It’s been a year and counting, and golfers continue to flock in record numbers to golf courses across the country. In 2020, COVID brought the world a pandemic and with it an unexpected opportunity knocked on golf’s door, declaring to the world that golf was safe. And because very few outdoor activities can make that claim, golf has prospered.
According to statistics from the National Golf Foundation, nearly 6.2 million people either returned to golf or played for the first time in 2020 – the highest annual number on record. This new group joined a very large subset of existing golfers now working from home and finding additional gaps in their day that could be filled by teeing it up. All in, the golf course industry booked more than 500 million rounds of golf last year, the most in more than a decade.
So, if you run a golf course you can just sit back and enjoy the spoils, right?
Not so fast my friend!
“So far, so good in 2021,” said Todd Triplett, Vice President of Sales & Customer Success at GolfNow. “But it’s naïve to think that all the golfers we gained last year are going to stick around if they aren’t taken care of properly and provided the types of playing experiences they enjoy the most. And we, as golf industry professionals, have to help manage that.”
Triplett says that strategic pricing and inventory management are more important now than ever. He also points to 9-hole golf as one example of accommodating the new golfer. Data shows that beginner golfers prefer 9-holes to the traditional 18. Also, the new work-from-home golfers are more likely to get in a quick 9 during the week in addition to their usual weekend round.
“You have to consider 9-hole rounds as an important part of your product mix,” he said, emphasizing that typical objections to offering 9 holes could be errors in judgment. “9-hole rounds are counted as a start on your tee sheet, just the same as 18-hole rounds. They increase your utilization and contribute to REVPAR if you are strategic with inventory control and price to your advantage.”
“It’s a big part of what we do,” said Jonathan Parsons, Director of Golf Operations at Schaumburg Golf Course, a 27-hole facility on the outskirts of Chicago. “Demand for 9-hole golf has skyrocketed.”
Triplett says 9-hole rates can shore up gaps in your tee sheet when occupancy typically drops, like midday-midweek or twilight hours. No matter the day or time, he says be purposeful in your approach. Strategically monitor your availability and forecast expected demand. Also, pay attention to booking windows, which should be shorter for 9 holes.
“Avoid offering 9-hole rounds far in advance of the hours you expect to sell out,” he said. “Inventory control should be well thought out and availability should be pinned to demand.”
And for that reason, pricing 9-hole inventory isn’t be as simple as cutting the 18-hole rate in half.
“You need to know your costs of production,” said Triplett, referring to nuances affecting costs for every round of golf a course offers. 9-hole pricing should be tethered to your 18-hole rates, but not 50 percent off. We recommend 38 percent off as a starting point, it’s a rate strategy that’s advantageous for the course and acceptable to the golfer.”
Warren Orr, PGA Head Professional at Foster Golf Links in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila, Wash., says offering 9-hole play has boosted revenue at his course, which will use both nines simultaneously for league play during the week. “We’re getting front and back-nine revenue,” he said. “When you combine those 9-hole rates, we’re making $13 or more compared to our 18-hole rate for each tee time.”
From a revenue strategy and inventory standpoint, Triplett says there are times when you might have to say no to the 9-hole golfer, but those should be rare occasions. “There’s always a chance to find a way to yes,” he said. “Post 9-hole availability during as many dayparts as you can. Post it via your online channels so golfers can find you in their search.”
Don’t rely on golfers to call in, he emphasized, referring to the large influx of golfers who migrated to the Internet in 2020 to make their reservations. They are most likely to stay there, he says, given the ease, convenience and safety of booking online.
Triplett also suggests regularly opening the back 9 for the early morning dewsweepers. Sending 9-holers off the back when the 1st tee is slammed with 18-hole golfers expands your capacity and increases revenue.
“Those back-9 golfers may not have freshly mown greens and new hole locations or they might have to tolerate mower noise from the groundskeeping crew, but you might be surprised how many people don’t care if they are offered the opportunity to play,” he said.
“We all play for different reasons,” said Orr, “which is exactly why we never have a problem finding golfers to sneak off the back-9 first thing in the morning. “We don’t put them on our tee sheet, so it doesn’t block our inventory.”
At Schaumburg Golf Course, Parsons says part of their business strategy after a recent renovation was to accommodate the 9-holers by building tee boxes farther up in the fairways, providing an option for both new golfers and juniors. Triplett recommends that course managers work with their superintendents to manage capacity, which also is a part of being the revenue management expert for your facility. “It’s one of the many hats you can wear in becoming a more successful golf course operator,” he said. “Actually, everyone at your club should be on the same page when it comes to revenue strategy.”
Online search for 9-hole play is becoming more predominant, so much so that GolfNow and TeeOff – and many of their partner golf courses – have 9-hole filters on their tee time booking engines. “9 holes near me” has become a common search term for golfers looking to get in that quick 9. “Some people can’t find four hours in their day for a round of golf, but they can find 90 minutes,” Triplett said. “These time-sensitive opportunities can be a valuable tool to fill your tee sheet.”