their swing such as the shoulders, clubface, feet and hips have been aligned. The correct alignment of these elements will allow for the most powerful and accurate release of the clubhead through the ball and along the target line.

The question of alignment extends across most areas of the golf business, requiring answers to many questions such as:

  1. Like it or not, COVID-19 is going to be around for some time, so are the club’s health protocols correctly aligned and deliverable for the medium term?
  2. Are the club’s services and policies aligned with the real needs of the clubs members and their guests?
  3. Should the F&B services be kept in house or would the club be better served by aligning these services with a professional subcontractor?
  4. Are the governance targets aligned with the gazetted requirements in terms of environmental compliance?
  5. Is the club’s governance aligned with the latest requirements?
  6. Do the club’s marketing goals, and marketing budget, align with the need to be innovative and agile in seeking out new revenues’ streams and sweating every available asset to the maximum?
  7. Are the club’s staff skillsets aligned with what will be required in point 5 and through what is sure to be a very tough trading environment for the foreseeable future?

These are the types of alignment questions that every club needs to ask, in terms of every area of its operations. Alignment will be of equal importance and central to any success in re-inflating the golf tourism economy. A cornerstone to this will be the ability of all of the elements in the chain, which go to make up any golf vacation, to work together as a team.

I am on record as believing that the golfing DNA (the game is not a team sport) has worked against us historically. However, this type of isolationist mind-set and thinking must be left in the past, if we hope to survive the original lockdown and the probable outcomes from and or any potential recurrence of the pandemic.

These issues are global. For example golf in the UAE faces real issues (outside of its prohibitive pricing – especially in terms of alcohol) in attracting enough visitors, principally because no one, despite valiant efforts having being made, in the golf sector there has been able to envisage the parts of the whole as a unit, see a total vision and work as team. The result is that the approach to market is fragmented and incoherent, with many golf courses working independently of the others.

In the early 1990’s, a tourism concept around the idea for locals to ‘see South Africa’ fell flat because the service providers did not see the initiative as a team effort. This meant that the components of hotel, transfers, car hire and flights, in terms of both availability and price point, never aligned effectively.

Johann Rupert has likened the effect of the pandemic to a complete re-set, rather than just a blip in a business sense. The golf business can grasp this opportunity to re-set the way the industry works internally. Therein also lies the chance to change outmoded thinking about marketing, revenues’ generation, and how to generate traffic, forever. However, it will still take courage to grasp the nettle of change. As a first step, the price-cutting of green fees must be consigned to the dustbin of history where it always belonged.

Golf courses, more especially since the pandemic’s health protocols will reduce player and rounds’ numbers, have a perfect tool to package up great deals and use these as an experiential marketing tool and work with other clubs in their area to develop their area into a golf destination.

A full explanation, of golf rounds as distressed inventory, can be found in the upcoming three-part feature entitled ‘Rounds for Sale’. Suffice it to say here that any unsold rounds (any club that sells less than 50 000 rounds per annum will have these in abundance) can be zero rated into a package, or given away as a promotional tool to market the club.

It should never be forgotten that any unused tee off time denies the club the benefits of the secondary revenues that come from this tee time’s activation. An inactivated or unsold tee time will result in no ½ house, bar or F&B sales, no traffic in the pro shop and no cart sales or lessons booked.

Rounds numbers in themselves are a blunt calculation when increasing the revenues’ yield per round should be the key goal. To a well-trained and efficient golf operation’s team, harvesting the value these revenues’ layers should be relatively easy. It is an especially important goal when these yields can often represent more value than the core sale of the tee time.

To take full advantage of these opportunities, clubs will need work closely with their local and regional tour operators to package up great deals that will encourage people to ‘play at home’, until the inter-provincial travel bans are lifted.

In the same vein, golf clubs need to make a friend of the tour operators and align with other service providers. This alignment will be especially important in terms those facilitators offering Free Of Charge opportunities such as GolfVistaSA (https://www.golfvistasa.com/) or cost effective ones such as Destination Golf Travel (https://destinationgolf.travel/summer-2020/).

These platforms and alliances will enable clubs to take advantage of any promotions designed to market golf clubs through competitions and special offers.

No stone should be left unturned in pursuit of these opportunities. This will require management to be constantly aware of what is ‘in the market’, which will require much improved communications at all levels from returning phone calls to reading email.

At the same time, boards and committees will need to become much more agile, which might require some restructuring to allow for much quicker turnaround times in terms of decision-making. The alternative of management having to wait a month until the next committee meeting to make a formal presentation and then wait more weeks for feedback and a final decision will not work.

In the same context, two additional things stand out. The first is the need for management to be allowed to make decisions, with the related accountability and for everyone to remember that the club’s brand never sleeps.

Numerous articles underline and surveys prove the fact that any brand which goes dark for any period (such as the months of the initial phases of the lockdown) are setting themselves and their businesses up to fail.

The board of any estate or golf club is in effect an asset manager within which the club and estate’s brand plays a central role. This link is one of dozens on a similar theme and is resonant of my continual comment to clients that, ‘your brand never sleeps’.

 Freeze ads, and lose yearsCompanies that ‘go dark’ by withdrawing their advertising budgets during the Covid-19 crisis face a slump in profits, and it could take up to five years for them to catch up with their rivals.

John Cockayne has been a Professional Golfer since 1977 and is a fully qualified founder member and Life Member of the PGA of South Africa. He is a former Head Professional at Royal Oak, State Mines and Benoni Country Clubs and Director of Golf at Southbroom, during which period he was involved in the organisation of golf tours, numerous professional and amateur tournaments and as a consultant on the Sunshine Circuit.