We still have a long way to go

Often in my articles, I’ll discuss larger scale trends impacting the industry and talk about some of the things we are implementing to overcome those challenges. This time, however, I’d like to discuss a personal experience and use that to understand where we are as an industry.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m not the world’s most acclaimed golfer. Despite this, I love the game. I want to play more and, like most of us, I’d like to get better.

While I love the game, it’s rare for me to find the time to fit in a round. My story is a fairly typical one. I’m in my thirties, I have a mortgage, a daughter and a busy job and life. On top of that I’m about to get married. I’m not complaining here, life is awesome. From a golf point of view though, my available time is short, and my money has some pretty clear priorities. I’m one of the very many 30 somethings out there that are struggling to play more golf. I have friends who are living a very similar life. Trying to get four mates together for a round of golf feels like playing darts with spaghetti, it’s just not that easy to do.

So, when we finally manage to get four of us together for a round, we’re all pretty excited. Working in the industry, the team looks to me to decide where we should go. Knowing that one of the guys has bought new clubs and is looking at membership I suggest a club near him. I know the manager and some of the team there. They’re awesome people. So we book the round.

The range of skill in the group is wide, so we decide we’ll play later in the afternoon, 9 holes, ambrose to keep the group moving and have some fun. It’s not competition golf, we’re not handing in a card, it’s not the Ryder Cup here. Sure, the banter will be top notch, the golf, not so much. We get to the proshop and have a chat with the guys there who sort us out for the round. Two of the group haven’t brought sets of clubs and ask to hire a set between them. Some of you will already be getting a bit itchy here thinking “you can’t do that.” Just hold fire for a moment and step back from this picture.

I’ve brought three guests to the club. A potential new member, who lives no more than a two-minute drive from the club and two people who’ve never played here before. Given the right experience, they will probably come back. This, is a golden sales opportunity and I’ve dropped it, right on their doorstep.

Back to the situation at hand. The guys are told they’ll need to hire two sets of clubs, which confuses them a little. I ask the pro why we need two sets of clubs. Like I said, we’re not handing in a card here, we’re just trying to have some fun. The response, unnecessarily aggressive, absolutely deflates me “Because those are the rules…. you should know that.”

I know how hard everyone around this club works. The manager and his team bust their guts for this place. The greens keeper, who’s been around for a while, works tirelessly. My team and I support the club on a number of different levels through programmes, at a governance level and advocating to local council and funders for the club. There are lots of people, putting in hundreds of hours every year to help this club grow. And this sentence, well it undoes all of that work.

I know, there’s a few staunch people out there thinking “well, those are the rules, tough luck.” Really? Don’t get me wrong, we’re not bothered about the extra cost to hire the clubs. We put it across the bar easily afterwards. But those three guys will never go back. Why? Because the frontline person believed it was more important to enforce a rule (a rather nonsensical one in the circumstances) than deliver quality service. Sure, if it’s a busy day and we’re going to hold people up, by all means suggest it. But it wasn’t busy, and we were playing ambrose. More importantly though, let’s look at this in a wider context. There are plenty of competing entertainment options for this group outside of golf.

In close proximity to the club are restaurants, movies and pubs. These are competing industries. How would you react at the movies to “sorry sir, you can’t share your popcorn, you’ll have to buy one each” or at the pub “sorry, you can’t share those wedges, you’ll have to buy one lot each”? I realise I’m being a bit far-fetched here, but it’s all to illustrate a point. These other industries realise that the power is in the consumers hand, and that providing a top-quality experience is the number one priority.

When you stop and think about it, what motivates this frontline person to act this way? Well, it’s not really his fault at all. As he went on to explain “the members will complain.” Being honest, if I was in his position, I’d probably be enforcing the rule too. Why? Because I know some members will hound me about it but I may never see those green fee players again.

So where does the responsibility lie? Well, ultimately, with all of us – as golf club members. If we really want our industry to flourish, if we want our kids and our grandkids to have access to the same courses and clubs we do, then we need to be flexible in allowing the people who work at the club to make decisions based on what is best for its long-term viability. You might think it’s only one small rule, but how many small rules are turning people away from our clubs every day?

We’re all working really hard and good things are happening, but we still have a long way to go.

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